For Hours…

A personal meditation on the matter and the meaning of my mother’s death


Tuesday, January 13, 2015. Long before dawn, my mother, Clara Lolita Roberts Abernathy, died. Or, more truly, my mother’s body died.

In 1996, around the time of my father’s death, my mother was formally diagnosed: Dementia of the Alzheimer’s type.

Years before, I had thought – and then, progressively, through the years after, I knew – something deathly was afoot. The manifold conversations of her self-acknowledged forgetfulness. Then her rapid and unaware repetition of random thoughts. Then, that searing moment, which I never will forget (until, perhaps, I, too, will forget) when she looked at me and, with sincerely querying eyes, asked, “Who are you?” Then, increasingly, her mumbled unintelligible syllables gradually fading to a deafening, enduring silence.

Then she died.

For hours, I sat at bedside with her withered body as, for years, it had been and, now, too, barren of the breath of life.

For hours, I did nothing.

For hours, I called no one. (There would be time to summon the coroner. My mother – for much of her life, a stickler for keeping attention to the passage of seconds, minutes, and hours, earthly commodities, she believed and taught, of great value – no longer needed to worry about their use or their waste.)

For hours, I wept at the loss of all that never would be shared. Memories. Some sweet. Some bitter. And of all that never could be gained. Answers to questions. Why, mother, o’er the years of my living from childhood to adulthood, did you do this or that or not do this or that?

For hours, I wondered. Did she know? Where she was? Who she was? That she was dying? That she had died?

For hours, I pondered. The impenetrable mystery of the inexorable transition from earthly mortality to eternal non-incarnate being. Does it feel? Can one, can you, mother, feel? Does it hurt? Does it heal?

For hours, repeatedly, I prayed in faith, longing to believe the truth of it: Happy from now on are those who die in the Lord! So it is, says the Spirit, for they rest from their labors.[1]

And then, as the first feeble rays of dawn’s light crept into the room, slowly dispelling the night’s shadows, I arose from my seat. I went to the kitchen. From the freezer, I took a half-gallon of vanilla bean ice cream. My mother’s favorite, a hearty scoop of which, as I recalled, she gleefully consumed every evening without fail (until she couldn’t).

Serving myself an over-generous helping, I returned to her bedside and, in tribute to her – to all that she was and all that she was not, nevertheless – as the one who bore me bodily into this world, in thanksgiving, tearfully, I ate.

© 2021 PRA

#whenmymotherdied #forhoursIsatbyherside #therewouldbetimetodothings

[1] The Book of Revelation 14.13

2 thoughts on “For Hours…

  1. Paul,

    This post made me cry, and I was eating ice cream when I read this! I remember the day your mother’s body died very well. Unfortunately I never got to meet her before she was lost to Alzheimer’s. I totally understand the depth of the pain of not getting answers we need and want from a parent. Sending you love and prayers of comfort.



  2. Loretta, I suppose – or, more truly, I believe that I know – that always there are questions in this life; in this instant case of the subject of this post, about parent-child relationships. And I suspect that for myself I have come to believe that I cannot, thus, will not know everything I would have wanted to know. And, in the face of that reality, I still have to continue to live and, I pray, thrive, for as long as I do live. And, perhaps, that – striving to live and to thrive – is the best (the only?) way to move on and carry on amidst questions without answers.



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