Today’s Flash Fiction piece is based on a one word writing prompt from the Daily Post. Today’s word is: Carry.
My mother had me when she was young. She and my father never married. That was a great scandal in her day, to be found with child and unmarried. Though my mother and father loved each other, his family would not allow him to marry her. Any girl who would behave in such a way to get pregnant before marriage was not a suitable match for their son. They sent him off to live with another relative and made sure he attended university far away. Mother tried to abort me but her methods failed. My father’s family told him my mother died in childbirth, and that I was stillborn. He met another woman, fell in love, married and started a family.
Mother bore the burden of the sin, as did I to some extent. She never married, not for a lack of admirers, but because she was considered “damaged goods.” Father, however, was free to love again. Shame never touch him, but it etched fines lines of sadness around my mother’s eyes and mouth, and broke her heart. I believe she was hard on me when I was child because she didn’t want me to be the type of man that hid from his responsibility. “It took two people to create you, but only one is here to raise you. If you love a woman, fight for her! Don’t let anyone make you ashamed of her.”
She took ill about three months ago. The doctors said she had a year to live. They wanted to schedule treatments and keep her in a nursing home to live out the rest of her days, but mother said no.
“I’m tired. I lived to see you grow to be a successful man. You studied hard and built a career for yourself, you married a lovely woman, and have raised 4 beautiful children. They have children now. I’m happy and blessed, but now it’s time for me to go. I won’t live my last days in a strange place with strangers looking after me. I want to die with the ones I love nearby. At the point that I can’t feed myself and you have to change my diaper, that is the day I must leave this earth.” We had discussed this over the years. I knew what to do. She told me which herbs to use when the time came, but I didn’t want to kill my mother. Even there, she assured me there would be no blood on my hands. “My life. My choice. I will just need your help.”
The day came. She hadn’t eaten much. She was weak and tired. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren came to say good-bye. Even a few relatives that shunned her when she became pregnant with me sent messages offering and seeking forgiveness. They waited until the end of her life to show her the love she need so much earlier in her life. They were selfish as far as I was concerned. Their olive branches were as good as a pile twigs. But Mother was gracious. “My son,” she said, reading my expression, “I cannot carry hurt and anger to the other side. I forgive them and trust God to deal with them fairly.” As the family gathered to pray and thank God for the time we had with her, I lifted her from her recliner and carried her to her bed. She felt like she weighed no more than a sheet of paper. I thought of all the times she carried me in her arms as a toddler, or in a sling on her back when I was just a little boy. As petite as she was, as frail as she appeared back then, she carried me with little effort and never a complaint. I made sure her room was prepared ahead of time. She had fresh white linens and pillows on the bed, and lavender and white roses by her bedside. When she was comfortable, I fed her the berries and put out of my mind the thought that I was feeding her the thing that would take her from me. She chewed slowly, taking sips of water in between. Just before she closed her eyes and drifted off to permanent rest, she reminded me, “My life, my choice. This is not your burden to bear. You’ve been a good son. I’ll be at peace because I know you will continue to do well. I want you to be at peace that I’m not in pain anymore.” Then, she closed her eyes and slept. I couldn’t speak. I just nodded and cried at the thought of her taking the burden of guilt off of me and carrying it away with her.