"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

24 October 2013

"What will survive of us is love." R.I.P. Mom (Marion Lynn Williams, 1931-2013)

I'd like to honour my mother who died this morning after a short struggle with cancer. She was 82 years young.

I am grateful that I was able to see her before she died and while she was still fairly aware of what was going on around her and able to have conversations. We talked openly about death and dying as well as life and living. There was nothing left unsaid when it came time for me to leave. That was one of the hardest things I had to do -- to walk away from my Mom in hospital for the last time. I'd sat with her all afternoon holding her hand, sitting in that profound yet mundane silence. I kissed her, gave her a hug and told her I loved her. I asked her if she knew she was loved. She smiled and nodded. As I walked away, I turned, thinking there might be some last words to make our parting easier. "See you later," I said, trying to hold back tears. She opened her eyes, smiled again and replied, "No, you won't." She was right, of course. She had accepted death in a way I could not.

Her greatest wish was that we remain strong as a family. Certainly, her dying and growing weakness brought out the family's strength. Every day in hospital one or more family members were there for her. Grand-daughters and grandsons pitched in to help arriving in the wee hours of the morning to be there when their grandmother woke up, staying throughout the long day and sitting with her until she fell asleep at night. Her children too--my brothers and sister--and their partners were also there each step of the way. Never have I been so proud of my family. My mother's dying allowed me to see them in a light I'd not witnessed before -- the light of love.

My mother was not perfect by any means (few parents are and neither am I). She was not your traditional "earth mother" maternal woman. After giving birth to six children in quick succession, she acknowledged the failure of her marriage and left the family. Rather than split us children up, she agreed that we would live with our father while she set out to find herself and a career. Her leaving affected all of us in different ways. I was the oldest though not yet a teenager. I felt betrayed and bewildered and turned against her in anger and silence. Unbeknownst to me at the time, that seismic shift in my life caused me to set out on a journey of self-discovery that would lead to a pretty remarkable life. In short, if my mom and dad hadn't been the people they were (warts and all) and things hadn't happened the way they did, I wouldn't be who I am today. I'm grateful I had the opportunity to thank her for that before she died.

Several years ago, over lunch, my mother tearfully asked if I could forgive her for leaving us. I knew immediately that her request was genuine and heartfelt. And thankfully because of the years of therapy and self-exploration, I was in a position to genuinely offer forgiveness. It was a special moment in a rather unremarkable greasy spoon cafe. Later, I too asked for her forgiveness for not being the son she might have wished for. We were lucky that we could do this before death intervened. I had missed the opportunity with my dad; I'm grateful I was given a second chance with my mom. Don't underestimate the power of forgiveness.

My mother's dying also precipitated another act of forgiveness. An old disagreement between her and her younger brother had resulted in a long-standing cold war between them that had gone on for many years. My brother had informed our uncle and his wife of Mom's condition. His wife informed us that he had received the message and that he was genuinely sorry for her and wished her well. When asked if she would like to see him, Mom tightened her lip and shook her head. Yet one day a couple of weeks ago, the impossible happened -- our uncle appeared at her hospital bedside. My sister was there at the time and she reported how he sat and held her hand. She left the room, giving them the privacy and opportunity to say whatever they had to say to one another. When she returned an hour later, he was gone. But Mom was smiling peacefully. She didn't say what was said, she simply told us it was good that he had come. Forgiveness, compassion, love -- these are the elements precipitated out of the cauldron where life and death mingle together.

My hope is that Mom also found it within her power to forgive herself for whatever wrongs or misdeeds she felt she had done. In her final hours, the pain of her cancer and the effects of medication caused her to cry out words of despair and vitriol often projected against whoever happened to be sitting with her. Yet this was not to be taken personally but rather, I felt, accepted as some of the inner poison to be expelled, the toxic dregs of self-loathing and insecurity that lurks within all of us. Dying is also a purging, part of the preparation for the soul's journey.

After what seemed an interminable amount of time and suffering, our Mother finally found peace this morning. My sister was at her bedside. The night had been difficult with Mom's sleep interrupted by bouts of panic as she gasped for breath while her lungs were filling with fluid. The nurses had drained her lungs and got her settled again. According to my sister, several hours later, in the dead of night, Mom suddenly opened her eyes and recognised her daughter. My sister had a few moments to reassure her, tell her we all loved her, then told her gently to go to her Mother and Father. Mom closed her eyes and was gone. My sister reported that never had Mom looked so peaceful than in that moment. Death the devil of torment transformed into an angel of mercy.

