What Passes for Silence

Mom & me“Can you open the sliding door?  I want to hear the rain.”

It was less than a week before my mom died, roughly an hour before my dad said, “The cancer is calling the shots now,” two hours before she told all of us, “I hate to be a quitter, but it hurts so much,” and this was the last thing she’d ever ask me to do.  She was in my parents’ bedroom at the condo in Hilliard, her hospital bed slightly elevated so she could watch the Game Show Network.  I had been there for a couple hours, chatting with her when she was awake and bringing her a root beer popsicle – the only food she could keep down – when she asked for one.

I thought she had drifted off again – she was asleep more than awake now – but as I tiptoed out of the room she murmured her request to my back.

“Sure thing, Mom,” I said, and as I turned she gave me a thumbs up.  I slid the glass door along its track, and as I did so a faint breeze ruffled the sheer curtain on its way into the room.

The rain pattered on the stones outside, and beyond that I could hear it whispering in the tall grass across the road. “That sounds nice,” she said, and closed her eyes.

We always had that in common, a love of rain.  My dad preferred the house to be hermetically sealed, the A/C cranked so low it reddened the tip of your nose.  But Mom and me?  As soon as it started to rain we’d throw the windows open so we could hear it, quicksilver drill bits hissing their way into the grass.

Soon after, she called us into the bedroom to say her goodbyes while she could.  She apologized that she wouldn’t be at my wedding in August and encouraged my brother and me to take care of our dad.  She apologized, as I said earlier, for being a quitter, as though finally succumbing to cancer after a fifteen-year struggle was something to be ashamed of.  We tried to keep it light, which is what my family does, but there was no escaping the gravity of the conversation.  The soundtrack to all of this was the rain, still falling in sheets.

It was a while after she died before I could enjoy that sound again.  It took me back to that moment, one of the last times she was lucid, and it hurt too much.  But now?  The house is quiet, the windows open.  The rain beats down on the woods in an ebb and flow that’s not unlike the crash of waves.  Stray raindrops ping on the downspout, and off in the distance there’s a hint of thunder, a rumble just at the edge of sound, enough for the dog to prick up her ears where she sleeps.  It’s somehow painful and peaceful at the same time.

It’s four years since Mom’s death, and I can finally start to appreciate this lingering grief as part of a process that continues.  And, better still, I now know that the sound of rain doesn’t have to be a memory of her last days.  Instead, it’s a reminder of this simple, special thing we shared, which returns me – always and ever – home.

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