We rarely recognize last times when they come.
I’m the mother of four (mostly) grown children, and I couldn’t tell you that I recall the last diaper I changed as a mama, the last time I nursed my youngest, the last time I cuddled a little one who woke up in the middle of the night with a bad dream.
During the course of COVID lockdowns, we were unable to be with so many of our beloved church people, those living in senior centers, and over those months, we lost several to death or to relocating after a spouse’s passing. As I’ve come back to Sunday worship, those losses are all the more poignant because I didn’t know when I saw them last that it was . . . the last.
Fourteen years ago tonight, I was going through lasts with my mother.
The last time her eyes opened and she knew me.
The last time she spoke to me.
The last instruction she gave me.
The last time she squeezed my hand.
The last decision she made.
We sat in that hospital room at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and we kept watch. We waited. We were mostly women: my mother’s sisters, her niece, her granddaughters, and her daughters, my sister and me. My cousin and my son were our token guys.
It was my oldest daughter’s prom night. When we knew what was coming–because after months of fighting leukemia and rejection following a stem cell transplant, in the end, it was very sudden–we brought over my four children who ranged from six to eighteen. My husband had been living in Florida for nearly a year ahead of our family’s move there. I hated that the night was ruined for her, but being together, all of us, at the end was important.
When I look back now, fourteen years later, I remember some things very clearly. My daughter, still in her prom gown, had been given a scrub top by a kind nurse who knew that the beading on the strapless dress was chafing her arms. When she went wandering in search of coffee that night, I’m pretty sure patients thought they were having hallucinations. I remember that even in the midst of anticipatory grief, I had to worry about things that had to do with my parents’ estate–my father had died 51 weeks earlier. And I remember the love and care poured out on us by everyone at the hospital and by family and friends all over the world.
When we left the hospital late on the morning of June 2nd, I knew it was the last time. And although I’d hated the circumstances that brought us there for a solid eighteen months–for first one parent and then the other–leaving was hard.
It was an ending.
It was a last.