In my mother’s house

A year ago today my mother died. She was 83, a heavy smoker and in poor health. I knew it could happen any time, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. But when I got the call, I was shocked. It felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach.

We had a complicated, often strained relationship, but I loved her so much. I remember her delicate features and beautiful skin. I remember the last time I visited her, about four months before her death. She was gaunt. When I first saw her, I stopped breathing for a second.

When we hugged, I felt the bones in her back. She was so fragile she could barely walk to my car. I had to take her arm and guide her across the lawn.

Many times, I tried to get her to eat. She would not. There were old trays of food throughout her apartment. When we went out to dinner, she picked at her food and asked for a to-go box.

I knew she’d never eat the leftovers.

A few weeks after I left in June 2021, things soured. We stopped talking again. This was the dark underbelly of our relationship. We would get along great for a period, texting and talking often on the phone. I’d feel myself start to relax. Then suddenly, something would upset my mother. I said or did something wrong.

It was a constant push-pull: go away, come here. Things were good, and then they were bad. Loving, sweet Mom and then angry Mom. I was teetering on the precipice, never knowing how it would be. After a while, I’d repeat the same response I had as a child; I’d run away.

The last time I heard from her was about a month before she died. She texted and told me to message her. I interpreted the text as an order. I was angry and hurt—still nursing the wounds from our last fight—and I ignored the text.

But I kept thinking about her. This is how it had always been with my mother. Even when we weren’t speaking, I couldn’t erase her from my mind. I’d carry this sadness with me everywhere. It was a dull ache that never left, like the lower back pain I have now. Some days it’s an 8 and others it’s a 3, but it’s always present.

After I got my mother’s text, I picked up my phone to call her several times over the next few weeks. But my ego stopped me. Instead of seeking the Lord, I let my pride tell me lies.

This one, selfish decision has haunted me for a year. It has become a voice whispering in my ear: Your mother died alone in a dreary apartment. Even her little dog, Cody, was out of reach, in his crate across the room. The voice says: She must have been so scared.

It has intruded on my ability to grieve my mother, to remember the good times we had. I’ve struggled to celebrate her life—the periods when she fully lived—because I keep remembering how she died.

If I could have one miracle from the Lord, I’d ask him to take me back to my mother’s place on October 14, 2021. I’d bring her iced tea (extra ice) and a piece of homemade carrot cake (her favorite). As the sun began to set on her life, I’d sit at her bed, holding her hand and telling her I loved her. I’d play, “Peace in the Valley,” one of her favorite hymns.

And I’d I pray this verse to her, as I did my father before he died:

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:2-3

She would not be alone.