“Into that good night…”

January 27, 2012


One year ago today, my mom passed away…

Mother-daughter relationships can be complex.  My relationship with my mother was that and then some.  As her only child, I was the focus of her attention, her criticisms, her praise…everything. She was a colorful character, my mom.  She had a deep laugh, a wry wit and a ferocious temper. She was beautifully stubborn, intensely loyal with a deep faith. Mom was a remarkable woman who had shouldered her share of heartache and pain. She was an alcoholic diagnosed as bi-polar quite late in life.  And, tragically, once mom had successfully battled those demons she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

My stepfather has been a rock, of course.  He was incredibly attentive to mom and her needs. He struggled to keep and care for mom at home – probably for way too long.  Although Mom designated me as her proxy, I tried not to interfere.  He was, after all, her husband. But I think that my stepdad was relieved when finally, near the end, I put my foot down and insisted that we admit mom to hospital.

Caring for a dying loved one is difficult.  With no siblings, my stepdad and I were left on our own in the hospital room with mom – spelling each other off – for those final days of vigil. I would spend hours just watching my mother’s chest rise and fall, adjusting the sparkling beads (that she loved) on her drab green hospital gown (which horrified her refined fashion sensibilities), helping to shift her in the bed from left side to right side and back again. I had my work with me and I would try to write.  But it was tough.  Death and dying can be so distracting.

My response to the ‘unknown’ (work, life, etc) has always been to research; to ask questions in an attempt to understand.  When it came to death, it was no different. I had read all the books on death (and Multiple Myeloma) that I could get my hands on; had ‘Googled’ everything on ‘what to expect’.  I was ready. That’s what I thought.

Mom’s breathing had remained steady for days so, that night, I knew (based on my research) that there was still time.  I picked up my iPhone and glanced at my Twitter feed, reaching out over the Internet in an attempt to push away the loneliness; hoping to drown out the sound of the beeping monitor. It had been something I had been doing for days.  I enjoy my Twitter relationships; sharing ideas, laughs and, thoughts on ag, science, farming and food.  But most of my Twitter friends won’t know how incredibly important those Tweets and those casual (even trivial) exchanges meant to me one year ago.

At around 7pm that night on January 27, 2011, mom’s breathing did change.  It was subtle, but the rhythm was definitely different.  I called the nurse in and then I called my stepdad. I told him that he needed to come back to the hospital as soon as possible (he had just headed home for a much-needed break).  But, alas, the hours that I thought that we had turned out to only be minutes.  Mom passed into ‘that good night’ quietly, quickly and with little of the drama that I had come to know of her over the years.


I never once mentioned in my Twitter feed what we were going through as a family during those final days.  I am not one to put my ‘personal stuff’ out there, anyway (this post is an exception).  To tell you the truth, while I was on that dark, lonely vigil, I appreciated the buffer. It was good to have 140 character exchanges that were casual, light and – sometimes – just about sharing information. Don’t get me wrong, I had many friends, extended family and colleagues that had been incredibly attentive and kind throughout those last few weeks (flowers, calls, coffee, food…).  But Twitter allowed me to escape from the realities of  life at the time… and to enjoy some simple pleasures that come through that casual Twitter exchange.

Mother-daughter relationships are complex.  The relief you feel to see your mother’s suffering end – when you watch the stress lines around a loved one’s eyes and mouth melt into that peaceful eternal sleep – can be palpable.  But the grief for loss of what was and could have been can hang over you like a dark cloud.  It can bury you, if you are not careful. This past year has been filled with ups and downs.  What I have realized is that grief, like life, has its own path. And sometimes you just have to go along for the ride.

In loving memory of: Shirley (1945 – 2011); wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, friend

The Flower – a poem by St. Teresa of Lisieux

All the earth with snow is covered,
Everywhere the white frosts reign;
Winter and his gloomy courtiers
Hold their court on earth again.
But for you has bloomed 

the Flower

Of the fields, Who comes to earth
From the fatherland of heaven,
Where eternal spring has birth.