We are running on a hillside along a path through a meadow of flowers. Smiling at me, she takes my hand and leads me up the hill. Her calico dress flows in the breeze and as she runs it billows behind her. Her short tousle of curls bounces as she turns back to look at me, her eyes flash bright blue like the sky. She is so kind to me and I know she loves me and is happy to have me along. I am still quite young but I trust her.
The last time I saw my mother, she had just died. I thought I had come early enough, like she had asked the night before, to the nursing home. I don’t remember now why she had wanted me to come earlier than usual, but now it seems obvious.
In the distance, at the edge of the meadow stands a grove of trees. As we walk, tiny yellow birds hop in and out of the bushes beside us.
The nurses hadn’t noticed. Her breakfast was warm on the tray, and when I reached for her hand it was warm too. But she was gone. I hadn’t come early enough.
They seem to be playing with the frogs and mice. Beyond their little game hundreds of flowers grow amid the tall grasses. Not typical wildflowers, but huge colorful blooms like the ones you would find in a flower shop. I don’t know the names. The fragrance adds a layer of beauty and happiness to the morning.
Now, I wonder if her spirit was still in the room. I’ve since learned that hospice workers sometimes see the spirits of the dead leaving their bodies.
We walk up the path to the edge of the woods. The hard dirt path turns soft and spongy, a carpet of leaves and moss. The cool shade smells of vanilla. I can see a structure up in one of the trees — a small house that seems to glow from lights inside. I can’t take my eyes off of it. It has big windows, and a rickety ladder up to a hatch in the floor. We carefully climb the ladder. Inside there are soft blankets on the floor and pillows scattered around. The windows are open and frame views of the tree branches. We are not too far off the ground, but high enough it feels like another world.
I had never seen a lifeless body before. Although I had been preparing the best I could for this moment, I didn’t know what to do. I sat beside her and held her hand, and reached over to gently close her eyes.
I look around and see mugs of hot chocolate and scones waiting for us on a small low table. Art supplies are stacked on a tidy shelf under the window – beautiful papers, pens, and watercolors. We sit on the pillows and have our snack. Then we spend a long time just drawing and painting.
Time seemed to slow. The chaos and stress and daily crises were over. There was time now to just be with her.
After a while I realize I am so happy that I start to cry, and she comes over and sits next to me, puts her arms around me and holds me in silence. She is absorbing my tears. Maybe there is some sadness also that she is taking from me. It feels good to be able to give that unknown burden to her. She is stronger than me and will know what to do with it.
That tiny body just finally gave out. She may have given up, or given in to the relief of the ever-increasing doses of morphine. I imagine that must have felt pretty good after living so long in so much pain.
As the afternoon deepens, I paint beautiful pictures, one after another, as if they are pouring out. Images of the night sky, of flowers, of the creatures in the meadow. Some are without form yet — they don’t know what they will be when they are finished. Somehow I understand that if they never reconcile into something recognizable, that’s ok. Maybe they are meant only for someone to feel.
It was like I had been sprinting and suddenly stopped in the middle of the race. The race to save her. The impossible race to save her terminally sick body.
After a while we lay down on the blanket floor and drift off to sleep. It’s a lovely sleep where the birdsong and the breeze become part of the dream and the edge between consciousness and sleep is a blurred softness.
When we awaken easily and gently, I can see the sky is a deep indigo through the trees. It’s time to go back, but there is no sadness. I know that this place will always be here for me to return to. And I have a sense that there will be more paintings to come.
I felt my timing wasn’t good that day, but I have released the regret.
She takes my hand and gently leads me down the ladder, down the forest path and out into the night.
© 2021 Laurie Mansur, All Rights Reserved
Laurie Mansur is an artist and small business owner living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She draws inspiration from her family, the natural world and from the experiences of giving birth to a new life at the age of 58. You can see more of her artwork at www.LaurieMansurArt.com.