Mom had pancreatic cancer – a cancer with a low survival rate, and one that typically kills within six months of its diagnosis. She had defied the odds, beating the disease for two and a half years, but that was just like my mom. She had an incredible attitude and a zest for living. Nothing could get her down. We were certain she would be among the two percent who survived and we knew she was fighting hard for us.
She was admitted to the hospital in mid-November. We hoped she would be home by Thanksgiving, but one day without warning she slipped quietly into a coma. A tumor had gradually worked its way around her spinal cord. She couldn’t talk, but I was certain she could hear. I went everyday to her bedside. Sitting beside her for hours, I gently stroked her hair – a gesture I knew she found particularly soothing. I sat stroking her hair and whispering softly over and over, “It’s okay, Mom. It’s okay if you need to leave. Everything will be all right.”
I didn’t mean it – not in my heart, not for a second. I said those words because I loved her and I didn’t want her to suffer. I knew she worried about us all. I knew she held on for us. “It’s okay, Mom. It’s okay,” I softly assured her. “Everything will be all right.” Over and over I said those words to relieve her worries and make it easier for her to leave this world. Thank God, she could not see the tears that streamed down my cheeks as I spoke.
The first Friday of December, my husband and I worked late putting the finishing touches on a float for the upcoming Christmas parade. It was well past 10 o’clock when we secured the last of the “snow” and hung the final stocking. We were exhausted as we left the warehouse and headed toward home, but I kept feeling a tug inside me and despite the late hour I told my husband, “We need to go by the hospital. I need to check on Mom.”
As the elevator doors opened, my dad and sister were waiting. I knew immediately. My sister hugged me and said, “I wouldn’t let them take her until you came.” I don’t know how my sister knew I was coming – maybe the same way I knew to come.
I went into the room alone and embraced my Mom for the last time. I was thankful for that opportunity, but my heart ached that I had not been by her side earlier that evening. I couldn’t believe that she had passed on and I had not been with her.
The flood of tears and sobs began on our way home. My sorrow mixed with an overpowering fear. I shook uncontrollably, my teeth chattering incessantly. I was frightened, terrified realizing that the woman whom I had loved and depended upon since birth was now gone forever. The finality of it was too overwhelming. Wave after wave of intense shivers shook deep within me. I couldn’t stop them.
At home I sought refuge in the shower, sitting down to let the hot, steamy water pour down over my nerve-wracked body, but it provided no relief. I could not fathom life without Mom and the thought of it sent more tears pouring forth. All the while, my body continued to shake and shiver until I thought I would break apart.
My anguish continued until suddenly from seemingly nowhere, I heard a distinct whisper in my ear. “It’s okay,” I heard my mother say, her tone happy and upbeat. “Everything will be all right,” she echoed my words to her.
I looked up to see her but saw no one, yet a sense of peace and calm embraced me. My body relaxed, the shivering and shaking ceased. It seemed she was gone as quickly as she came, but the sense of love and peace lingered. I wasn’t frightened anymore.
Her visit touched me deeply and meant so much. Those few words from her were all I needed to hear. I knew that she was all right and happy. I knew she had heard me and I knew she was right – everything would be all right, for her and us.
Mom has been gone 20 years now and I still miss her dearly. Yet each time I recall her visit that night my heart fills with an overwhelming love and peace and I know that she is with me still. She never left.
Author’s Note: This appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating Mothers & Daughters, 2007