As I watched the life flow from my mother, I felt no fear, even though it was the first time I had witnessed death. It seemed as natural as a river flowing into the mighty sea, seeking to find its place in the world. I didn’t wail like a banshee, respecting the peacefulness of the soul retreating from the land of the living.
Instead, I started speaking all of the words that I had been unable to say to her before, words of appreciation and love. She had been nearly a recluse or hermit, even as we shared the same house. She worked in her puzzle books and drank her life-giving bourbon, keeping herself separate from her children, neighbors, and strangers, physically and emotionally.
But, in that moment when she was entering eternity, I felt a compulsion to tell her that I loved her. Love is such an intangible thing, as we can’t grasp it in our hands and put it in a box to prevent its loss or retain it when someone stops loving us. Yet, it is an emotion that we all need to receive and to give to be truly human.
Telling someone whom you’ve been estranged from nearly all your life that you love them is no cinch. It was one of the hardest things I ever did, but also one of the most freeing. I simply told her thanks for loving my sister and I in her own ways. I related my gratitude for the lessons she lived but didn’t speak out loud.
She went to work every day, eleven at night to seven in the morning, teaching us that you have to work for what you get in this world. When we went to her job, people spoke of her fondly and as a hard worker. I learned from her to always give eight hours work for eight hours pay.
She paid the bills on time, providing us with a safe haven. My first memory as a person was being evicted from our apartment while my mother was at work and watching our father walk away, not caring about his daughters. He had spent the rent money that Mama earned on alcohol.
My sister and I knew to never co-sign a loan for another person, for Mama had found herself in debt when a “friend” left her to pay for her furniture. Just seeing the sadness and disillusionment on her face taught me that lesson.
My words of thanks and gratitude were the last words my mother heard. I want to believe that she entered her forever rest with her soul at peace. I know that I felt a burden lift from my shoulders, and I have never been more glad to be present at an event. It was an unforgettable moment, one that has kept me from a lifetime of regret for words unspoken.