I settled down beside her and held her hand. What does one say when all is said and done and there is nothing left but deafening silence?
I read the scriptures to her and prayed, hoping she would hear and find comfort, but much of the time I thought about her almost 90 years of living. This dying lady was once a vibrant young woman. Her now twisted fingers had once danced across exquisite fabric, turning it into haute couture masterpieces. I thought about all those years she had been my mum, and the sacrifices she made for me; how in her own simple way she had left her mark on so many people’s lives; how she’d adored her grandchildren and delighted in their every endeavour.
Then came cancer with all its agony and ugliness and round after round of radiotherapy. Finally she suffered the loss of independence and the ability to do anything for herself. It seemed an undignified end to a beautiful life.
In the weeks that followed I felt empty and lost. I missed my mum terribly, although I was grateful she was at peace and free from suffering, but I was facing another ending, one I had been completely unprepared for. My father had died 6 years earlier and suddenly I realised I was no longer anybody’s daughter. This role I’d had since the day I was born, I had no more. The loss was intense.
We move house and leave behind people we love, the dog has to be put down, the friendship ends or the kids’ leave home, and we’re left with an strange emptiness … even in the everyday things, endings are rarely easy.
I wonder if I’ve ever fully appreciated the importance of endings. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending”. Of course he was speaking from a literary point of view, but I think it applies equally to life. Endings tend to focus us on the importance of life, and its brevity. They have a way of waking us up; making us reevaluate.
They are inevitable … the end of the movie, of our schooldays, of a career. That day comes when arthritic hands and feet don’t work the way they used to and knees and hips have passed their used by date, or like my mother, life itself draws to a close. Maybe mastering the art of endings is one of the major achievements of life.
But the space where they should lie,
The things that simply faded
Without one final wave goodbye.” ― Erin Hanson
We are often haunted by the things we didn't say or do when we had the opportunity.
The daughter of a missionary once told me about the time her parents took her to the plane that would take her to boarding school. As she climbed on board and looked out the window she was devastated to see no tears in her parent's eyes. That day remained forever in her memory and although much later she discovered that her parents had just tried to be strong for her, she said it was too late. She had spent all those years at boarding school believing that she was neither loved nor missed.
I felt her pain. Oh the power of endings to remain in our memory; the good ones and the ones we regret. Her story reminded me of the importance of vulnerability and being willing to share my heart even if that means enduring more pain. More often than not we only get one shot at an ending and sometimes honesty and tears are balm for the soul.