My Mother is a Candle

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My mother is a candle.

Losing a parent is not something that one can prepare for, no matter how long and hard the battle is that leads up to death. In my mother’s case, that battle was very long and very hard, the end-result of years and years of smoking, and one fatal decision to ignore a lump. Yet despite the months of deterioration that led up to her death, the end was a shock. People asked me if it was sudden, and I was surprised that I couldn’t find a right answer. Yes, it was sudden, as in the end game lasted only a couple of days. But it was more than the end game. It was a long, slow decline in physical and mental health. My mother, independent, smart, sharp, and loving in her own critical way, began to disappear long before she took her last breath.

I thought that the last dire diagnosis, which was unassailable, had put me in the mindset to prepare for her death. Only two weeks before she died, I told a friend that I was ready—that I knew it was coming and I was calm and at peace. My friend presciently told me that it wasn’t going to be so easy, and that it would be okay if I allowed myself to be emotional over her death. I thought a lot about that comment as I sat by my mother’s side during her last three days, and as her rhythmic breathing began to slow, then slow some more, I felt the fear begin to build in me.

When it finally happened, so surreal but so absolutely real, the tears came, as well as the guttural anguish that I thought I had been immunized from in the lead-up. It wasn’t about allowing myself to be emotional—the grief came in uncontrollable waves. And it still does…

In all honesty, my mother would be appalled that I am writing this. She was adamant that upon her death we were not to eulogize her. “Get on with your lives,” she commanded us, as if we could just move on from her. I can’t. I won’t. I don’t ever want to.

My mother is a candle. It will burn for seven days on my counter. Then it will go out. But it will burn forever in my heart.

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