"Are you kidding me?” I asked my brother, completely exasperated.
My mother had been set to come home on New Year’s Day, 1993. It seemed somehow appropriate to me, that she would be starting the end of her journey, the year in which we all knew she would die, on New Year’s Day. She was actually handling everything amazingly well. The counselors at the hospital had already met with her and were setting up visits for after she returned home. I was surprised to discover that Hospice wasn’t just about health care. It was just as much about preparing the patient (and their family) mentally for what was coming. The ability for her to focus on the moment at hand, and not the prognosis was new and encouraging to all of us.
Since my mother had been slated to come home on New Year’s Day, all of my friends had pushed me to attend a party with them on New Year’s Eve. Their reasoning was that it was likely the last time in a long time I’d be able to do such a thing, and I tended to agree. My sister offered to keep Zachary overnight, and my mother would be well cared for at the hospital.
But the hospital called me early on December 31 stating that they were ready to release my mother that day instead. They’d already arranged for an ambulance to bring her home, along with the in home oxygen machine and all of the other care items she’d need. I wasn’t sure at all what to do, if I should just cancel my plans or what.
“Of course you should still go,” my mother said to me when I talked to her. “Call your brother. He can come over and babysit me. You’re going to have enough to do over the next few months. You should go out and enjoy the plans you already made.”
My sister concurred, and so the next phone call was to my brother.
“No way. I have a party to go to tonight,” was his response.
“But this is our mother,” I pushed back. “She asked me to call you. It’s not like I get to go out very often these days.” I hoped logic and reason would sway him. My brother had no child, no significant other and pretty much did as he pleased. “This will probably be the last chance I have to go out and enjoy myself for a very long time.”
“Sorry, no can do. Everyone’s counting on me to be there.”
“Seriously? You’d rather be out partying than take care of your mother?”
“I could say the same thing to you.”
I could literally see the red flash of anger behind my eyes.
But then, something else. Something clicked. What was that I’d said to myself the other day? “Set your priorities according to what you will regret tomorrow, not for what you want to do today.”
“You know what? You’re right. I would rather be with our mother than going out to a party. I can do that any New Year’s Eve. This is probably our mother’s last one. I’d much rather spend it with her than with anyone else. Enjoy your night, asshole,” I said a little too forcefully and hung up the phone.
Later that night, I recounted the phone conversation to my mother. “It’s true, though. I would much rather be here with you, even though I was angry at him for bailing out on us. I’m just kind of tired. Please don’t take that the wrong way, Mom. I’m very, very glad I’m here and hope that I can give back to you in the next months some of all the amazing things you’ve given to me. You’ve always been there for me. I’m proud that I will be able to be here for you.” I had to stop. For some reason, at that moment, sitting with my mother, the tears finally started to flow.
“I understand, and I don’t take it personally,” she answered me calmly. “I’m so proud of how devoted you’ve been to my care and how you’ve stepped up for me. That doesn’t stop my sympathy for you, because I know it is hard. I don’t take that personally. I wish it were easier on you.”
“It’s a gift,” I said quietly between my tears. “To be able to show you how much all you’ve done for me has meant to me, to really be able to take care of you when you need it, like you’ve done for me. It’s a gift.”
“You know,” she answered, without a hint of sadness or darkness, “Nine months ago I would have not been able to accept that from you. I would have felt like a burden, like I was doing this to you, taking something away from you. But not now. Today I am willing to accept the help people want to give me. People want to help. It’s kind of an amazing thing to know that I’ve inspired that in people. Especially in you. You’re right. It is a gift.”
It was the first of many conversations my mother and I would have in the coming months. Real, frank conversations about our worth to each other and the inevitable that lay ahead. It was the conversation I’d been waiting nine months for.
I have never been so grateful that my brother let me down in my entire life.
Want to read more? Check out my year long journey back in time at My Former Life.
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