Short Story About Losing Your Mother - The Strength We Didn't Know

Doors to Heaven
Doors to Heaven | Source

"Do I smell?" My eighty-eight-year-old mother looked up at me from her chair.

"No, Mother. I smell your perfume—just like a pear." I smiled at her reassuringly, taking in her scent of fabric softener mixed with her unique blend of baked apple bread and Dove soap.

"I worry that I might smell when I go places," she sighed. "At my age I am afraid I will stink because I leak every time I get up…" As she rose to her feet with the help of her walker, she passed gas. "Oh my, I can't go anywhere. I can't stop it when it comes." She started to turn her walker to go down the hall to her bedroom.

Standing with her, I felt fortunate that she still lived independently in the same small house she raised me in. I gently put my hands on her shoulders. "Mother, we have to go. We need to be at the funeral home early because people are going to start showing up."

Her shoulders slumped. Until that moment, I had never realized how much she had shrunk in the past few years. I still expected her to always be stout and strong and to always be there when I needed her. I didn't expect weakness or frailty from her. Perhaps I wasn't being fair to her, but she was not supposed to change from what I was used to. I was the child and she was the mother – period.

"I can't stand it," she said, her eyes brimming with tears. "I was afraid we would find her dead in that house. She locked herself up and refused to come out."

I nodded as she spoke, thinking of my oldest sister, Josey, who had smoked most of her adult life until she was diagnosed with emphysema. When she was forced to quit smoking because she couldn't breathe, she had started wearing oxygen. Not the typical necklace she was used to wearing as the life of the party. Josey and her doctor had experimented to get the right "cocktail" of drugs to help her maintain her breathing and anxiety level. For the past two years, she refused to come out of her house and hardly ever let anyone in because she was afraid she would catch something that would make her sick. Every day, Mother called her at least once, which irritated Josey. Josey would say, "I knew it was Mother's ring and was tempted not to answer."

Closing my eyes for a moment, I cleared those old images. "Mother, we can't think about that now. Josey is gone, and she chose to stay in her house."

My comforting words belied my own thoughts about Josey, who had social and anxiety disorders along with her emphysema. I felt angry that she had done this to herself, but I couldn't let Mother know that. She was mourning the loss of her oldest daughter—the daughter who resented her for not being all-knowing, for not being June Cleaver, for not being positive and encouraging.

No, our mother had been a 15-year-old girl who got married to escape her five younger brothers and sisters and her parents' farm where she had to work tirelessly. She jumped out of being the subservient daughter to starting her own family and repeating the same scenario. There was no time for niceties when there was milking and gardening then canning and slaughtering. Children were necessary farm hands and babysitters. There were eight of us, but, other than me and Josey, no one stayed. The others scattered and got as far away from farm life as possible.

I was the last of the eight, and I got to live in town with Mother after she finally divorced my violently alcoholic father, whose parents threw us out when I was too young to remember. The others used to tease me, telling me how spoiled I was compared to Mother's expectations for them. Saturday morning cleaning couldn't compare to taking care of a farm and helping raise the younger children like me. I was lucky not only with chores, but because I got to see a different Mother than the one they had known—especially Josey, who was my pseudo-mom.


When Josey got sick with pneumonia and went to the hospital, she didn't want Mother to be there. Instead, I stayed with her for four days while talking to Mother on the phone, listening to her telling me she should be there. But Josey seemed to be improving, so I told Mother I would bring her up on the weekend when I thought Josey would feel better and they could visit. Yet every day, Mother called and wanted me to come get her. I would motion to Josey that it was Mother, and Josey would wave me off, not wanting to talk to her. So, I would tell Mother that Josey was sleeping.

Josey was in an osteopath hospital, which was her doctor's specialty. Even though she had been admitted with pneumonia, she was lying on her back, which at the time didn't seem unusual to me. I didn't know it could be the difference between life and death. After all, I had assumed the doctors and nurses knew the correct treatment.

On the fourth day when Mother called, I told her that Josey was feeling bad that day and was not waking up very much.

"Well, are they giving her breathing treatments!" Mother barked at me like a drill sergeant.

Taken aback, I asked in shock, "Breathing treatments? What breathing treatments?"

"You mean to tell me that she is not receiving the six to ten breathing treatments that she has been prescribed every day for the last two years? How is she sitting?"

Confused, I explained that she wasn't sitting. She was lying on her back, snoring.

Just then I looked over and Josey opened her eyes and looked at me with desperation. She had been listening all along. I smiled at her, trying to be comforting.

"Lying down!" Mother yelled. "Get her up in a sitting position. She is not snoring, her lungs are filling up with fluid and she is drowning. What kind of po-dunk outfit are they running up there?"

Josey looked at me again: face pasty, eyes feverishly glazed and drooped, with a look of something like longing. I was on the verge of hysteria, but I didn't want her to know that. Something in her eyes told me she needed Mother – wanted Mother.

