Eight years ago, today was the day when we turned the last corner with you. Early that Saturday morning, I watched Hans leave your house at the crack of dawn, headed to Panamá City to fly out that evening to Amsterdam. The weight of spending whatever time was left with you, without my big brother to help carry the sorrow was more than a little overwhelming. I was missing my own girl and spouseman a lot after two weeks away from them. And it was so hard watching you lose ground, day by day.
What I held onto that Saturday, was the knowledge that our intrepid Hospice ladies would visit mid-morning. They always brought laughter, comfort, insight and peace with them. I still don’t know how we would have gotten through without them. But that morning was different. I could see it in Barbara’s face the minute she put her stethoscope against your chest She didn’t even consult with the other two women with her. She put the stethoscope down, looked at Dad and me and said, “You have to get Hans back; do not let him get on that plane to Amsterdam.” In another time and another place, a nurse would have not had the freedom to give such direction, but up in Boquete, with such little medical care available, she did the right thing.
You didn’t just get upset—you were furious—that the next thing she said was that you were not to get out of bed any longer. I still chuckle that the minute we turned our back on you, you did get out of bed and with Pastora’s help, found your way to the living room “throne” where you had gotten to be Queen of Everything for so long.
The only women more strong and stubborn than you were the Hospice Ladies and before you knew it, they’d rolled your hospital bed into the living room, rearranged the whole space so you could look out those beautiful glass sliding doors out to the garden and gathered all kinds of beauty around you. You had no excuses now to get out of bed and I could see your relief. You were tired. But you still wanted to be in the space you loved best.
It didn’t take long for you to fall asleep and I watched you sleep through most of the day as I waited for Hans, dreaded the reality that made it so critical for him to come back. But oh, when you woke up in the evening and saw Hans, your face lit up with such utter joy and delight that I can still only thank God for how that day unfolded.
And then it was Sunday and now you didn’t just sleep, you struggled to take each breath. Dad, Hans and I kept watch with you, tried to do what we could to give you comfort as your body finally could no longer keep going. In those last few moments when your breathing had ended but your heart kept racing, I am fiercely, heartbreakingly, glad that I was able to do one last thing to make your leave-taking a little easier. That night I walked with you right up to the gates of heaven and what an extraordinary privilege it was, even if it meant leaving you in God’s hands and returning to my life.
The next morning, locked in my room, weeping, I demanded of God that the next time we meet I get to be in your presence with you as your truest self. I wanted assurances that I would get to see the tender smiles I still remember, your eyes twinkling, your hand holding mine. I know now that those things I wanted were things that had actually been lost along the way, especially as the cancer ravaged your body. Even more, I know that what you had given me was already enough, more than enough, of what I will ever need in the way of a mother’s love. It still strengthens me, even when being a mother myself gets hard. These days I make fewer demands and try to extract fewer promises from God. After you died was when I really began to learn what gratitude is all about. Grieving for you was another gift received because you were my mother and I, your daughter.
So today and tomorrow, as I remember those last hours of your life and the fact that you have been gone for so long now, I don’t worry any longer about how, or when I may get to be with you again. I simply acknowledge that I miss you and that even now, your love endures and abides with me.
All is well, Mami, rest in peace…