Now we begin the story-catching and story-making, sharing our memories of our mother and ourselves and all those who were fortunate (and unfortunate) enough to come into my mother's ken. She could be a caustic, irksome woman at times who drove us crazy; she could say the most insensitive things without realising it; and yet she could also be sweet, compassionate and understanding. I saw that what she lacked in being a mother, she made up in being a loved and loving grandmother. And though there was a distance between us for many years, she never stopped sending me a birthday card every year or calling or emailing me. In more recent years, we established a good relationship, calling and skyping one another regularly. I'll miss her. I'll miss those calls. I'll miss her voice. I'll miss my mother.

Like a bad storyteller, I'm going on too long. I use words to try and make everything ok. Words, words, words, lamented Hamlet. Allow me, however, to close with the words of another enigmatic poet, Philip Larkin who, despite criticism of his often perceived curmudgeonly character, saw that at the end of it all, "What will survive of us is love" (read his "Arundel Tomb"). So, at the end of a life filled with complexities and complications, death brings a simple realisation. What will survive of us is love. That's your legacy, Mom. Love. Simply, love.

Rest in peace.


  1. Beautifully written. I can relate to this right now, as you know and am experiencing the steps before the inevitable with my husband. Sounds like you are at peace and now just need the time to heal. Writing about it was step one. Your Mother must have been so proud of the person you are! xo wendy

  2. I have been trying to sum it up in my mind ... but continually fall short with a kind of numbness the events of the last few months. Your tribute has allowed me today to expel that breath (of death) I have been holding on to. Thank you.

  3. Michael, You must feel very grateful that you were able to share those last days with your mom. I have often wondered how your relationship with your mom would evolve over time. I still feel very sad and full of regret that I was unable to have those last conversations with my dear mom. In fact, I feel "robbed". My mom was the best mom a girl could ever have. She was caring, giving and full of life and love. I didn't expect her to die. The last conversation we had was when she called me to tell me that she was so sick (again) with pneumonia. She seemed to have pneumonia at least once a year since I was just a child. This time, when she called, she told me that she was sweating so much that she wanted to "dunk her head" into a sink of cold water. We laughed, because that it what my dad did each morning to style his hair. I told her not to, as I feared that she would become dizzy and fall over and hit her head on the bathtub. I wanted her to go to emergency, but she refused since there was a c-dificil outbreak at the hospital. The last thing we ever talked about was how much it warmed her heart remembering the time that she phoned to tell me how sick she was, only to have me arrive at her door a few hours later, coming from Parry Sound. I told her that I wished that I could just hop on a plane from North Carolina to be with her. I called her the next day, and there was no answer, so the following day, I called her friends to see if she was OK. Nan Smith (you might remember her) told me she did decide to go to the hospital. I said I would make flight arrangements to come see her. Unfortunately, Nan figured she would get well again, like she always did year after year, so might flight plans were delayed. She tried so hard to hang on until I got there, because we did have things that we needed to say. Drowning in her own fluids, she finally opted to be " hooked up" and put in a coma, knowing she may not live through it, just a couple hours before I arrived. I told her all the things I wanted to tell her, hoping that she would still feel my love for her, if not hear my words.
    My mom died loving me, but also, I feel, disappointed in me. A few months before her death, my husband and she had a major disagreement. (money was involved) He was very rude and thoughtless toward her. It was more important to him to stick to his point of view, and "win" the battle rather than think about what a wonderful mother in law/ mother she had always been to us. I have not forgiven myself for not standing up to my (now former) husband. While I tried to smooth it over with my mom, I didn't feel confident enough to battle it out at home, and stand up for what was right. I do know how to do that now. Four months after mom died, I went to "the cottage" near Parry Sound to tear down and demolish the parts of the building that were falling down, so that I could rebuild. As it turned out, spending those 2 months alone in the woods, looking at the lake gave me a lot of time to think. I left my husband. I feel stronger.

  4. Beautifully said...

  5. What an amazing journey you were blessed to take with your mom! There is hope!

  6. Michael
    Beautifully written
    Mark Wicken



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