My mom died January of 2002. Even though I was a choir director at the time and living in Denver, CO, I got the gut call to fly home for Christmas. I felt an intuition that I should sing The Birthday of a King for my mom, a song that, over the years, she had often requested and that last year I honored. We had tickets to return to Denver on December 26th, but learned—at the airport—our flight had been permanently cancelled. Eric flew out the next day, but I remained because Mom had just been admitted to the hospital and Dad wanted me to stay. I stayed that time and one other, when we received the doctor’s diagnosis of liver cancer. That third time I tried to return to Colorado, Mom died.
At the end of Anita Diamont’s book The Red Tent the protagonist, Dinah, remarks: “Death is no enemy, but the foundation of gratitude, sympathy and art. Of all life’s pleasures, only love owes no debt to death.” Love recognizes no boundaries; it joins us to one another and necessarily transforms and extends us. And love lives on through our loved ones.
The close of my mother’s life passed quickly. She was diagnosed with cancer on December 28th. As she lay in her hospital bed, surrounded by Dad, Anne and me, she asked Dr. Bruns, “Am I going to die?” He said, “Yes, Dianne, you are dying.” “How long do I have?” she followed. “2 to 6 months,” he answered. So we geared our thinking and planning for that timeframe.
But time was not to be ours. Sister Anne and I were by Mom’s side the morning of January 3rd when she struggled to tell us something, kicked and fought, then closed her eyes to this world. Death was not welcome to us, but it was certainly not the enemy to her. She’s no longer emotionally and physically struggling with the disease called Huntington’s. It is an embarrassing disease: people stare and wonder if the person is drunk. And it was frustrating—a feeling so common to stroke victims—when she couldn’t express her thoughts. Dad and the others who loved and cared for her were drained. The day before she died, we asked Hospice to come and initiate end-of-life care. Mom was unhappy having “strangers” help her and insisted Dwight could continue providing all her care. She was stubborn; no doubt it.
She wasn’t a perfect mom and we haven’t always been perfect kids. Dad said to the four of us during her visitation, “But we didn’t want perfect.” One thing we all knew for sure: Mom loved us. It wasn’t always evident in the actions she took or the choices she made, but her hugs and “Jeg elsker deg” spoke her truth.
My Mother’s Day gift to you, a touching interview with Anke van de Waal. To all the mothers and people who mother, thank you.