Mama Kept Short Accounts
When at last – at the last – Mama took center stage, her flawless delivery betrayed the frequency with which she’d rehearsed her lines. It was obvious she’d never missed an opportunity to practice for her big scene.
Mama had come to terms with dying long before the day her deathwatch dawned. Truth be told, she’d gotten a little anxious to get on with the gettin’ on. An understandable anxiety, I suppose, when breathing becomes as difficult as ditch-digging, every movement requires strength you don’t have and intensifies pain you can’t remember living without, and, worst of all by far, after a lifetime of serving in some simple, sacred way every single soul who ever came into your orbit, you can’t imagine being able to muster the vigor to help anyone with anything ever again.
Convinced her serving days were over, Mama was more than ready for her curtain call.
Which is why, when the gentle emergency room doctor regretfully informed her of the intestinal perforation and half-heartedly suggested a risky surgical procedure that might possibly delay her death, Mama promptly and politely declined. The doctor nodded and went on to explain what Mama already knew: she’d soon and surely become septic and die, likely within the next 24 hours. Mama sighed, smiled, checked the clock, and said, as if commenting on a delectable sample of pecan pie or a moving rendition of her favorite song, “Isn’t that wonderful?!”
Having finally been given her cue, Mama wasted no time starting the show. Though impossibly weak, she somehow managed to fully command the stage, in this case, a stainless-steel gurney within the drape-enclosed cubicle. A standard-issue examination lamp served as the spotlight, diamond-sparkling off the soft waves of Mama’s silvery-white crown and illuminating the joyful luster in her watery eyes. Then, with the humility of one who’d long understood that all is grace, and the authority of one who’d been assured her allotment of earthbound hours was all but depleted, Mama crooked a bony index finger toward each member of her mesmerized audience, beckoning us to come close, one at a time, to receive the words she’d rehearsed.
I’m the youngest, so I knew I’d have to wait my turn. I stood in the shadows, barely able to breathe, as one by one my three brothers took their place at her bedside and received a final blessing from the same woman who’d dispensed their first. Leaning in, I strained to hear what she said to her sons. I couldn’t make out the actual words, but the lilting timbre of her voice was intimate and timeless, the same cooing hum born deep in the soul and released through the lips of a woman-made-mama as she rocks her newborn, eyes closed tight and face nuzzled soft against the fragrant, downy head. Though the diminished parent lay cradled in the arms of the grown child, still – as always – it was the mother who comforted the son.
And then it was my turn. Stepping into the radiance of Mama’s moment, I could barely wait to hear the speech she’d prepared just for me. What secrets would be shared? What revelations unveiled? What as-yet unsaid words articulated?
I sat down on the edge of her bed. Mama reached up and cupped my face with the hands that held my world together. She looked long and deep into my soul and, then, finally, released the waterfall of well-rehearsed words: “I love you, honey. You are the best daughter ever in the whole wide world. You are amazing and beautiful, gifted and bright, and oh, so, so strong. I am incredibly proud of you, honey – I’ve always been very proud of you. I love you soooo much – you can’t imagine how much! And I am infinitely grateful I was chosen to be your mother.”
Her speech delivered, mama pulled me in close. I buried my face in her neck and hugged her with a gentle fierceness. The room had gone quiet, save the snubbing sound of my muffled sobs. After a few moments, I pulled away, sat up straight, wiped my eyes, managed something of a swagger as I crossed my arms in front of my chest and asked, “So, that’s it? That’s all you’ve got to say?”
Mama grinned, winked, pulled me close again, and together we giggled and sobbed all at once, for she knew what lay behind my mock sarcasm. You see, it wasn’t the first time I’d had the privilege of bathing in the downpour of my mama’s outlandishly gracious words. Those life-giving words she spoke at the end? They were nothing new, nothing she hadn’t said or written to me a thousand times over. She’d saved no blessing for the final hour, held no compliment captive. Mama’s deathbed speech was both flawless and familiar because she’d rehearsed it so many times, and I’d been at every rehearsal. She hadn’t waited for her deathbed to give her deathbed speech; rather, she’d freely released the words that brought me life throughout my life. She’d made sure that even if death came without the warning she’d just received from the gentle doctor, it would never cheat her of the opportunity to bless her people with words of affirmation, endearment, and encouragement.
I want my mouth to be like my mama’s.
–Haven Parrott, manager of Transitions LifeCare’s bereavement services
Haven Parrott is Manager of Bereavement Services at Transitions LifeCare. She is grateful for and passionate about the opportunity to support grievers. Haven and her husband, Mike, have four grown sons and two grandsons.