I am reminded of what a good friend said to me with the passing of my first wife fifteen years ago. She said that we do the best we can, given the person we are, the information we have, and the circumstances at the time.
Back in November, before the Thanksgiving holiday, I was planning when to visit my mom: Christmas and her birthday? I finally planned on my birthday at the first of February. Then I could spend time with my children and grandchildren, and also travel was so much more hectic and expensive during the holidays. As information came in from Mom, that February date moved to mid-January, then a week earlier, and then finally I left the second of January.
I could have gone earlier, had I recognized that this was “the big one,” the event of Mom’s passing. The early stages of her passing were not acute, though--congestion of the heart, but in and out of the hospital. The fact that she was allowed to leave the hospital was an indication she was doing better. Then she was at the rehabilitation center in order to regain her strength before going home. I was told that she was exercising and eating well. She was interacting with the staff and beginning to adjust.
When that situation changed, it changed very quickly. I received a call from the facility, saying Mom no longer wanted to exercise and was not eating well. I changed my ticket and left for California. When I arrived, the nurse said that the change had been sudden, that there had been no indication for the nurses or doctors that her situation was going to change so suddenly. “She’s old and tired,” the nurse said. “Her heart has beat many, many times.”
I remember what Mom said. “Nobody knows when you’re going to go except Him,” she said, pointing her finger up toward the sky. “And when your time comes, nobody--not you or all the doctors in the world--can do anything about it. If it’s your time, it’s your time.
Mom had a roommate at the rehabilitation facility. I was introduced to her as she rolled her wheelchair down the hallway. “Oh, I’m so glad to meet you!” she exclaimed. “Give me a hug. I feel like I already know you. Your mom has talked so much about her life and her children.”
That transition from talking about her life to her passing, from eating and exercising to going deep within herself, happened in about a week. I was a good son who arrived to be with her, to say my goodbyes, even though she was deep inside herself. I was the good son who came to see her so many times over her last four years, fifteen to twenty trips out to visit. I was the good son who slept months and months, well over a year of months, on the living room sofa to be with her, to visit and care for her. If I did not judge this last time to be my final visit with her, if I was surprised by her quick decline--well, so were the doctors and nurses who were right beside her, so was Mom surprised (yet ready, I believe0, by the sudden turn of events. She dealt with the situation as it arose, and so did I. I wish I had come earlier, but I did the best I could. I made what I thought was the best decision.
I spent years being with and caring for my mother. Anger and guilt are part of grieving. So is acceptance. I did the best I could, and I forgive myself. The only alternative is to believe that I deliberately and selfishly made a decision, knowing that it would hurt my mother. I didn’t do that; that’s not the person I am.
I know Mom would forgive me. She’d say there is nothing to forgive. “Both my boys are good boys,” she said to us many times. “I’m so lucky to have you to take care of me.”
I did the best I could, and although I can always second guess in hindsight, all in all, I did a pretty good job, the best job I could, anyway. I was there to care for her many times. I made her life better. I tried my best.