The hardest goodbye

My mom is dying.

There’s no easy way to say that, no softer words to use that will make the reality any easier to accept. My mother, who bore me, raised me, loved me always, supported me unconditionally, will be leaving here soon and going to the heaven we both believe in so


Mom at my house for the last time, last June. She was 94.


And, she’s determinedly doing it her way.

Mom had a massive stroke during the early hours of March 24. Very massive, according to the doctor. It affected two parts of her brain. There will be no coming back from this, and after waiting a couple of days, it was decided to put her in hospice. We thought she had days to live.

It’s now April 2 and she’s still with us. She has opened her blue eyes now and then, responded feebly when told we love her, and confounded the doctors with her tenacious grasp on life. There is a daily decline, though, and we know we don’t have much time left with her.

Mom was the rallying point for our family, and she continues to be. My husband and I traveled to her bedside from Wisconsin, another sister came from Kanas. My kids came from Colorado and Minnesota. We’ve sat together,

Faces photo

Our traditional faces photo whenever we are together. Kay (left), Denise and me, always with Mom in the middle.

laughed together, cried, prayed and supported each other. We’ve comforted each other and comforted her. My husband had to go back to Wisconsin, my kids left today, my sister Denise flies out Wednesday, and only Kay and I will be left. Maybe that will be literally true. Maybe Mom won’t be here by then, but with her, we just don’t know.

Outside the hospital window the waves of Lake Michigan roll in relentlessly, slapping against the shore, then slipping back into the great body of water from which they came. They remind me of the short burst of activity that defines our lives, and the endless ocean of God’s love and immortality to which we belong and to which we return.

Mom would like that. Lake Michigan was her anchor, even during the years she lived along the Gulf of Mexico, or near the shores of Lake Superior. Lake Michigan, with its bands of variegated color, always drew her. She bragged about its sandy shores and light-hearted personality when she lived far from it, and she roamed its edges almost daily when she lived nearby. She picked driftwood, gathered shells and collected petoskey stones (found only in this area of Michigan). She painted it, swam in it, picnicked along its shore. In her mind, it was the best of all waters.

Now, she lays just yards away, unaware that it sings its soothing song. The lake is like an old friend who hovers near for support but doesn’t intrude. Maybe, after all, she is aware on some level.

She’s also surrounded and supported by prayer–those of others far away, and our own. We do the Liturgy of Hours, the same prayer she prayed daily for decades. We pray the rosary, and the chaplet of mercy, and we know from small responses that they resonate within her, that her spirit prays with us, that she draws comfort from them. They comfort us, too. We’ve always been bound together in prayer, all our lives. It’s what we shared no matter the distance between us. It’s what we’ll share when she’s in heaven, where the prayer never stops.

mom wave

It won’t be goodbye. It will be “see you later.”

We’re blessed to have this time, to accompany her on this journey. Not everyone gets this opportunity to travel with their mother from this world to the horizon that leads to the next. It hurts, and we cry, but we’re blessed. We should be so lucky when our time comes.

My mom is dying. This is a sacred time.


About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
This entry was posted in death, dying, mother's death, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The hardest goodbye

  1. blb1 says:

    Monica I know this is such a hard time and you write about it so well. I would love for someone to sing my favorite hymns when my time comes. Must remember to tell daughter that. 😉 I will lift your mom and you in my little Methodist prayer now.

    • Monica Sawyn says:

      Thank you, Bonnie. I surely do appreciate the prayers. My mom requested one song, the rest we have to choose ourselves. Doing it ahead of time is really very thoughtful, when you think about it.

  2. Mj Balaskovits says:

    So blessed to have you as a friend. Dan and I are sending prayers for continuing strength for all of you. Although you are quite a realist, this still hurts. So, we are sending prayers to ease the pain. You have so many friends who have joined you on this journey–so many hearts tied to yours. Many of us have already lost our parents but, because you have so generously shared your journey, we are swept along with you in sympathy, admiration, and love.

  3. Bunny says:

    thank you so much for sharing this beautiful person, your mom.

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