"I am going to go talk to the nurse, Mother. I will call you back."

"No, you will come get me." This was not a request. She was ordering me to come get her.

"All right, Mom. I will be right there after I talk to the nurse."

Josey closed her eyes. An aura of relief seemed to come over her.

I went to the nurses' station and sternly told the nurse that Josey should have been getting several daily breathing treatments and the staff should have known that if they had paid attention to her chart. I went on in an authoritative tone, repeating everything Mother had said: that Josey should be propped up because she had pneumonia.

"Why am I telling you this? Shouldn't you automatically look at a person's chart? Don't you know a pneumonia patient should be sitting and not lying so her lungs won't fill up? Don't you know that a person with chronic breathing problems should have specific care?" I was shaking inside and feeling guilty that I didn't know these things either. "Isn't that your job?"

The nurse tried to look confident, but I could tell she knew a case could be made against all of them and their derelict duties. I was afraid and furious, at them and at myself. Josey and I needed Mother.

I made sure the nurses had my cell number and left to bring Mother back with me. Just the thought of having her there lifted a weight from me. I had not liked telling her that she couldn't see Josey even though those were Josey's wishes. Now she would be there.

Picking Mother up was not quite as easy as going to her house, honking the horn, and waiting for her to get into the car. First, I had to go in and help her into her coat, get her large black patent leather double strapped purse, and retrieve her travel walker that simply folded up. Once Mother was in the car, I had to fasten her seat belt around her large stomach.

"Oh, I am so much trouble to go anywhere," she said with a sigh.

"Oh, Mother, stop. You have wanted to go see Josey, and now you are saying you are too much trouble?" I always became frustrated when she tried to use guilt, especially this time when I felt guilty about not allowing her to come sooner.

"I'm afraid this will be the last time I see Josey," she said with that interminable negativity that caused Josey and me to stay away from her, and that kept the other six from calling very often.

"Mother! Stop with the negativity. Josey needs us to be positive right now. Besides, people have pneumonia all the time and get over it. Hell, Josey has had pneumonia before, and she has always come out of it."

Mother looked straight ahead in silence.

When we arrived in Josey's room, I pulled a chair up to face the bed. I took Mother's walker and she sat down carefully holding the arms of the chair. She took Josey's hand.

Josey opened her eyes, and Mother smiled. "Hi Sugar," she said quiet, but cheerily, picking up her hand.

I loved it when Mother held my hand in her warm soft ones when I was sick. I was afraid Josey didn't feel the same and was going to pull back, but she didn't.

Josey tried to rasp out, "Hi Moth…"

"Shhh. Don't try to talk. Just rest."

A tear rolled down Josey's cheek. "I love you, Mother," she said in a slow, shaky whisper.

"I know you do." Mother patted her hand, then lifted it and kissed it.

Josey's rattled breathing became louder and then there was silence.

As the people filed passed us at the visitation, Mother shook hands with a sad smile and thanked everyone for coming. I did not know how she was able to hold up so well. She had to be exhausted.

At the end of that long, sad day, I was not surprised when I got her home and she was ready for bed immediately.

I stayed with Mother that night. I just needed to be near her. I was exhausted too, so I went to my old room and got into my old bed. Suddenly in the middle of the night I woke up. Something was missing. Something had left me. I was alone. The smell of fabric softener mixed with the essence of baked apple bread and Dove soap was gone.

© 2011 Susan Holland

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Comments 20 comments

Guanta profile image

Guanta 5 years ago from New York City

Hi Sholland10, this is very beautiful. Thank you for sharring your story. Thank you.


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Thank you, Guanta, I am glad you enjoyed it. It is a very special story for me. :-)


aslaught profile image

aslaught 5 years ago from Alabama

Very beautiful story. It touched me because I too am losing my mom just in a different way. Dementia is claiming her. She was the best mother a woman could have and I'm taking care of her. So many parts of your story had meaning for me. The alcoholic father, the hard times. It sounds so much like a replay of my life. Thank you for a lovely, sad, sweet story.


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Aslaught, I am glad you took so much from the story. My mother and sister died within 5 weeks of one another, and it was a difficult time (still is). Someday I might write the nonfiction version, though there are a few nonfiction elements added. God bless you for taking care of your mother. I wish I had spent more time with mine. You will not regret spending time with your sweet mother even in these hard times. Hold onto to those memories - they are precious.

Thanks for dropping by and reading!


Melovy profile image

Melovy 4 years ago from UK

Susan, there’s so much in here that I can relate to, and I’d imagine anyone with elderly parents could too. I didn’t realise till I read the comments that it was fiction, so it certainly rings true.

So sorry to see that your mother and sister died so close together and that you still find it difficult. I can imagine that must be hard.

I don’t live near my parents, but see them as often as I can as my father at 88 has had cancer for 3 years so I know the time left with him is likely to be limited.


