A mother to the last breath

"No one loves you like your mother does," says my dad, with a slight catch in his voice as we talk quietly about his mother, my grandmother.

Grandma was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer in the middle of February. We were devastated, to say the least. Her decline is rapid and frightening. I can hear the strain in my father's words as we speak on the phone. He and my mom have worked tirelessly to keep Grandma at home, and have been dedicated to her growing needs.

Dad goes on to tell me about a late-night conversation between Grandma and himself. She's having great difficulty speaking, as the cancer grows. But she managed to communicate that she's worried about her only child. Worried that he will now now have to know the pain of losing his mother, a pain she knows well having experienced it herself. She feels badly that he will have to endure that. That she will be the source of his hurt.

I feel the tears come over me as he tells me this. Being a mother to him has been the most important thing in my grandmother's life. And I am struck (yet again) by the ways that motherhood changes a woman. Grandma has a need to care and protect her son until her dying breath.


Grandma is on the phone and we try to have a conversation, but the words are a jumble. "I love you too, one, two, three!" she says in her happy voice. But then she mutters, aware and frustrated at the nonsense that she has just spoken.

"I love you too, Grandma" I say. And I share some happy news from my day with her.

She gives a joyful "oh" just as she always would. And for a few minutes, the dread that looms over her world is pushed aside so we can share this moment.

The conversation is brief. Talking is too difficult for her and my chatter feels hollow and forced. It's time to end our conversation. She gets out, "I love you honey. I really really do."

I start to sob.

"Every day....with you....a blessing."

I didn't know this would be the last time we would speak.


A few days later, another phone call. Dad relays that Grandma is reaching the end. How soon, we can't know. But she knows it's soon, well before any of us are ready to accept it. 

My parents aren't sleeping much now. They use a baby monitor to see when Grandma is up in the night. Many times, Dad will see that she's awake and go in to talk with her. They have had many 3 a.m. "conversations". Dad is able to patch together what Grandma is trying to say with the few words she is able to get out.

During one of these talks, she tells him she wants him to live a good life so they will be united once again after she's gone.

She's still giving advice. Still telling him what to do.

Still being a mom.


It's early morning, a beautiful clear morning. Little Man and I have flown in a few days earlier. Grandma is non-responsive, lying in her bed. As I came into her room I saw what was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking moments I've ever seen: sunlight streamed into the room, beaming right on Grandma's face. And flanking either side of the bed were my parents, each leaning forward and clasping her hands, talking quietly to her.
The days were tense and emotional since we had arrived. My dad kept a vigil by her side, a constant comfort to Grandma in her final hours. The entire family was gathered at the house and we sat around grandma's bedside, looking at the massive scrapbooks she had made, her history and ours held together with glitter and glue.

When her breathing grew shallow and ragged, we'd gather together and hold one another, fearing that the breaths we heard were her last.

I looked to the other side to my mom, her face soft and full of concern. She held Grandma's hand and stroked her head. Then she turned to me and mouthed "I love you". And I knew that just as my father was my Grandma's greatest concern before she passed, that I would be my mothers.


Grandma passed on the afternoon March 9. We were all together but she chose a time when she was alone with my parents, the two people who cared for her faithfully until the final end. Her favorite spring flower, the forsythia planted outside her room, bloomed for the first time this year on the day of her funeral.

It's strange to see her chair empty in the morning, her room quiet and still. We are thankful she is at peace now. At least that is what I say to myself when my heart feels the weight of losing her.

During her service, the priest talked about keeping Grandma's spirit present by taking her best qualities and incorporating them into your actions and life. Grandma had a lot of qualities that made her such a wonderful and warm person to be near.

Definitely her sense of humor. She used humor to lighten situations, and as a comfort. Plus, she just liked to laugh. Even through this horrible disease, she kept her sweet sense of humor about her, and made light of her "crazy brain" which made it easier for my family to cope.

She had an amazing way of seeing the absolute best in people and caring about their feelings, to a fault. At the start of her illness, the doctor wasn't getting the sense of urgency about how quickly Grandma was deteriorating. My dad wanted her to change doctors immediately, but she refused. She didn't want to hurt his feelings and had faith that he was doing the best he could.

She doted on children. Really doted on them. I remember feeling that I could do no wrong in the eyes of my grandparents (even when I backed into their car and smashed in the front!). There's something so wonderful about having that type of doting love. She was incredibly supportive when we waited to bring Little Man home and has calmed my first-time parenting nerves countless times.

She was a rock of support in our corners. We always knew, no matter if we were right or wrong, she wouldn't judge us. She would believe that everything would be OK. And she made you believe that too.

That's definitely a quality I want to share with my son.


  1. I am so sorry for your loss -- but I am so thankful you shared this post. I want to share that with my sons too.

  2. Thanks, Jenna. Glad that Grandma's lessons hold meaning for your family too!

  3. So sorry for your loss, what a wonderful example of a mom though! So glad you had her in your life.

  4. A wonderful, loving, and moving post about a woman who clearly was so special to you. Hugs to you as you mourn your loss. I agree with the priest - sharing stories is a wonderful way to pass on the legacy of your grandmother - that is a gift for LM and for you.


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