This time last year, I likely stayed up the whole night, sitting in a chair by my mom’s hospital bed, moved into her assisted-living home. She lived in this community for a little over a year, and it did grow to be home and family — to the both of us. I sat, wrapped in a blanket, holding her hand, listening to her worrisome breathing. I watched her sleeping face move through expressions, of pain and fear and reflection. I counted the minutes with tears and practiced what I’d feel, or thought I would, when she died. Because I thought she’d die that night, her face looked so like my dad’s right before he died a few months earlier.
But the morning sun coming in her window woke her. Or perhaps it was my hovering presence. Her eyes opened wide, with curiosity for why I was sitting there beside her, clutching her hand in mine. She smiled and asked what I was doing. I mumbled something — nothing, though, about my anticipatory death watch. We both knew that’s what this time period was.
And so instead, we watched this tree, right outside her window, her bed adjusted so she could always see it. We anticipated its transformation, from greens to oranges and yellows. Autumn has always been our favorite, with its warmth and magic and butterfly-like emergence into colors of such promise.
She smiled, at this tree and pumpkins and so much else for one week longer, leaving with fall before the foliage vanished.
I’m finding I see this smile, like Cheshire Cat who looks over me with love and protection, as autumn returns again this one year onward, without her.
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(Photo by a friend of my mom’s dying tree, East Lansing, MI, October 2013.)