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Thank you, Melovy. It was inspired by my sister and mother's deaths. There are eight of us kids, so there was so much more to the events leading up to us losing first my sister then my mother. Possibly enough for a book to capture the dynamics of each person and the relationships. I miss them terribly. My sister left us on Christmas Eve - our traditional day for celebrating Christmas; my mother left us 5 weeks to the day later.

Enjoy your parents as much as you can. Even if you live away from them. Let them know how much they have meant to you and put away any resentments that mean so little when they are gone. Try not to have any regrets. I am so sorry to hear about your father. My mother was 88 when she died. It is weird - you just don't think they are supposed to ever die. I still cannot believe either my mother or sister are gone. It smacks me in the face when I think about it each day.

Sorry to go on... It is nearly Christmas, though, and I miss them.

Thanks for dropping by and reading!!


pedrn44 profile image

pedrn44 4 years ago from New Berlin Wisconsin

This is a beautiful and very sad story. It is also very well written. I can't imagine losing my Mom although I know it is inevitable. I am thankful we have a wonderful and very close relationship and I spend as much time with her as I can. I also can't imagine losing my sisters. You have suffered great losses and I am so sorry. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt story.


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Thank you, Pedrn44. This isn't the actual story, but it is based on my experience with my sister and mother - though I added a lot of drama. I am so glad you are close to your mother and sisters. I loved mine very much and miss them so much. I have 3 other sisters and 3 brothers. They are wonderful, and I am so glad I am in a big family.

Thanks for dropping by and reading! :-)


Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

Oh, this is a heartbreaker - what a tender story, and you told the ending so beautifully. I was almost afraid to read it; I still haven't gotten over losing my mother a few years ago. But I'm glad I did - you captured the strength of your mother and her loyalty in staying there until she knew she could leave. Thanks for writing this. Voted up and awesome.


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Thanks Marcy, I did lose my mother and sister 2 years go, but this is fiction. Their loss did inspire the story though. There is no way I could express my large families dynamics surrounding our loss. I just took a little and compressed it.

Thanks for dropping by and reading. :-)


missolive profile image

missolive 4 years ago from Texas

This is a truly heartfelt short story Susan. I know it is fictional, but it is certainly healing to consider this as a reality. Life is definitely an interesting journey that depicts the qualities and strengths of others. I have struggled through the loss of my father and I cannot imagine the day I lose my mother or my brothers. Thank you for sharing.

Voted up, across and sharing :)


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

MissOlive, yes, you and I know how tough it is to lose a parent. It creates a void that will never be filled, but our memories last forever as do all they gave us to place in our hearts.

Thanks for dropping by, voting, and sharing! :-)


Trsmd profile image

Trsmd 4 years ago from India

Sholland10, mother always leave fragrance and you can smell her at any time, recently me too lost my mother and had the same feeling but not at midnight , but at early morning hours. Thanks for sharing:)


winbo profile image

winbo 4 years ago

i know, it is really painful but it is the universal truth. Thanx for sharing. God bless u


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Trsmd, I am so sorry you lost your mother. Losing my mother was the most difficult thing I have had to deal with. There are definitely things like smells or seeing an iris (flower) that makes me think of my mother. They are sweet memories that make me long for her. I hope you have sweet memories of your mother, too. :-)


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Winbo, many universal truths can be painful, and I hope the story reaches those who have loving memories of their mothers. God Bless You, too. Thank you for dropping by! :-)


tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

Very touching. You captured a mother's love very well. I am sorry you had to go through so much. Just beautiful.


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Thanks, Tammy. It is based off my experience, but I condensed it for the story. I am so glad you liked it. Thank you for dropping by! :-)


trish1048 profile image

trish1048 4 years ago

I too have lost my mom. She died 24 years ago, almost a year to the day after I lost my husband to a drowning accident. She was 59, my hubby was 36. My dad died several years prior to my mom. All I have left is one aunt on my dad's side, my brother, my children and tons of first, second and third cousins. I wouldn't know my cousins today, as nobody ever kept in touch. They are scattered all over the country. Very sad.

I wrote a hub about my mom quite a while back. I need to revisit it and spruce it up, as many other memories weren't shared.

I'm very sorry for your losses :(


sholland10 profile image

sholland10 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri Author

Hi Trish, how tragic for you to lose your mother and husband so close together. My story does represent some truth on how I lost my sister and mother. I am from a big family, so I had much more support and love than the characters in the story, for which I am grateful.

I miss both my sister and mother terribly. They died 5 weeks apart. My dad was never really part of my life and died over 20 years ago, so I feel a bit like an orphan with my mother gone. I am fortunate to have several older brothers and sister, though. I hope you have a good support system with your children and grandchildren. I don't know what I would do without my kids. While I love my extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins, I am not very close to them...

Thanks for dropping by! :-)

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