How do you say goodbye?

How do you say goodbye to your mother? How do you say goodbye to the person around whom your awareness has circled for decades? To the person who gave you life? And saved it, more than once?

The truth is, I have no idea.

With humor, certainly, because that was central to our lives.

With love, because we had that by the houseful.

With sorrow, to be sure. We hoped — and planned — for ten more years together, years during which she could continue to teach, and guide, and care, as she always had. Years during which we could enjoy great food, great music, great experiences, great people-watching.

With joy, for her ending was as good as anyone could hope — she died quietly in her sleep, here at home, after a day of visits and smiles and laughter, right up to only a few hours before she left us. I got to tell her I love her; I got to say goodnight. And in the morning she was gone. Somehow that seems just right.

She passed on in the early hours of Christmas morning, which sounds terrible, and will forever put a shadow on the holiday. But on the other hand, perhaps it was her final Christmas gift to herself and to us. For herself, it was the final release from long years of suffering — I think she was in a lot more pain than she ever let on — and a future of continued and increasing disability. She would have hated that, even while she studiously applied her game face.

And she, fiercely independent as she was, hated the thought of being any kind of burden. Who can blame her? We all wish we could be strong and hearty, and never have to ask for help, right up to the very end. I had to learn early, and the lessons were hard won. How much more difficult for her, who had always been hale and hearty, the willowy but fierce Admiral’s daughter, she who always walked her own path, even as a tiny child?

And true to form, she continued to forge her own way days — even hours — before she left.

Many of you know she fell the week before and wound up back in the hospital. She charmed and delighted the nurses, the techs, the stewards, the doctors — everyone.

And then, Sunday morning, I texted to let her know I was coming up, and she said, “PLEEEZ take me home!”

She was sick, and she knew it, but nobody else knew how sick. But she also knew she wasn’t getting any better there. So I brought her home. As weak as she was, getting her in the house required a couple of heroes, but once she was settled in, she was all smiles. She was home.

I will remember forever the joy she took in the simple food I brought her: home made chicken soup. In my care this past year she had gained 14 pounds, and I will always take pride in the fact that my cooking saved her from starvation.

Other folks have shared stories of bemusement, confusion, delight, laughter, and more. Mom was an enigma, a truly brilliant woman who often frightened people with her skill at playing her cards so close and yet somehow always knowing exactly what hand you were holding. I knew her perhaps best of all, and yet parts of her remain a mystery. And that’s exactly how she wanted it.

I could relay the facts of her life, but what’s the point? Her truth is that her inner life was rich beyond compare, an enviable existence.

She is again free, dancing among the stars, surrounded in love by those who went before her.

Goodnight, mom.

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