The Last Conversation I Had With My Mother

(just a warning this is probably a tear-jerker)

I walked back into my apartment, after one of those pivotal therapy sessions that alters your mindset irrevocably. I had come to terms with, as best I could, that my mother was not much longer for this earth. Her systems were shutting down one by one, and her oncologist kept changing her estimates of how much longer she might have: first six months, then three months.

Terrified doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt, but after my therapist asked me if there was anything I truly regretted about our relationship, I realized there wasn’t.

“I don’t know, being an asshole to her as a teenager?”

“Everyone’s an asshole as a teenager, there’s no way she’s harboring a grudge over that.”

“Is there anything you wish you’d said?”

“I wish I told her more how much I love her.”

“She knows.”

And though this conversation drove daggers through my heart, facing the reality of what lied ahead, it left me with a deep peace, knowing that, no matter what, she was aware of how deeply I loved her and she harbored no major grudges against me, her only daughter.

I arrived home to a CD from an ex-boyfriend. Simon and Garfunkel, The Concert in Central Park, 1981. “This album helped me through tough times, I hope it can do the same for you.”

I loaded the album on my Spotify (because 2017, so no Walkman, sadly) and headed up to my roof to see the rainbow everyone was posting on Instagram that night. As darkness fell, so did a light rainfall, washing over my bare shoulders on that muggy evening. My tears mixed with the rain as I listened to that album over and over and over again.

Staring downtown at the Freedom Tower, I contemplated my own freedom, my own life, thinking about what it might be like in the absence of my guiding light. It would fucking suck, no doubt, but it would have to be OK. At some point. Right? Throughout her illness, I fought — because she wanted me to — tooth and nail to believe that this wasn’t happening. That she was stronger than a few asshole cancer cells. It doesn’t matter if you’re strong. It matters how fast the cells multiply.

As I thought about her impending mortality, I became angry once again that this disease had ravaged my mother so. That it was going to take this woman with so much life to the other side. As this fitness nut is wont to do, I thought about what workout I should do the next morning. How best I could work out my feelings.

Box + Flow immediately popped into my head. It’s yin, it’s yang. It’s fight, it’s flow. I could channel my anger for fucking cancer and punch the shit out of things, and then I could flow, and release that energy in a different way. I feared I might cry in child’s pose but opened myself up for that possibility, though the tears didn’t come…then.

It was early, and I knew nobody, which is exactly the anonymity I wanted as I worked through these deepest of feelings. I punched the shit out of things (sorry to random girl next me?), and then I melted into that savasana in a way I never have, before or since. That fight and flow reminded me of my relationship with my mom even. She was the flight, I was the generally easygoing flow. It’s how we were able to get along so well.

Bright, bright white sunlight as I stepped out onto Bond Street to make my way back to the F train. I remember thinking “everything is going to be OK” and being happy for a moment — no matter how fleeting.

Her condition had deteriorated so so quickly, and I was so afraid of getting “that” call, that I called my dad obsessively for updates on her condition and any tiny shifts threw me into a state of anxiety. She’d stopped answering the phone when I called in April, I think to spare me from her immense pain as best she could.

But I called my dad that morning and he said “your mother wants to talk to you.” I was more excited to talk to my mom than I had ever been in those 34 years, four months and nine days.

Trying to put on the cheerful front for her she and my dad had both asked me to do, I bubbled excitedly about my workout, “Mom! I just had such a great workout. I punched the shit out of cancer for you. Mom, I did it for you. I love you. And then there was yoga, and now I’m walking towards the train. Mom, it’s so nice outside, have Dad take you onto the patio to sit in the sun for a bit. Mom, did you eat yet? What did you have for breakfast?”

She told me about the eggs and toast her caretaker had made for her, and that they were good, and she ate a whole piece of toast. (Her last six weeks or so, she had difficulty eating because the cancer was just everywhere.)

We probably talked for no more than a minute or two before she handed the phone back to my dad, and I lost count of how many times I told her I loved her, just in case one of those was the last.

As the universe would have it, the F train had major delays, and it was faster for me to walk home that morning. As I walked up Broadway, I distinctly remember the enormity of that conversation hitting me. That it was very possible that was the last time I had a conversation with my mom. I was slightly buoyed by the fact that we had been able to talk just a little bit like normal, and struck by the pain of how much I had already missed those conversations, and how I would miss those conversations for the rest of my life.

Because it’s those small moments that make a life. That knowing there’s someone there who cares about your day, no matter how banal it is.


11 comments on “The Last Conversation I Had With My Mother

  1. Katie

    One week from today my mom will be gone 7 years. I was just shy of 28 when she passed and she was my best friend in the world. Unlike your mom, she passed very suddenly so I didn’t have time to build up a sense of dread about what was to come, but I still think about our last conversation all the time. How I wanted to sneak out of the house without waking her up because I didn’t want her to know I skipped going to the gym that morning … I have no idea why I did this now but I’m so glad now I was unsuccessful. How pointedly she told me she loved me as I was walking out the door. How she told me she’d stayed up the night before paying all the bills for the month (they say heart attacks sometimes come with a sense of impending doom). How blissfully unaware I was that my life was going to change forever that day.

