by Forrest Arnold
The hospice nurse sweetly touched my mom’s fingers and toes, checking the color of her skin, then patted her cheek gently and said, “Today’s the day, Rosie. Today’s the day.”
When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was full of fear. She said, “You know I’ll be dead in five years, don’t you?” I think it was her certainty that shook me up the most. That was 19 years and several surgeries ago. She had enjoyed many positive life chapters since that first scary diagnosis. But now, we were close to the end.
I called my mom “Rosie,” and she was my most challenging patient as a hospice volunteer. Her cancer had spread through her body. And now she was fading quickly.
We brought Rosie to stay in our spare bedroom so I could give her the care she needed. Mom said she didn’t want to impose on me and my home life. So now her steep decline made me wonder if this was her last act of love as my mother – to unburden me.
Mom hadn’t been eating much. I would feed her some vanilla yogurt, and that was about it. We used to love to sip champagne at sunset, but that didn’t agree with her anymore.
Rosie loved movies. A few days before, we had watched Slingblade together — but she fell asleep. That was the last movie my mom would see. And I don’t think she woke up again after that.
On that last morning, I tuned my guitar and sang to her much of the day—as her breathing grew more shallow. At about 6 p.m., the sun broke through the clouds with a glorious golden sunset. My wife and I did the champagne toast — and as darkness fell, I held my mom’s hands as she took her last breath.
These were the same hands that had carried me when I was little. These were the same hands that baked the birthday cakes and built the bookshelves. Now it was my turn to carry her. I did it proudly, filled with gratitude.
In those moments of love and loss, I witnessed her death without blinking. I stepped through a gateway into the pure light of her love for me and my love for her.
Later that night, as they pulled the sheet over her face and carried her body from the house, my mom, Rosie, had not left my life. Instead, she blossomed more fully in my heart.