I stopped at the florist on the way to the hospital. I had to wait in line, but that was okay, because I got the last red rose. Mom and I both liked them; it was one of the few things we had in common. The florist put it in a vase with a ribbon for me.
As the hospital doors opened, I suppressed a shudder. It smelled wrong here, like misery and disinfectant. At least the rose helped. I took the elevator to the third floor and walked down the hall to her room. Mom was in the far bed, next to the window. Three days ago I’d simply sat and read while she slept.
But Mom was awake today. She licked her lips and said, “Doris.”
I hated that name; I’d had it legally changed years ago.
I put a smile on my face and showed her the rose. “I got something for you.” Her lips curved, so I held it close enough for her to smell before setting the vase on the rolling table by the bed.
We watched Happy Days reruns until I noticed Mom trying to move her hand toward the nurse call button. I pressed it for her, then patted the back of her hand gently, once. But Mom wasn’t watching the TV anymore; her eyes were on me. They had widened, and her breathing was labored.
I ran to the hall and yelled, “I need a nurse NOW,” before rushing back to Mom’s side. She had tears in her eyes, so I reached for her hand and held it this time.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped. “Please…remember me kindly.”
So many harsh memories reared their heads. The constant criticism, the wall of indifference impervious to pleas, the sly remarks, the years of hiding both bruises and shame.
She saw my hesitation and managed one more word. “Please.”
Mom had never asked me for anything before. And this woman had kept me alive for fifteen years, until I was able to climb out my window and do it myself. And as hard as it was, at least I’d been alive to do it.
I gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “Of course, Mom.” But the moment seemed to demand honesty, and I couldn’t say she’d been a great mother. “I’ll remember you reading me those little golden books. The Poky Little Puppy and The Little Engine that Could.” She had, before Dad left and our lives spiraled out of control.
Her eyes begged for more.
My gaze fell to the rose on the table. “And I remember cutting roses with you, to put in a vase for Grandma on Mother’s Day.” Nothing else was coming to me.
Apparently it was enough, for she smiled faintly as the nurse arrived. He was followed by a doctor, and their attempts, though urgent and well-meant, failed.
Mom was dead.
I took the rose home with me. As I walked out the hospital doors, I took a deep breath and began humming Amazing Grace.
I was free.