    It took me around 2.5 years to start feeling like a human being again after losing her. I still catch myself every once in awhile reaching for my phone to call her up and tell her something about my day. My heart aches for you following along on your grief journey knowing that there is no shortcut or quick fix and that the only way out is through. Just know that it *will* get easier but never easy, and that there are other motherless children out here who can relate and are rooting for you. Sending you love.

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      Thank you for this comment, Katie <3 I want to hug my laptop right now since I can't hug you. It's these moments that are now burned on our hearts forever, right?

      It's funny, someone commented just after my mom died that she had tried to rush the grief process after losing her mom by reading everything she could, doing everything she could...and that is exactly what I tried to do, maybe even causing myself more frustration and grief. It's now been 10 months and I'm just a bit more accepting of the reality and beginning to have a slightly "easier" time with this and understanding the only way out is through.

  2. Emily

    I am ugly crying over here right now. This has been on my mind so much lately, not as a daughter losing her mother, but with the possibility of my son growing up without me. I feel like I vacillate so much between “do all the things” and “so emotionally exhausted I am literally flattened” – and I just don’t feel strong any more. It’s so hard to deal with this shit.

  3. Emily

    @Theodora Blanchfield: I haven’t – I want to start, but I can’t bring myself to actually do them without completely losing my mind. It just makes things feel too real, and I figure/hope that when or if I eventually need to start doing that, I can do that. I did do monthly letters his first year, and write them twice yearly with stats and life updates, so hopefully that suffices for now 🙂 I do want to make some big family photo books though. And of course, I have a secret list on my computer with all of my EOL wishes, ideas, plans, etc. Which is super fun. I actually am hoping that by keeping the blog updated, that will be more effective as a snapshot of this whole journey.

  4. Maureen

    I lost my father 7 months ago. I was fortunate to have had him in my life for as long as I did.
    It was cancer and it was a quick 4-5 weeks between diagnosis and passing. In that time all my siblings were able to come in from where they live (some live out of the country).
    In the 4-5 weeks, I was able to celebrate my birthday with my father in attendance. At this gathering he was tired so he left early. I still remember the few words he was able to express to me a few weeks later when it was hard for him to talk and I still have them in my head. Words that we said to each other that I will not forget.
    I do still have my mother but she is not in the best of health. I am cherishing the time we have together.

  5. Lindsay

    I don’t remember my last conversation with my mom. I wish I did. I do vividly remember the day she said to me, “if I die, don’t call 911. Just call dad. If you call 911 they have to try to save me.”. I was 19 and home for the rest of fall semester after having surgery for what they thought might be ovarian cancer. Thank God it wasn’t. But I’ll never forget that conversation.

  6. Tracy

    June 4th will be 8 Year’s since I lost my mother. The last week she was in the hospital she was incoherent. But the last day, that Friday when I said goodbye and I love you she smiled. I don’t know if she heard me but that smile will always stick in my head since two minutes later she passed away. I wish more then anything i could remember our last conversation, but atleast I have that memory.

    I’ve been scared to let anyone in fully and only recently have I told myself I need to let myself love someone again. I can’t imagine so many moments without her. It’s scares me. I know she would want me to move on but it’s a struggle.

    Thank you for sharing this and always being honest about the journey, as I can relate.

  7. Alison

    This is such a good memory, and it will be as happy and clear in your mind forever as it is right now. Promise 🙂

    My dad passed away quite some time ago, but I remember the end pretty clearly. I’m the oldest child and my parents were divorced, so I took on a lot of the caretaking. I found out my dad’s cancer was terminal on a Thursday and he was himself, charming and jovial despite the devastating news, but when I went back to the hospital a few days later (I lived out of state and was in grad school, so it was a lot to juggle) he had deteriorated so much, he was confused and very out of sorts. The next day he couldn’t really speak at all and I realized he was slipping away (weeks ahead of the prognosis). I sat with him, talking a bit and keeping him company while he just stared at the ceiling, but as I got ready to leave that night he seemed to have a moment of lucidity and turned to me and said “Today was a good day, thank you. I love you.” The whole situation was awful, so painful and shocking and I was not prepared at all for the grief, but I am eternally grateful for that genuine goodbye moment.

    Thanks for sharing, and reminding me of a little warm fuzzy moment of my own.

  8. Allie

    You know I know how you feel. It’s agonizing for sure but the beginning of your story really struck me because I WAS the asshole teenager when my mom died. I was terrible to her and had so much guilt about it for so many years, until I became a mom myself and I knew, without a doubt that my mom knew how much I loved her and what I said as a 16/17 year-old didn’t hold a candle to how she felt about me and me her. I’m so happy you were able to reconcile that before your mom passed because it took me years!
    I wish I could hug you and tell you it will be ok but there’s nothing ok about losing your mom. Maybe just this — you had the experience and love and support of an incredible mom for as long as you did. Some people never get it at all and that is something. xo

  9. Katie

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and your mother’s love. While I haven’t had your experience, my mother has had a cancer diagnosis, so you always know it can come back at anytime. Love to you.


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