- Stephanie Lemmo
My Mother's Goodbye Gift
Bringing me home from the hospital, January 1982
It’s been one year since I held my mother’s hand as she peacefully passed away. Elvis’ Love Me Tender played in the background, with my sister and I, her two girls, by her side.
While it was a shocking start to 2020, it was a gift in so many other ways. A gift of my mother’s freedom from a body that didn’t work anymore and a mind that didn't remember, a gift and an honour for us to be with her as she transitioned from her earthly being, a gift of learning and of compassion for my children as they witnessed this sacred phase of life, a gift of celebration and of family support, and a gift of timing.
Soon after she passed, my husband Walter brought our kids to the care home to say goodbye to her. I wasn’t sure how they would react, or how they should be shielded. Even though we knew that my mother had lived on borrowed time for years, I was blindsided by losing her and the speed at which it all happened, beginning with a phone call only a few hours earlier to let me know that she had a fever. But when my kids arrived, they weren’t afraid to see her. They were happy to be included, grateful to say goodbye to their beloved nana. They showed such maturity, understanding and respect for this process.
There was a moment that day, so profound, that I feel compelled to record it here. Hopefully this last memory will continue to bring comfort to us and fill the chasm of her not being here.
As I was on the phone making arrangements, my rambunctious little son, then two and a half years old, started buoyantly running in the hallway. At this time everything was very quiet, all the residents were in the dining room at the end of a separate corridor in preparation for dinner. While we were alone with our shock, our confusion, our grief and our memories, my kids brought life, and love and continuity. At one point, my son ran, laughing, into my mother’s room where we were congregated and came to a full stop right in front of my sister and Walter. He looked towards the window in front of him, then swiftly turned around, glanced up at my sister, and exclaimed through his joyous, innocent laughter, “Nana’s chasing me!” Then he ran out of the room, as if trying not to get caught, a melody of giggles bouncing behind him.
My son, quite articulate for his age, only knew his grandmother in a wheelchair and she was for the most part non verbal and immobile, without the capability to perform any of life’s basic functions independently. But in that moment, an hour or two after her passing, she was there, playing and chasing her youngest grandchild, letting us know that she was finally perfect. It's amazing how a single moment - if you blink, you'll miss it - in the midst of such chaos, makes us pause, think and appreciate the mysteries around us.
The next day, I curiously asked my son, "was Nana chasing you like this?" with my arms stretched out in front, as if to catch him. "No!" he replied, "she was chasing me like this!" and he reached his arms out wide as if to wrap me in the biggest embrace. That was all I needed.
Gone only one year, unwell for many, how I wish I could pick up the phone and ask my mom a parenting question, or tell her a funny story about the kids. But I often imagine it and it brings me peace. I imagine what advice she’d give and how she’d say it, I imagine my dad telling me how she would beam with pride at one of my videos of random kid cuteness, I imagine her dropping by at a moment’s notice to help or simply surprise the kids with a bag full of goodies. My mom adored children and was magical around them. It was only fitting that her last farewell was something that her body never allowed her to do… playfully chase her grandchildren. It was so her. It was her goodbye gift. It was our gift.
I am grateful.
I had some hesitation writing this today because of the suffering and pain of so many families separated by Covid-19. But on her one year anniversary, I want to honour not only my beloved mother and our journey, but the long-term care staff who work so hard around the clock in normal times and especially during this pandemic to provide care, connection and family for our senior and unwell community members. I’ve witnessed these dedicated, hardworking heroes in action for so many years and I’m deeply appreciative and truly humbled by what they do.