I Can't Watch Movies With My Dying Mother
I don’t want my mother to know that I can’t watch movies with my sister and her at night because I can’t contain my emotions. I know she wishes I would. I know it would make her happy just to see me sitting in the same room as the two of them.
But I can’t. I never make it through the opening credits.
Growing up, my mother, sister, and I lived with my grandmother where the three of us shared the pull-out couch in the living room. I spent the first six years of my life sleeping between the two women who inherently meant the most to me and, let me tell you, those are still some of the most special memories I have. We had very little, but we were deprived of nothing.
Movies were a nightly routine. My mother loved routine. She loved it because, without it, she’d never be able to spend meaningful time with us. Always working at least two jobs to keep us afloat, nighttime with us was important to her. I vividly remember going through our VHS tapes, choosing one of the movies my mother loved to rewatch, hoping we wouldn’t have to rewind the tape before we got started.
If we wanted a sing-along, we’d watch Roger’s and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Sister Act I & II, Hello Dolly, or Beauty & The Beast. If we wanted to laugh it was First Wives Club, Father of the Bride I & II, or Coming to America. The tear-jerker choices were mostly Beaches and Ghost.
I can still smell the underbaked cookies coming out of the oven, the sound of my mother’s laugh every time Bette Midler shot out a good one-liner, or how she’d sing all of Barbra Streisand’s high-notes like a champ, the way the lint balls on our hand-me-down bed sheets felt under my feet as we watched.
The world was quiet, the rush of the day was through, and it was as if we were the only three people in the world. I liked it that way. They were all I needed.
But now, it’s different. Now, my mother’s made a list of every movie she wants to see before she dies, and I struggle to even type those words without a physical reaction of pain to my stomach. It’s hard to process the meaning of death. Hard to have mortality dangling over her this way.
Every day could be the last.
Every day is a constant waiting for the last day, and I know I can’t avoid it.
But I try by turning up my music a bit louder when my mother and sister start a movie at night so I don’t have to remember the emotions that provoke me with each song she’d sing the wrong lyrics to, each time she’d check our smiles during our favorite parts. It all takes me back to those formative moments of my childhood that I am pressed to harbor deep within.
I am not ready to accept that these are the last times, and I do not want those emotions to be replaced with the ones that come to the surface when I see my decaying mother struggling to hear the movie, to stay awake, to exhaust herself taking in more oxygen that doesn’t go up much higher just so she could try and react to the parts she knows were always significant for us.
My mother is depending on me now more than ever. I know that. If there’s anything my mother needs now more than love, it is my strength. And I give it to her. I do not let myself break in front of her, and when she expresses her fears about dying, I comfort her with all of my composure.
When I fall into bed with my three-year-old daughter who will not remember my mother in a few years, I crumble. I come to grief in the shadows where no one can see me and I give my fears to my spirit guides, begging them to help keep me strong until my tears succumb to sleep. And when I wake up, I start the day anew.
I protect myself where I can.
I protect myself by not watching movies with my mother, by not remembering that part of our past, for now. I will have the rest of my life to remember all the things that time and mortality are taking from us.
Right now, I’m choosing to measure life by love, not time.
If I measured it by time, I’d waste it pondering over how to get more of it. I’d use it all up with my cries. I’d let it all tick away in a reel of lasts. Last meals. Last movies. Last moments. I just can’t bring myself to participate.
So, I don’t.
Instead, I have conversation with my mother. I ask her questions about who she was before she brought me to this plane and I hang on her every word. I let her talk, let her share, let her reconcile with pieces of herself she forgot she remembered and I’m so grateful I get to learn. I’m getting to know my mother all over again in a way I never would’ve if we hadn’t been smacked in the face with “last days.”
For me, I believe conversations with my mother will not end when her body leaves us. There is no last chance for me to tell my mother how much I love her, or ask her for guidance. There is no end to our journey as two souls intertwined in the most intricate ways. I have faith. I have soul. I have love.
Yet, soon, there will be no more movie nights. There will be no chances for my daughter to see what a terribly beautiful singer her grandmother was, how much she’d come alive when she’d escape into a good chick-flick with her girls.
And it’s sad. In fact, it’s literally the worst thing ever. There’s nothing harder than running out of time.
But I’m choosing not to run from time. I’m choosing to embrace love, instead. That is the only infinite thing we have.