Megan wept quietly. The frail old woman lay in the bed, her thin lips pulsing with each breath.
She held the woman’s hand gently and noticed it was almost transparent. She saw the blue-green veins hidden only by the dark brown spots, the jewels of a well-lived life, adorning the woman’s hands.
Megan wiped her face and tried to compose herself.
“Momma,” she whispered.
She thought she saw her mother’s eyes trying to blink open. But it had been several days since she had opened her eyes. Long enough for the last of Megan’s hope to fade into acceptance.
“I need to tell you something, Momma,” she said. “It’s important.”
Megan sat on the side of the bed looking into her mother’s vacant face. She didn’t seem to be in any pain, and Megan was grateful for that small comfort.
“I can’t do this without you, Momma. I need you to open your eyes.”
“What is it baby girl?” The woman rasped. “Tell me.”
She was awake. Listening. Talking.
“I—I can’t… my God, you’re awake!”
“Better hurry child.”
Megan’s heart was pounding. Her breathing shallow.
“I’m not sure what to do? About… you know.”
The woman’s lips seemed to turn up in a knowing smile. She did know. Megan wouldn’t have to say it.
“Gonna be okay, Megs. Don’t you worry.”
What was it Momma had always said? “Regret lives in the past. Worry lives in the future. But right now, everything’s alright.”
“I know Momma,” she said. “But it’s hard.”
“What are you looking at, child?”
“What are you looking at? The trouble? Don’t stare at it. No answers in the trouble. They’re inside you.”
“My brain is a noisy place, Momma. You know that.”
The woman’s breathing grew more labored. Her heaving chest fell one final time.
“Momma?” Megan pleaded.
With a great sucking sound the woman drew breath once more. Yet her eyes did not reopen. In the dim light of evening she left Megan with a final gift. It was a gift she had given so many times before, yet one Megan had struggled to open.
“I know, Momma.”
Megan said the first of her last goodbyes. She brushed her Mother’s thin white hair away from her forehead and bent to kiss her cheek. Then she walked downstairs to start making the calls. The ritual had begun. She had rehearsed her words so many times in the last few weeks.
“I’m afraid I have some difficult news,” she would begin, “Momma’s gone.”
By the time spring arrived, Megan was finding her way in a world that was so different. She took the balloons to the park on a day when the breeze was steady and the sun was bright. She walked to the top of the hill and heard the hollow boing of the balloons bouncing against one another. Then she released them. As they floated up and away she waited until they were tiny motionless specks hung in a blue sky.
She remembered what her mother had whispered that night. Letting go wasn’t easy. It took practice. But Momma was right. All you have to do is let go.
It was a beginning, and for now, that was enough.
Author: Jim Owens
Editor: Toby Israel / Assistant Editor: Ellie Cleary
Image: Shaun Fisher/Flickr