The mother-daughter bond is said to be one of the strongest bonds between two people. It’s loving, laughing, crying, sharing and shopping. It’s a connection that slowly transforms through the years into being more than just family; being best friends.
For some people.
For others, it’s complicated. It’s counseling appointments, hospital trips, rehab visits, medications, doctor consultations, arguments, tears and disappointment. It’s grieving the loss of a relationship that was never there, or cut to short.
Ask me how I know.
Here are 10 things I learned while sitting by my mother’s deathbed:
1. I saw her for who she was.
You know that feeling you get when you’re a kid, when you see your teacher out grocery shopping, or at the mall? And your mind is blown because she’s something other than a teacher? She has a life, a home and family of her own. She’s a real person. It’s like that.
My mother was something other than my mother. While I sat by her side, I witnessed her mother (my grandmother) lovingly stroke her hair and put a warm cloth on her head. She spoke as a mother comforting a sick child. It must’ve taken every ounce of strength in her 83-year-old body, to speak to my mom about memories past. She was someone’s child.
I watched as an outsider, as my uncles said goodbye to their last living sister. I read cards, letters and text messages from cousins and beloved friends who couldn’t be there.
My mother wasn’t just my mother. She was a cherished daughter and sister, a wife, and a treasured friend to many. Turns out it wasn’t all about me, after all.
2. It doesn’t matter.
All of those things I was angry about? They don’t matter. Every feeling of resentment, anger, and loss faded more quickly than I could’ve imagined the instant I stepped into the hospital room. Vanished.
What matters is that I love her. What matters is that in her last hours, I wanted her to finally be at peace. I wanted her to take comfort, knowing that every piece of our broken family was there. I wanted her to rest easy—free of guilt, anxiety, worry, sorrow, and the burdens she so heavily carried. Oh, how I pray she felt wrapped up in our love!
She was there when I took my first breath, and I was there for her last. There’s something beautiful about that. And that’s what matters.
3. She has a past.
We all do. And we all have different strategies for coping. Writing this article is one of mine. Did it ever cross my mind that maybe she was healing and coping with a past, too? Did it ever cross my mind that her past experiences shaped the person she became? Maybe it did. But in my selfishness, I didn’t care enough to consider it.
4. She doesn’t belong here.
As I gazed at her frail body in the hospital bed, I saw her in a new light. She wasn’t a mental health patient. She wasn’t a cancer patient. Her wrinkles faded and her skin smoothed. Her hair was soft and blonde. She was relieved. And she knew she was going to be restored. And it’s not because she lived a perfect and holy life. It’s not because of the hours she put in at church, or even the good deeds she had done.
It’s quite the opposite. She was broken. And hopeless. And helpless.
But God’s grace and mercy covered her. She was made for heaven.
5. She loved.
She didn’t always love the way I wanted her to, but her heart was filled with love for her family and friends. She loved with every handwritten card. Every perfectly placed Christmas decoration. Every nightly phone call to her mother. Even when she was laden in bed with depression and anxiety, she loved.
6. What I really wanted was HER.
I thought I wanted shopping trips. I thought I wanted her to come to school events. I thought I wanted hour-long phone calls filled with the advice only a mother can give. I thought I wanted her to babysit my children and cook delicious family meals.
Turns out, all I ever wanted was just her.
7. She didn’t do her best . . . and that’s OK.
Do you know why? Because she is a real person (refer back to number 1). In reality, who does their very best all the time? We are all trying to get by. Some days (or months, or years) are better than others.
As a mother of my own children now, I get it. Did I do my best tonight when I hastily bathed my kids and quickly tucked them in, so that I could enjoy some quiet time by myself? Most certainly not.
So what makes me better than her? Although biologically we are mother and daughter, we are both daughters of Christ. Has Jesus not prepared a place for both of us? Are we not equal then?
8. She’s sorry, too.
She didn’t want it to be this way. She had hopes and dreams of a happy home filled with love. She cherished our childhoods and wanted to care for us in a way that made her worthy of our love and adoration. And she wanted to keep us close forever. She’s sorry things turned out this way.
Could she speak these words to me? No. But I know it.
I felt it in the touch of her smooth hand. I saw it in the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. I heard it in her voice, the very last time she tried to speak.
It was in every ounce of her. She loved us. And she was sorry.
9. I had her all along.
And I still do. I have memories of April Fools jokes, evening walks, and chocolate desserts. I remember discussing baby girl names when my sisters were born. I even remember when it was just her and me.
The fact is, I had expectations for our relationship that my mother didn’t meet. Did that make her a bad mother? No. I’ve come to realize I was angry and disappointed not because of what she did to me, but because I felt she had taken something from me that I thought I deserved.
Do you see a recurring theme here?
10. It’s my turn now.
I have four children of my own. As I navigate motherhood, I pray these things I have learned stay fresh in my mind.
The difficulties and struggles we’ve endured will not be in vain. They will serve as lampposts along my life’s path and as a reminder when I feel I’ve reached an impasse.
Do I wish I had realized these things before she got sick? Of course I do, but I couldn’t have known. And I am willingly humbled by my feelings of guilt and regret.
I’ve said a lot. So, you ask what did I learn while sitting by my mother’s deathbed? I learned that I am my mother’s daughter. And I am proud.
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