Sunday, July 23, 2017

This could be the last time, maybe the last time, I don't know...

Lately I've been thinking about last times.

More specifically I've been thinking about last times that I knew were last times, which made them even more sad.

Like the last time my mom kissed me.

In the summer of 2012, she was dying of lung cancer, which had spread to her brain. There are so many things to say about that time, of course, including how she was dying as I was on the verge of getting married, and how bittersweet that was, and how hard it was to see her lose the ability to speak, read, and write (My mother!!! To whom, like me, speaking, reading, and writing were everything).

But if I go into all that right now, I will never get to the point.

Maybe a week or so before she died in October  2012, I was getting ready to go out and meet a friend for dinner. I'd been at her apartment all day, during which time she'd hardly been conscious at all. As it turned out, she chose the exact moment I was leaving to wake up.

She wasn't talking much by that point (if at all). Mostly she slept. By this time, she was in bed for the last time and hadn't moved in a while. At least she didn't seem to be in pain.

I went to say goodbye to her this night - I remember it was a pleasant, balmy night (as it often is in Palo Alto, California) -- thinking I would kiss her on the cheek and leave her to her ever-deepening sleep.

Instead, she opened her eyes when I said goodbye. And I immediately felt guilty for leaving. And for wanting to leave, even now that she was awake, because watching over someone's deathbed all day is nothing if not draining.

I said something like "Mom, I'm going to go over to Katie's for dinner now, OK?" Then I went to kiss her on the cheek.

To my surprise, she bolted semi-upright and kissed ME on the cheek. A full, hearty kiss. Just like she had done every night when I was little kid, and every night when I was an adult too, if I happened to be visiting with her. My mom never failed with the goodnight kiss.

But of course, she hadn't done that in quite a while. Like I said, she couldn't really move anymore. It must have taken every last ounce of energy she had to sit up and kiss me that night.

She fell back down on her pillow after that, exhausted. She might have croaked out the word "goodbye." Probably not.

Startled, sad and yet uplifted, I left the house to go have dinner with my friend. I knew deep down, somewhere, that it was the last time she would kiss me. But I didn't let myself feel the enormity of it at that moment. I still had the whole business of her actual death to get through (Which is something I thought I was prepared for after her semi-prolonged illness, but I was totally not.)

But now, four years later, I think often about that moment. How she must have known she was dying because she made that last effort to let me know just how much she loved me.

Four years later the thought of that kiss both sustains me and also makes me weep uncontrollably.

I also often feel an intense anger at myself for not writing down every word of this exchange in my journal right after it happened. For example, I don't know the exact date that last kiss happened.  What kind of writer am I? What kind of daughter am I?

When the anger passes, though, I realize I wasn't such a bad daughter. Oh sure, I was completely self-involved and constantly caught up in my own dramas. But despite our occasional squabbles and screaming fights (remind me to tell you about the time I threw a spoon at her at Thanksgiving), my mom and I were the best of friends. And that made both our lives so much better.

I like to think that it made her death a little better too.

And even if I didn't write down the stupid date or exactly what we said (which is what my mom would have done if she'd been able to write in her journal), I will never forget that kiss.