This is something I wrote MANY years ago, but for some reason I thought I should put it here. It isn’t sci fi at all, and in fact is based on an event that really happened in my life. Be warned, it’s kind of like those “Chicken Soup” things, but in the world we live in lately, maybe it’s good to remember these kind of moments… So, here you go.
It is an unusual and emotionally powerful time when a parent passes on. My father did many years ago. He was only 56 and it was a bit of a shock to all of us.
Especially to my mother.
She’d married my dad when she was only 17 years old and they had become so totally dependent on each other for everything, that we all suspected she would follow him without lingering in this mortal realm any longer than necessary. They’d spent so much time together, and had faced so many troubles, that they’d become inseparable. Even through a miscarriage of twins, my parents faced every moment of life as one.
When dad died, mom and I had a falling out that drove a wedge between us, and between myself and my brother as well. It was actually fairly trivial, being mostly a difference of opinion about how she should deal with her life after dad was gone.
Over the course of the years after my father passed, mom did adjust to life alone, not really growing anymore, but adapting and learning to cope. She drew strength from the reserve love she had invested in so many friends throughout her life.
Then, several years ago they diagnosed her with lung cancer. The prognosis for recovery wasn’t good, but instead of taking this as her ticket out, she chose to fight. She kept herself going with pure strength of will and the support of everyone around her.
I’ve never in my life seen such bravery as what I saw in my mom at that moment. She fought and fought. Four years she battled the cancer with all her heart, yet I knew she wanted to be with dad more than anything.
Two months ago, she got her wish. Although before she left, she did finish the things she needed to do. Not the ‘tying up of loose ends’ sort of things, but the other more important stuff that matters.
When her cancer came back for the last time, we decided that we needed to be there for her, so we bought a home in a place where she could look out from her window and see beautiful trees and grass, and an occasional snow shower that made the world look new again. (She’d been born in the Great Lakes area and remembered snow from her childhood, even though she’d lived in the desert for all of her adult life.)
For her, this place was like a window onto heaven.
When her time was near, we put her with a hospice program and brought her home. She was comfortable here, and we wanted her to know we’d be with her and it would be alright to let go.
During that last week, even though she was often incoherent, she taught us some of the most important lessons I will ever learn. They were lessons that came from, and through her, and still ring in my heart.
Three days before she passed, my wife and I had been on duty continuously, taking care of her, sleeping in shifts, holding her hand, and trying to catch cat naps when we could. It was a trying time.
Then one morning just before her time had run out, our 11 year old daughter came in and told us about a dream she’d had about my father. She described my dad, who had died when she was barely four years old, smiling and holding two little boys in his arms. Amazingly, she’d never heard about the twins my mom had miscarried (I was two years old when it happened). Yet, she was describing dad, and the twins.
It stopped us in our tracks.
My wife and I had been dreaming about dad, but we both figured it was because of the nearness of mom’s death. She was going to leave us soon, and we were reliving the pains of my dad’s passing.
Suddenly, our pain transformed to something else. After this opened the idea in our hearts, we KNEW that dad would be there waiting for her. It was amazing how this gave us the strength to walk her home.
On the day her struggle ended, we sat with her, trying to be strong. I held her hand, like I’d been doing for the last several months, knowing that when we walked up to that door, all I could do was put her hand in dad’s, and let her go from there. She laid there in bed, staring past me to the place where he waited for her. I could almost feel my father’s hand on my shoulder.
She walked the last mile that day, but she was never alone. Not on this side, or on the other one. I had promised mom that we’d be there all the way to the end, and in keeping that promise to her, I saw for a brief instant that other world, and felt my father’s hand again for a moment through hers.
As an epilogue, I need to say that mom managed to send us a gift from the other side to let us know it was okay to go on.
When she and dad got married, for their first anniversary together they got themselves a mantle clock. It was one of those old fashioned wooden clocks that chimed on the quarter hour. they’d carried it around since the 1950’s, never having a mantle for it. It had quit working more years ago than I can remember, and had become no more than an artifact of a memory. When he passed, she kept it on her desk and would stare at it for a while every day.
After she died, we moved it from her desk to the mantle of the house that we’d shared with her. It was the first time that it ever sat above a fireplace, and it looked nice there, even though it was still as dead as it had been for decades.
In a moment of wishful thinking, my wife wound it, but it refused to run.
So we just let it sit there … honoring mom’s memory. On the day that my brother was to arrive for mom’s memorial service, almost exactly a month after she had died, my wife and I were sitting in the living room talking about mom.
And the clock chimed.
It echoed in the sudden silence, yet still it was not ticking. Over the next few moments it did indeed start to tick, becoming louder with each passing moment.
And it’s still ticking on the mantle.
So, when you doubt if it is okay to let someone go, just remember, even if you aren’t there holding their hand, and even if you don’t get to feel the touch of a parent brushing your skin when you walk them to the door, they are in a better place.
Listen for their voice, in the wind, or in the chiming of a clock.
Look for their smile in the new falling snow.
It’s there. And so are they.
EMC – April 15, 2004