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She Taught Him to Live...And Die

“Will he live?” she silently questioned as she saw her twenty-one year old son being wheeled into the operation theatre, his face barely recognisable from the blood. His half-open skull gaped at her, as though willing her to toughen her mother’s heart enough to endure the unknown future.

In the long hours that followed, when hospitals turn deathly quiet in the stillness of the night, she asked herself again and again. “Why?" Why did he ride his friend’s motor cycle? Why did he go against her wishes, when after long months of persuasion he had finally agreed to sell off his own? Why? Why? And then, her thoughts would turn to the injustice of it all… her son battling for his life, his friend safe and sound. She wondered if she would ever get these answers from her son. Would he ever speak to her again? See her again? Hold her hand in his large and comforting one?

Three hours had already passed and still no sign of that dreaded door opening. Was that a good sign? Oh, God, please let that be a good sign!

And then, finally, she couldn’t say just when, the doors opened and the grim faced neuro-surgeon looked into the eyes of a tired mother, into eyes that silently prayed for words of hope, and could not find the courage to tell her the full truth…not just yet. “Pray, dear Mother, pray.” He did not need to continue. Her mother’s heart already knew the truth.

As they wheeled her dearest boy into the recovery room, she looked at the heavily bandaged face, beneath she knew was a skull half cut away… a gaping hole.

For days and weeks she sat by his side, talking to him, praying to him, praying for him. The tears that welled up in her heart were not allowed to fall, for she feared he might hear her despair and give up the fight entirely. Each day she willed him to respond, to recover. She did not wish to believe that her son lay limp beneath the thin sheets, gaping mouth, half-opened unseeing eyes, breathing through an oxygen pipe.

Then one day, as though from some distant shore he had heard the silent clamour of her soul, he moved one finger, and then one hand. Her heart leapt in ecstasy. He had heard her. All these long months he had heard her. He had not stopped fighting…because he had heard her call.

But, alas! Her joy was short-lived as the doctors gave her the dreaded news that they could do no more for him, and that she could take him home. There would be no further improvement in his condition. And still the tears did not fall.

She had a small smile on her face, when they wheeled him into the ambulance to take him home. Her boy was coming home. She did not know whether she imagined this, but the slight pressure in his hand as it lay in hers, made her certain that he knew too. He was going home.

Her small home was soon converted into what looked like a hospital room… and yet not so clinical, so unfeeling, so cold. It seemed amazing to friends and family how natural she had made the hospital bed look in that small bedroom. Had it always been there?

Her love was so strong that the room held no energy of despair. Visitors would come to give support, but would stay on to laugh, to joke. All of this made her happy, for she knew deep within her mother’s heart that her son, who had always been quick with a joke and a guffaw, heard the laughter and joined in. No one else could see that, but a mother does not need eyes to look into her child’s soul.

Day after day, week after week, month after month, she tended to him. Her job as a successful banker was given up without a second thought. She did not need nurses. Could a stranger give her son the love of a mother?

One day, sitting all alone in the room, talking to him, singing to him, she felt as though she heard his soul speak to her. “Mother, my dearest, dearest Mother, now let me go. My soul seeks to be free of this shrivelled up encasement. May I fly now, my beloved mother?” For, what might have been the first time, tears streamed down her wrinkled cheeks. For a long time there was no sound in the room. And then so softly that only the wind could have heard her words, she said, “Yes, my beautiful, gentle boy, go home. Do not forget your mother, for every day as long as she lives, she will remember you and the depth of your love”

It was not long before the bed lay empty. His smiling face stared up at her from the silver photo frame. His eyes were twinkling. As she turned to face the empty room she heard a soft whisper within her soul, “Thank you, Mother, for showing me how to live, and giving me your courage to learn how to die”.

Many, many years have passed and she knows not where her son is now, but she is sure that wherever he is, he is teaching others how to live, so that they may know one day how to die.


I wrote this many years ago for my beloved Gran---a tribute to her bravery that I was witness to many, many times. She has now joined her darling son, and I know that as soon as the breath left her frail and worn out body, it was instantaneously embraced by his love. His mother had finally come home.

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