This Thanksgiving I’m grateful for last Thanksgiving, the last Thanksgiving I got to spend with my mom.
She moved in to her nursing home room on my birthday in 2006. She was only 56 years old at the time. She’d stay in that room without ever leaving until she died. My mother Barbara passed away this year on Holy Thursday, after nine and a half years in that single room.
My mom lived in chronic pain. She lost the ability to stand, to walk, and eventually even to feed herself. Her muscle disease, along with injuries she never healed from, made daily repetitive action – like using a spoon – impossible. She was tiny, sick, and frail. But she was tough – and she loved life! How much? She used to install her own nasogastric feeding tube each month. That is how she could eat and drink. The nurse would hold the thin, long feeding tube, and my mother Barbara would feed it into her own nose. She would snake the tube from her nose down her throat until she started to choke. Then she told me that the trick was to swallow again and again a few times while pushing the tube deeper down her esophagus. She knew it was safely installed, and she stopped pushing, only when the nurse confirmed with a stethoscope that it had entered her stomach.
To eat and to live, she did this once a month from 2008 until this past spring.
One time of the year, when the sun was at a certain angle, it would shine into her room and onto her skin. She could see the sunshine every day, but because she was bedbound, it only shone on her in that bed for a brief time each spring. That was how limited my mom’s physical universe became.
Last Thanksgiving I went out to see her. I was proud to go see her, to celebrate with my mom that I was no longer so sick. Since she blamed herself for giving me a genetic illness, my recovery mattered to her. For me, though, it was special to go out there and just be with my mom, who beamed with joy through her pain whenever her son came around.
I called every day, twice. And my aunt and uncle visited her weekly. But it was both great and hard to be there in the room with her. When I visited, often we just shared space – and silence.
Last Thanksgiving, though, a boy and his father came to the nursing home. He was Pakistani American, I think, and he went to one of the Parkway high schools. With his violin and hundreds or thousands of hours of practice under his belt, the young man serenaded the residents of the fourth floor at mealtime.
My mom was not in the meal area. She was, as always, in her room and in pain and in bed. So I asked the nurse if the boy would be willing to play for my mom in her room. Maybe twenty minutes later he and his father came in.
He played for my mother. The emotion poured from his strings and over her face. She was moved beyond words.
And the tears streamed down her face.
As I listened too, I saw my mom crying. And the tears streamed down my face.
He played the piece he’d most practiced. I taped part of it on my phone. His father then asked if my mom had a request. The young man apologized beforehand in case it was not perfect, and then went on to play The Star Spangled Banner for her.
I’ll forever be able to see her laying in that bed, moved beyond words by the music, the tears streaming down her face…
One day last summer, several months after her death, I was waiting at a red light. I thought of my mom and started to cry. And it was then I decided to stop wiping away my tears. The tears on my cheek were a gift. To me they became proof that my mom could still move me, could still reach me. They were proof that she could still touch me gently on my face, even from far away, even though she’d passed.
We never know when something will be the last. But we live in hope of better things, of life everlasting, and of sweet reunions someday. And we can still reach each other, with a tear, or a note, or a word from the heart.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and those you love! God bless all those we’ve loved and who’ve passed! I’m grateful for the beautiful Thanksgivings I’ve had and for the ones I still hope to have.