It’s that time of year. The brilliant colors of autumn. Circus-bright leaves, clinging, letting go. Peak season slowly approaches. Mountains beckon travelers.
October is a good time to visit our son in Ashville. Our trip is planned and bags are packed when the phone call comes. Right in the middle of dinner. I’m tempted to let the machine get it, but this time something deep down nudges me away from the table and from our meal and to the phone. “Hello…”
It’s a strange and urgent voice, summoning me to the Goldsboro emergency room. My mother has suffered a massive stroke and most likely won’t last the night. I’d better hurry if I want to see her alive again.
But like those tenacious autumn leaves clinging to their familiar branches, she hangs around for half a moon cycle, waiting…
The nurses in the Hospice home swear
their dying patients see clear visions
toward the end: green meadows
and rolling hills, a stairway extending
skyward, a man with a beard resembling
Abe Lincoln, seated in a chair
at the very top.
Like my father before her, Mother
now lies at death’s door. Earlier,
with the family here, an overhead TV
played nonstop, and I imagined her waking
from the coma long enough to watch
The Guiding Light once again.
But now they’ve all gone and the two of us
remain, alone. Does she realize it’s me
by her side, her only girl, the one
who kept her up so much at night,
demanding to be held, forever crying, clinging,
restless for her touch? And when the school
bus took off with me that first morning, I wept
all day, sucked my thumb and pretended
I was back in her womb to stay.
The room is silent now except for her shallow
breathing, and that one lonely bird outside
her window, singing in the dark.
Does she know it’s me, her child
with the wild imagination, now at a loss
for words, except to say, “Not to worry,
Mother, I’m here, and together we’ll make it
to the top of these stairs. I’ll hold on until
God shows up to take your hand.”
And when at last he does, I know the final
ache of letting go.
“Holding On” was first published in Windhover
University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Press