I stood watch over my mother. It was the third night since she had been removed from life support, and various family members were taking turns at her bedside. This was my night to keep vigil.
Painful as it was, I was happy to be there. The thought of Mom dying while I was at home or en route to the hospital kept me tossing and turning each night I was away from her side. She and I had a wonderful relationship, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing her while I was at home or on my way to the hospital. “Lord,” I prayed, “please give me strength during this time. Help me to trust in you more completely and to know that at every moment of every day I am right where you want me to be.”
Mom had been in the hospital since March 3, 2008, the day after we returned from a trip to Philadelphia for a cousin’s wedding. While we were there, she had come down with a touch of laryngitis. But she was able to enjoy the wedding until well after midnight, and the next day, instead of resting, she visited with two of her nieces for hours. Even though she could barely talk, that didn’t stop her from fully enjoying herself!
Now, not even two weeks later, she was close to death.
As I sat beside my mother throughout the night, I kept my eyes on the clock on the opposite wall. In a few hours, it would be March 14, my late father’s birthday. I wasn’t sure I wanted Mom to die on that day. I wanted her death to be special: a day all for herself, when her family could look back and remember how precious and loving she was; a day to remember how she always found the good in other people; a day to remember the ways she showered us all with unconditional love.
Mom had slept and rested comfortably throughout the night, but by 9:00 am, her breathing became labored. The hospice nurse gave the order for a relaxation medication, and Mom’s breathing slowly settled down.
I was looking at her beautiful face, wishing she would just open her eyes and smile at me one more time, when a woman walked in and announced she had come to bring my Mom Communion. I looked at the woman and shook my head: “She’s dying.” And as I turned back to Mom, her eyes opened ever so slowly and she took her last breath.
A nurse came in and then called for the doctor. It was 9:25 am, and my beloved mother and best friend was gone forever. She was gone and so much had come to an end. No more plans of where we would go to lunch after Mass. No more card games in the evening or watching a DVD. No more mangos cut just so perfectly. No more typical Puerto Rican food that only she could prepare with so much love. Okay, so I had finally learned to make some traditional meals, but it would not be much fun cooking arroz con pollo without mom there to tell me “Add a little more adobo … and sofrito… . Wow, this is almost as good as mine!”
My immediate reaction was a combination of anger and grief-stricken disbelief. I started sobbing and leaned in against my mother, willing her to come back.
In Sorrow, Joy.
Suddenly I realized, that my mother had indeed died on my father’s birthday—he would have been eighty-five—and that this was a gift. Mom had never wanted to be in the limelight, so it was as if she waited to die on a day that would make us all remember both her and Dad together. Even though he had not always treated her well, Mom only knew how to love unconditionally. Now, through their shared anniversary, she would keep teaching us to love that way, too.
The rest of the family arrived, and we all stood around in various degrees of shock. We finally asked to help dress Mom in her own attire. My niece added some make-up—we both knew that mom always wanted to look her best. We both smiled as we saw how beautiful her skin looked, highlighted by her multi-colored blouse and bright pink lipstick.
A few days later, I was describing the moments leading up to my mother’s passing to Ree, one of our dear friends. When I mentioned how someone had come to give her Communion in her last moments, Ree exclaimed, “Adlin, Jesus himself came for your mother!”
Her comment opened my eyes. Distracted by grief, I had not even recognized that my Lord and Savior was physically present when my mother took her last breath. I had only felt tremendous sadness. Yet what a joyous moment it really was: Our Lord had come to us at that precise moment to welcome my mother home. What a way to go! It was a time to rejoice and sing praises to our heavenly Father. Jesus promised us eternal life and he really meant it! And to prove it, he made himself present to take my mother safely home.
Since then, I have a sense of peace that could only come from above. This peace also gives me hope that one day I, too, will be welcomed into our heavenly home to give praise to our Creator. And I will see that wonderful smile on my mother’s face once again.
Adlin deCardi lives in Alexandria, Virginia.