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See You In The Morning
By Gertrude M. Slabach
My mother is dying, and I don’t want to say good-bye. Even though I don’t want her to go, I know she can’t stay. While her reoccurrence of breast cancer was not a shock to us, it was still a grief with which we need to cope. It is not fair, and I told God so. I thought, after all my mother had endured in her lifetime, she ought to be able to die without a diagnosis of cancer, and certainly without pain. They tell us there is going to be pain.
Even though I can’t change the diagnosis, I can govern my response. Thus my prayer has been that she will not have unbearable pain and that we can all be with her when her ship sets sail. I am learning to relax in the arms of my Captain, who charts her course as well as mine. Rather than saying goodbye, I’ll be saying, “Good night. ’See you in the morning!”
As a child, my mother experienced happy days growing up the youngest in a family of nine children. Her father was a farmer and a bishop in a Mennonite church in western Maryland.
Over a period of six years and four months, she gave birth to six daughters.
Before his death, my father had an addition put onto the house: a bakery with a garage and a large upstairs bedroom. With the help of my older half-siblings, [“many hands make light work”] my family had been baking bread and cinnamon rolls in the kitchen in our home.
When Mama married a second time, my mother’s husband assisted her in the bakery
In my mother’s life as well as mine, seasons have come and gone. Perhaps, I tell myself, she is entering the last of each season of her life. As a child, I watched her as year followed year, and I felt secure and content with the familiarity of seasons following seasons. I somehow thought it would always be this way and that my mother would never grow old or die.
In the spring, she tilled the garden and made somewhat crooked rows. We helped plant those uneven rows (and complained as most children do). We did the spring cleaning [“never put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today”] and vowed we’d never do this when we had homes of our own. She went to PTO meetings, met with our teachers, and then came home and told us the wonderful things our teachers had to say about us. I am sure she wondered sometimes if those rave reviews were truly about the same daughters who lived in her home! Mama reviewed each report card in private with each child [“Good, better, best; never let it rest, ’til your ‘good’ is ‘better’, and your ‘better,’ ‘best’.”] and did not compare grades or abilities among her children.
She told us staying up late and reading with a small light after dark would hurt our eyes. I vowed I’d let my kids read as late as they wanted to and that I would never, never tell them that reading without good light would be hard on their eyes. My kids like to stay up late to read, and yes, there are times when I’ve insisted on turning out the lights to save their eyes, too.
In the summer, we helped weed the garden and can the produce from that garden [“whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might”]. Sometimes we complained, and sometimes we helped more willingly. On hot, humid days, Mama took iced coffee along on her bread route because she had been up since two o’clock in the morning and needed help to stay awake. We took turns going along on the bread route, and sometimes she allowed us a few sips of her caffeinated beverage.
For thirty-two years, our family hosted Fresh Air Children from New York City each summer for two or four weeks. The Fresh Air girls were the same ages as we were, and several of them came for ten or more summers in a row. We called them our summer sisters and didn’t worry about the extra load on Mama and our older siblings with four (and sometimes six) additional children in our home.
We had our own pecking order and rules about what was and wasn’t fair. On the days we excused our behavior with such accusations as “she hit me first!” we’d hear about the true meaning of do-unto-others-as-you-would-have-them-do-to-you [“two wrongs don’t make a right”].
In the autumn, we raked leaves and finished canning. School began and we got to wear new, homemade dresses to school.
In the winter, Mama drove in and out our lane in the station wagon every few hours just to keep the lane open because she thought she couldn’t afford to pay someone to plow the lane. I’d come downstairs some mornings to find Mama sleeping on top of her bed, still in her clothes. She’d been getting up every few hours to go down to the cellar and stoke the coal furnace so our water pipes wouldn’t freeze. We slept obliviously the entire night in a warm house and didn’t even consider saying thanks. Only this past winter did I think to say thanks for those long nights of keeping us warm and for working so hard to take care of us. She did not complain about her lot in life. Oh sure, sometimes she was grouchy or short with us when she was tired. We were grouchy toward her as well. Yet we knew she loved us and cared about us.
My mother has always been there. She is the one person who was there before I was born and has been there every day since then.
