We knew deep down it would be mom’s last Mother’s Day. After a long battle with a lung disease called Pulmonary Fibrosis which slowly robs your ability to breathe, we knew she was close to the end of her journey in 2006. The plan was for one final Mother’s Day brunch at the nursing home where mom was being cared for. I’d fly back from Los Angeles to surprise my mom for a Mother’s Day brunch in Boston with family and friends. Only one problem. I am petrified of flying. I have panic attacks over flying. And I knew it was very stormy weather across the country.v I was set to leave on Friday after work to take the red-eye. I was set to fly alone. I wanted to back out. My wife wouldn’t let me. I wanted to delay the trip. My wife wouldn’t let me. I wanted to just crawl under the covers. My wife wouldn’t let me. I boarded the flight.
It was one of the bumpiest flights ever. When I landed in Boston it was pouring rain, flooding rain, and it would be that way for the weekend. The city was draped in grey. I took a cab right to the nursing home. It was early morning in Boston on Saturday and guests would be arriving for our brunch soon. Mom was thrilled to see me. She couldn’t believe it. Guests arrived. Mom wasn’t well enough to leave her room so we all met in a function room at the nursing home and then a few people at a time went up to enjoy time with mom. It was a classic deli lunch with some of my mom’s favorites. So many people came to share this special brunch from family, to old friends, to my sister and I. It was a long day but a great one. Mom was happy. I was happy. I met my sister for Chinese food that night and we had some good conversation about all sorts of things. We snuck an egg roll back into the nursing home for mom. It was bed time. I was exhausted. I didn’t want to stay with relatives. I didn’t want to stay in a hotel. I knew I had an early flight out. So I stayed in the nursing home chair. It was just me and my mom. There were no dramatic conversations or revelations that night. It was just us. I’ve often thought about the hours there and what wasn’t said. But I think mom and I had both made our peace with things long ago. The night passed with ease.
The next morning it was Mother’s Day. I was happy I got to give my mom a Mother’s Day wakeup. I got up and got dressed so I could grab my cab for the airport. The plan was to make a return trip to Boston with the entire family in just a few weeks once summer hit. I kissed mom goodbye and left with an “I’ll see you soon”. It was still pouring rain. THIS now became the bumpiest flight ever as we bounced all around and the flight crew stayed strapped in. I remember tearing up in the back of the plane and just clutching the arm rests waiting for the flight to end. Six hours later we finally landed in LA. I was so happy to be home. I was so relieved to be getting off the plane. I turned on my phone as we taxied and saw that I had missed a call. I went to call my wife to tell her I landed safely. Her voice cracked on the other end. I asked her what was wrong. She told me. Mom had died that morning while I made my flight home. How could that be. I had just seen her. We were just sitting together. I couldn’t believe it.
A long illness, an expected ending, and still it came like an unexpected sucker punch.
I remember crying on the phone with my wife while people unloaded their luggage in front of me. I remember my seatmate on the plane realizing I must have gotten some terrible news and trying to console me. I remember the wait to get off that plane being the longest of my entire life.
I grabbed my bag and headed home to my wife and little girl Alicia. Gloria and I made plans. We packed our bags. We grabbed Alicia and our things. In just a couple of hours, instead of a Mother’s Day celebration with my wife, we headed back to the airport this time to prepare for my mom’s funeral. All the while I was so grateful that my wife wouldn’t let me back out of my initial trip, grateful that my sister was there for my mom, grateful I had the chance to give mom a final Mother’s Day kiss.
At some point my wife admitted to me that mom had known the secret for weeks. Mom KNEW I was coming to that Mother’s Day brunch. Mom kept the secret and pretended to be surprised when I showed up anyway.
Mom couldn’t wait to see me.
It was her final Mother’s Day.