The weight of her world is finally, achingly lifting one weary word at a time. Here, now, offered to me and to the ether are these ancient, cold roots dying to find warmth in the light. Every pebbled syllable is laden with pain, with years, even decades of secrecy, of regret, of wondering how things might have been.

Rob, are you sure you’re okay with this?

I am, Mom. I will carry this for you. I will carry it to my grave if need be, but if one day I have to share – to help – I will, long after you’re gone. But only if it will help, never if it will bring more hurt.

She breathes deeply, settled with herself now that she is ready to open these long-rusted gates. And again, another breath, another long, lingering taste of untainted air, air that will soon taste of smoke, of fire, of fear and of loss.

I wait, utterly silent, my chair mere feet from her pillow. The sun is shining and the ducks are back, pecking through the snow. The stained glass window suggests that all will be well. The hospice nurses pad quietly by, delivering solace to the broken. From the lounge, a far-away tinkling piano plays hope to all who will listen.

I wait. And I know that she will begin when her soul agrees that it is ready. I sit, honored, terrified, knowing: this is a sacred trust, one shared by millions over endless millennia. It is the opening of a wretched, serrated scar that will only heal in these final hours, in these closing moments of a life about to end.

At last the air escapes her frail lungs through a broken reed on an crippled concertina. It is part sigh, part sob, part release, a rippling of chipped, staggering waves, all coming to rest on a rocky shore.

It happened when…

And I listen. It is all that I do. It is not mine to speak. It is not mine to ask. It is not mine to judge or to wonder. This is her distant shore, her healing. It is her moan of age-old sorrows coming home through the mist.

Are you sure?

Yes, Mom. I’m sure. I’m here for you. My only job these past months has been to be here for you. You have been my first priority every day, every night. It didn’t matter what else was going on. This was all about you.

Okay. Thank you. Can I tell you some more?

Yes. Whatever you need to say, I will carry it with you. I will carry it for you.

Her voice is softer now, halting, whispers from depths immeasurable in a cavern unexplored for most of a lifetime.

When we lived…

And I listen. I absorb this new, fractured light. It changes me. It changes her. And while she is giving away these shards of glass, daggers that shine with a razor-sharp edge, she is becoming brighter by the giving, and her shadows are retreating.

It is a moment of profound humility, for her and for me. It is a time that stretches beyond horizons and a time that will weave itself between my bones. It is a time that cannot be measured, and it cannot be contained.

These moments are agony and release entwined. They are shocking and they are of such tribulation that one can only weep in silence, listening, embracing. But they are also unlike any other in the dawn that they bring. They are a song of freedom, a hymn to grace. They allow the brittle and broken to run free, the wretched to see new light.

And now, there is peace. There is an ease about her that I have never known. She is ready for what comes next. She has cast off her anchors. She is free.

Never as a very young man did I foresee these moments. Never did I guess that I would sit with my mother hours from death, listening to her ancient lament. Never did I dream that I would weep with her over wounds so bloody, scars so unnamable. Never.

But here I sit – months later – considering what she entrusted to me that day. Secrets, yes. Deep, dark, yes. Wounds from a lifetime and not so long ago, yes. Remarkable privilege, yes. But most of all, she gave me a lesson in love, love that is vulnerable, love that trusts, love that believes in the strength of another.

Mom thought that I was doing her a favor that day, giving her the gift sharing her grief, of unburdening her soul. It is true that I may have done that, but the greater gift – greater by far – was her trust in me. I am forever grateful, and I am forever changed.


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