As children, we grew up speaking Pennsylvania Dutch (a German dialect) as readily as English. On the home front, Pennsylvania Dutch was spoken. English was used only in public or when someone visiting did not understand this dialect. As we grew older, we spoke more English than Pennsylvania Dutch; yet she continued to speak Pennsylvania Dutch to us at home.
When we excused ourselves from doing something because I “don’t know how,” she rejected our excuses. [“Doo lahnsht nimi jünga.”— (“You won’t learn it any younger”)]. She expected more than “average” from her girls.
She was hospitable, and our friends were welcome any day or night, and without any notice. Really. Just a few weeks ago a cousin commented to me that he and the other guys in our youth group knew they were more than welcome to invade our home at any time and for any reason. They wore Mama’s homemade aprons as they made pizza and ate popcorn, and had her in stitches at their charades.
While Mama laughed readily at our friends and also at our antics, she was also stoic. We seldom saw her cry. Mama was not one to share her heart unless I probed. Sometimes I didn’t write or call often. Yet she was there. I knew she always would be. Now that is going to change. I don’t know how one can ever prepare for that farewell.
I asked a friend one day, “How do you get ready to say goodbye?”
She replied, “It’s not goodbye, Gert, its good-night.” I carried that thought with me for days, knowing my friend is right.
So I have been practicing saying “goodnight.” One day when I was helping my mother get dressed, she mentioned that she doesn’t know how much longer she will live. She told me again (as if I didn’t already know) that she has no siblings, in-laws, or first cousins who are living. She is the oldest member of her church.
I also think that, while she doesn’t want to leave us, she is looking forward to her departure. I told her that none of us knows when we will die, but we do know that, if we’re ready when we go, we’ll see each other again.
I informed her that I won’t say goodbye. She looked at me, puzzled.
“Instead,” I explained, “I will say, 'Goodnight. See you in the morning.'” She smiled.
I didn’t realize I was already practicing this thought until the week of spring break when my daughter and I spent a few days with her. After Mama was in bed for the night, I checked her blood pressure, pulled up the side rail, and turned off the light. As I pulled the door to the partially-closed position, I heard myself say, “Goodnight, Mama. See you in the morning.”
No, my mother won’t be coming back. So in that regard, this is good-bye. Still I will, one day, join her in Heaven. And in that regard, I can say, “‘See you in the morning!”
I am glad that the last time I say to my mother, “Goodnight” will not be the final end. Even though we may weep for a night, joy does come in the morning [Psalms 30:5]. I am grateful that the end of this life is the beginning of life on the other shore. While it is true that it’s always darkest before the dawn, I know that, one day, my dawn will also come, and I will see her again. I am holding on to that promise.
Mama’s ticket is paid. She has her boarding pass, and all she needs to do is board that ship when it comes for her.
This month, we celebrate Mother’s Day. Barring a miracle, it well could be the last time I will celebrate Mother’s Day with my mother. So how do I say “Happy Mother’s Day” one last time? How do I choose the card that will be the last one I’ll give her for this celebration? How can I say thanks for being my mom, for growing me up, and loving me when I was unloving?
Perhaps I can do it best by being there for her as much as possible, just like she was there for me.
I want to be there when her ship leaves port. I want to watch her ship as it departs and sails to the other shore. I know she will be with her Captain and that when she arrives on the other side, her anchor will be moored forever. She will hear, “Well done!” as she enters the harbor. There will be others standing on that shore, waiting to welcome her Home. I can only imagine the reunion!
As her sun sets, I want to be there to say “goodnight”. I know that one day, I will see my mama again—in the Morning.
Born and raised in western Maryland, Gertrude Slabach has claimed Southside Virginia as home for over twenty four years. She is an RN and works part-time at Fuller Roberts Clinic in South Boston, Virginia.
Gertrude and her husband Dave have six children; four sons and two daughters.
She is the author of three books: Aren’t We Having Fun Dying?!, Southside Glimmers, and Always Mama’s Girl. The books can be purchased at Windmill Farm Bake Shop, the South Boston-Halifax County Museum, or by contacting her at:
Read more about Gertrude Slabach's Books in print here >>>
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