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Mother’s Day and moments of silence

Fifty years ago ...The chemo wasn’t working. It was destroying a lot of things in Mom’s body, just not the large tumor in her bile ducts. So a few weeks ago she made a decision, one that her pastor told her took more courage than fighting merely for the sake of fighting.

She began hospice care. She said she didn’t want to be in hospital rooms. She wanted to be home, with her dog and loved ones, enjoying the beauty of the Tucson desert.

In many ways, this has been yet another gift to her three children.

When she stopped the chemo and began palliative care, her quality of life improved within days. How much of that life does she have left? Nobody really knows. But we do know the entire family was able to have a wonderful Easter weekend together, playing games, watching movies, going to part of a church service, looking at the desert.

We know that she was able to have a nice gathering at her house for friends, so she could thank them for all their support.

We know that next Sunday won’t be just another Mother’s Day. A phone call and a scribbled note on a Hallmark card won’t do. So what do I say to Mom?

This is hardly a new question, just one with new wrinkles.

I’ve watched friends go through this. And I’ve tried to convince myself that now that I’m allegedly grown-up and independent, I should be ready for this. We haven’t lived in the same state since I left home for college 30-some years ago. So I’m used to not seeing or talking to Mom.

We get together a few times a year and try to catch up on the phone a few times a month. And, until recently, these conversations were rarely deep. In fact, they’d often include awkward silences. Or at least that’s how I’d describe the gaps.

“Should I let you go, Mom?” I’d say when a pause came.

Maybe, she’d say in a way that seemed to mean not yet. So we’d talk about the weather, the news, the grandkids. But sometimes there would be another lull and maybe another. And Mom still seemed to want to talk. Or not talk. So one time I was determined not to say anything, to make Mom continue the conversation.

I looked at my watch. For 2 minutes, neither of us said a word.

It’s one thing to be sitting in a restaurant and not say anything to someone for 2 minutes. It’s another on the phone. Two minutes feels like forever. During that time, I started pacing impatiently, a voice in my head screaming, “Say something.”

Silence never has bothered my mom. To the contrary, she embraces it. When she was first diagnosed with cancer, she spent a week in the hospital and only turned on the television once for an hour. I’d walk through the halls and pretty much every other television was on, some 24 hours a day.

I realized recently that when she describes her favorite places, she talks as much about how they sound as how they look. They’re peaceful, serene, quiet.

Nana and the Junior RangersWhen we had a family get-together in Redwood National and State Parks last fall, at the start of one long hike through a towering old-growth forest, she gathered the four grandchildren and told them we were going to try something. For the first 5 minutes of the hike, we weren’t going to say a word.

I expected this to last about 5 seconds. To my surprise, the kids stuck to it, seeming to soak up everything around them until the 5 minutes were up and all the pent-up words came pouring out.

There is something to be said for moments of silence, especially in today’s cacophonous world. There’s a place in Olympic National Park that is devoted to preserving pure, natural sound. I plan to visit the One Square Inch site this fall. Still, until recently, when the lulls in the phone conversations with Mom came, the silence inevitably would make me uncomfortable and antsy.

“Should I let you go?”

Now I hear myself saying this and think about how I’m not ready to let her go. Now I’m grateful for the sound of her voice and the sound of silence. Now I’m realizing this is another gift she gave me.

There will come a time when I won’t have her for Mother’s Day. And while I’m sure I will miss being able to hear her voice, it struck me recently that I’ll always be able to hear some of our best conversations.

In the roar the Colorado River.

In the rustling of redwoods.

In the rhythm of the surf.

In the squawking of cactus wrens.

In the stillness of a starry night.

What do you say to Mom on Mother’s Day?

In the last few months, we’ve said plenty. So next Sunday when I see her, I’m hoping to sit with her on the patio, look at the desert and do my best to say nothing.

Canyonlands NP




  • Steve


    Wonderfully written Mark. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your mom. Steve (Tracy's next-door neighbor)

  • Maria


    What a beautiful way to remind us that we can stay connected to others without the use of words.

  • Ann Pohl


    Silence is Golden and memories are so very special---the things that are forever with us. Cherish the moment!

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