My mother and I didn’t get along well. It was that way since my earliest memory. We didn’t hate one another or constantly yell and scream. Instead, we were like two positive magnets that naturally just repelled one another. The longer we were around the other the greater the feeling was between us. Our problem was we were too alike in the parts of our personalities that drove us crazy. She used to always say, “Mae, it was an October afternoon about a month before you were born. I was sitting in the rocking chair in the living room as the afternoon sun poured over me. I fell into what I can only describe as a transcendental state of peace. It was Mrs. Danin, our neighbor, who woke me from it. I’d never felt it before and I could never find it again.” She’d wait a few beats and then add, “Especially with you!” Then she would laugh and I would scowl but we both agreed there was no peace between us.
The night my mother died I was the only one by her side. She had orchestrated right up until the end how she wanted to go. Dying in her home with as little emotional drama as possible was her goal. The thing was she really didn’t want to leave and told us more than once in a resigned voice. “I have no choice. I can’t stay.” Her heart was breaking with the thought of leaving and she felt as if she was letting us down, especially my father. The cancer had taken over and her will could no longer win over the disease. She sent Lisa and my father to Detroit to attend an army reunion. After a weekend together, Colleen was sent home to Connecticut so she wouldn’t miss a day at her new job. My brother and I were the only two left and even though she never said she wanted me there, I knew inside it was right. After a lifetime of repelling one another, the discomfort we felt in each others company might help to propel her into the afterlife. I found this amusing and as she lay there heavily breathing and knew she too would have a good laugh over this.
At around three in the morning, I awoke on the couch next to my mother’s hospital bed in the living room. A voice in my head said, “Don’t let her die alone. Give her comfort.” We had left a small kitchen light on which shown into the living room like moonlight. Her breathing had changed at this point to a more labored rhythm; her coloring ashen in the dim light. I didn’t know what to do and called out to my Aunt Sal in a whisper, “Help me.” Aunt Sal was my great Aunt who made a point of sitting with friends and family as they exited this earth. She had the same reverence for death as she did for births and felt we should celebrate life from beginning to end. Aunt Sal had died years ago and it was to her memory and energy that I called out for wisdom. I wanted my mother’s death to be what she wanted. There was a blue-bottle in the shape of the blessed mother next to her bed. It was filled with Holy Water from some place blessed and the bottle itself once belonged to Aunt Sal. I knew my mother would want to be blessed, she would want a prayer and she did not want me to cry. I kissed her on the head, blessed her with the Holy Water and then said a Hail Mary. She seemed to mummer the prayer along with me. Then the thought arrived in my head, “Just let her know you are there.” In the past few days my mother didn’t want me to hold her hand. “You’re too hot.” She would say this as she pulled her hand away. In the dim light, I put my hand on her leg and rested my head on the railing of her bed.
I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep from the past few days, my own weakness of recovering from a mastectomy just weeks prior or the plain fact it was three in the morning. I fell into a state of peace with my head on the cool rail. The oxygen tank played a soothing beat in the background. We stayed that way for a while until the cat went running in a crazed fashion through the room breaking the peace. It would occur to me only months later that one of us had to have one foot in this life and the other elsewhere for us to have peace between us. I can hear my mother end the story now with a chuckle and saying, “I had to be half dead to find that peace again.” I’m just happy we found it.