As she lay there in the hospital bed, I stared at her 1)gaunt, 2)sunken face and willed her to open her eyes. Her 3)blistered mouth hung open allowing a 4)shallow moan to escape 5)every so often—she looked like a 6)shrunken version of herself. An old woman well beyond her 71 years.
In four months this is what she has become—this 7)feisty, daily exercising, overly 8)opinionated, strong willed, world traveling woman has been eaten from the inside out by cancer. Four months! It is a shock that’s difficult for me to 9)wrap my brain around. It makes me want to tell everyone I love that I love them.
I study her face and will her to open her eyes. What will I say if she does? In the 20 years I have known this woman, I have struggled to understand her, battled her opinions, endured her criticisms, and loved her son 10)beyond measure. I think of all the times I have wanted to make her disappear. All the times I thought about what I would feel when she was gone. Relief, joy, guilt, nothing?
I think of my children who saved me from truly hating her. Earlier that day, I watched my 12-year-old who has 11)autism, whom she loved fiercely, almost obsessively. He sat on the edge of her bed and studied her face searching for his beloved “Bubbe” and wondering if she’d ever return. Austin caught her awake and looked her right in the eye—not an easy task for him. A boy of few words he said without 12)prompt, “I love you Bubbe, I hope you get better.” His words pierced my heart for I know she is not getting better.
Would she hear my silent plea and open her eyes? She is so stubborn and never cares what others think—always doing whatever she wants regardless of what others think or feel. I know this is how she is and how she will be until she takes her last breath. Will she grant me this wish and let me see what I’ll do, how I’ll feel, what I’ll say? Not yet. She decides to leave me to my thoughts.
My mind 13)meanders through the past twenty years. I realize how fragile she was when we first met only one month after her husband had died suddenly. Remembering a story she told me about her husband bringing her daffodils makes me see her through his eyes. I think of the love and attention she 14)showers on my sons and I see her through their eyes. Her stories of her childhood and her father’s unstable income makes me see why she pushes my husband to make more money. I remember her anger when we initially kept Austin’s diagnosis from her—she could not see that we needed time to adjust. 15)Blinded by her hurt of not feeling needed, she yelled “My son thinks I’m stupid!” at me in the middle of the mall that day.
All those years of feeling inadequate in her eyes. All those years of thinking her opinions and criticisms made her strong melt away in my realization that she is human. Flawed and vulnerable and 16)needy and now dying. I stare at this woman I hardly recognize and will her to open her eyes. She does and we stare at each other, the rest of the room 17)falls away.
What do I feel in this moment I’ve imagined?
Gratitude...and so I thank her. I thank her for raising a son who is the most wonderful husband and father. I thank her for her generosity that made it possible for us to begin our marriage debt free, buy our first home, and enjoy trips of a lifetime with our children. I thank her for loving my sons fiercely and unconditionally. I thank her for taking the time to learn about autism and for becoming one of a select few who have truly connected with Austin. I thank her for teaching me how to care a little less about what others think. I thank her for loving me for I know that she does even if she doesn’t always know how to show it. I thank her for teaching me that life is precious and short. I thank her for helping me realize it is good that I 18)wear my heart on my sleeve and know each day that I make sure my husband and children feel that I am proud of them and that they are loved—things that were not easy for her to do.
She thanks me for taking care of her, for loving her son, and for being a good mother to her grandsons. She tells me she hopes she’ll die soon and be at peace and thanks me for being the person to whom this can be revealed. I leave her with a kiss and a deep sadness I never expected.