My mother died early yesterday morning. She was 96. For several years, she had lived in a care facility near my older sister.
Mother was a teacher. Though she suffered from dementia, Mother greeted everyone and always said thank you whenever someone did something for her or answered her cycle of questions, even though she couldn’t remember their names or answers. After every visit, she’d walk me to the door. I’d say thank you for lunch, take care, I’ll be back to visit, and I love you. She’d say thank you for coming, drive safely, I look forward to it, and I love you, too.
Last spring, Mother’s mobility slowed significantly, and she had difficulty seeing. Dementia, which had already stolen short-term memory, increasingly narrowed her memories of the past. Mother soldiered on. In the fall, when her body began to fail, we moved her to skilled nursing. Through it all, Mother greeted, asked questions, and without exception thanked everyone for everything.
Mother was my teacher. Two weeks ago, after eating lunch with her in the skilled nursing dining room, I played my flute for her like I had at Christmastime. She listened to the first piece, said thank you, and fell asleep in her chair. I played a while longer then kissed her, said I’d be back next week, and told her I loved her.
A week later, Mother was bedridden but responsive when awake. At the end of our visit, I kissed her and said I’d been back next week.
“Oh, I look forward to that,” she said.
“I love you,” I said.
“I love you, too.”
When I walked to the door of her room and said goodbye to my sister, Mother called out, “Safe travels.”
You too Mother, I thought, you too.
Last Friday, Mother had few responsive moments. I held her hand, prayed over her, and thanked her as she slept. Before leaving, I kissed her and said I love you.
My two sisters and I will bury our mother next to our father in the New England town where we grew up. Mother asked for grave-side recitations of Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer. I will play the last piece I played for her.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way; When sorrows, like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul. It is well With my soul, It is well, it is well with my soul.
Thank you, Lord, for teaching me to say, no matter what happens, “It is well, it is well with my soul.”
And thank you, Mother, for everything. Safe travels. I hope to see you again.
I love you.
This post on YouTube, including my recording of “When peace, like a River.”