This post was originally published on 8 February 2015, in honor of the birth of my mother Joyce Yvonne Batte. I have made slight updates and reposted it again to honor her sixty-ninth birthday in 2016. Never take the time you have with your loved ones for granted. You never know when that time will end… or what will be left unsaid once the hourglass sands run out.
My mother, Joyce Yvonne Batte, was born on this date sixty-nine years ago.
She passed away over seven years ago, on Halloween.
I was weary that chilly Autumn night at the hospice, mentally exhausted beyond the point of comprehension and barely able to process what was happening around me. My sister, my ex-wife, and I had already spent several days by her side, awaiting the inevitable. Looking back at that night six years ago, I can scarce recall all the details. I know if I asked my sister, Jody, for details, she would be able to recall the exact words spoken in conversation or the exact actions taken by all family members who were present; she has always been more live, more present and in-the-moment, than I’ve ever been.
I remember our mother laying before us in a hospital bed, lost in delirium, muttering half-heard nothings and everythings about things past and worlds unseen. She walked the razor-thin path between this world and the next, and she had almost stepped completely out of this world.
Such pretty words, those… At the moment, her passing didn’t seem a very pretty affair. It was brutal, an emotional assault no one in our family was prepared for.
I cannot completely recall what Mother said in her delirium. She spoke of friends long dead, of friends still alive, and of angels. My mother often saw angels when she was alive (it runs in the family, I’m told), so she would naturally see them as she lay dying. The more angels she saw, the less time her mind remained in this world.
Eventually, Jody, my ex-wife Jewly, and I filed out of the room. Midnight was either about to pass or had already. On my way out the door, Mother turned to me and said, “‘Bye, Jerod.” She had been able to acknowledge our presence on occasion, so I thought this was Mother merely telling me “goodnight”. I casually said a quick, “Goodnight, Mom. I love you,” a little impatient to get a few hours of sleep before I would be back at hospice or work the next morning, and slipped out the door.
I had no idea Mother was saying her final “goodbye”.
None of us knew she had passed away until one of the nurses informed us a few moments later. Mother was a boisterous, happy soul who loved sharing her deep love for God with people. She loved laughing, and making others laugh as well; “if others laugh at you, laugh with them” was the motto she lived by. It seemed fitting somehow that she would prefer to exit the world quickly and quietly. No pomp and ceremony, no sorrow, no crying; she always hated the idea of funerals being sad affairs, anyway. If you were going to Heaven—a place of infinite joy, where you would rejoice continually in the presence of God, and where sorrow and illness did not exist—when you died, then why be sad about it? She waited until everyone was out of the room, then quietly stepped over the threshold into her well-earned rest.
Had I known that she was saying her final goodbye, you would’ve had to drag me out of that room with a crane. I wanted to say my final goodbyes to her, too—a true final goodbye, something heartfelt and meaningful, an “I love you” with purpose, not some perfunctory, tossed-off “bye, Mom,” like a kid late to school. I didn’t, though. I had missed the moment, and that moment would never happen again.
That mistake still haunts me to this day.
I had nightmares about Mom for some years after, from a few months after Mother passed away to long after the divorce a few years later. I would see Mother in my dreams, and spend time with her… but I knew it was a dream the entire time, and that I wasn’t really talking to my mother at all. The dream entity that wore my mother’s face would confirm that immediately before I awoke, and I would wake with a start, crying and shaking.
Try as I might—and I have tried to think of a happier memory for days now; I started this entry seven days before I originally published this—that is the only memory of my mother I can think of at any great length. I wanted to remember something, anything, more pleasant than that. It isn’t like I have a dearth of memories. I have several happy memories of my mother: homemade pancakes with her every Saturday morning, hearing her singing He Touched Me and many other old Christian hymns, listening to local religious radio broadcasts with her on lazy Sunday afternoons. She taught me how to draw, how to be chivalrous, how to love, and how to pray. She would read Bible stories to me just before waking me for school every morning, especially during those dark years in junior high and high school when it seemed I’d go astray and travel a much darker road than I already have. She introduced me to reruns of the original Star Trek when I was five years old; she accompanied me to see Star Trek: Nemesis at the theater almost two decades later, and we wept when Lieutenant Commander Data died. (I still can’t say what she would think about the reboot films.) Watching Unsolved Mysteries with her and my grandmother gave me a love for all things paranormal, and tinkering with crossword puzzles with her gave me a love for words and the power they hold. I remember the time she had finally quit working one of the two grocery store jobs she had at that time, the one she hated the most, and she was so overjoyed that she took us all out to dinner late in the evening to celebrate, or the happiness she expressed when I had given her a hand-drawn portrait of her at age fourteen and Jesus—the one man she would ever truly love—for her birthday. After I moved out, she would call me every night to see how I was doing (and, on occasion, to have me reconnect her VCR and DVD players after the cable guy had disconnected them on one of his far-too-frequent repair runs to her apartment). I would get so annoyed by her constant calls sometimes… but she’d always know when I was feeling out of sorts and needed someone to talk to somehow.
I’d give anything for Mother to call just one more time.
But we never have “just one more time”, do we?
I have plenty of pleasant memories of Mother, yet, the first memory that came to mind the day I began writing this was when the moment to say my final goodbye to her—to tell her how much I truly loved her, and how much I cherished every moment I had ever spent with her—came, and I missed it.
If anyone is reading this right now, please, for the love of God, or for the love of whoever or whatever you hold dear, please, do not let moments like that pass in dumb silence. Don’t be haunted by the ghosts of moments past.
Requiescat in pace, Mother, and happy birthday. I love you, and I will see you again in the World to Come.