There will be a last day

When I arrived in Florida a few weeks ago to help care for my mom, who was in the last stages of terminal cancer, Facebook showed me an ad for a pin. I ordered it on the spot. It arrived yesterday, on what would have been my mom’s birthday.

For anyone who doesn’t recognize it, it’s from a poem called Do not go gentle into that good night, by Dylan Thomas, whose first stanza reads:

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I’ve talked a lot about my mom’s wisdom. It was a quiet, understated thing; she had a knack for comprehending the world in ways subtle and deep. When I was growing up, she used to tell me, “information by itself almost never changes attitudes.” She understood that we are not rational creatures, we are rationalizing creatures, prone to making decisions for emotional or tribal reasons and then pressing our rational selves into service to justify our choices.

Other things she told me countless times:

“Education is not the solution if ignorance is not the problem.”

“We are predisposed to believe what we wish were true or what we’re afraid is true.”

“Never ask a question whose answer you don’t want to know.”

Even more than her sometimes pointed wisdom, though, I remember she was always, always there for me, without fail. If there was one thing I could count on absolutely, without question, as surely as the rising sun at the end of night, it was that she’d be there without fail. I never for even a millisecond, at any time in my life, doubted her love. Not once.

My mom and my dad on a date, six years before I was born.

I remember one night many years ago, when I was 18 or 19, driving to Ft. Lauderdale in my notoriously unreliable ’69 VW Beetle to visit friends. The car broke down at about 2AM four hours from home, so I called my mom from a pay phone. Without the slightest hesitation, without lectures or rancor, she got up, dragged her ass the four hours to come rescue me, then the next day took me to a repair shop for the part I needed to fix it and drove me right back down again.

She was always that way. That sort of cast-iron knowledge that someone always has your back is probably the single greatest gift you can ever give someone growing up.

My mom was diagnosed with cancer in November 2022, thirteen months almost to the day as I type this. She tolerated chemo poorly, though she was not one to go gentle into that good night, and stuck with it no matter how miserable it made her.

In the end, it wasn’t enough.

I came down to Florida a few weeks ago to help my dad care for her. At the end, she needed round-the-clock care, so my dad and I alternated in twelve-hour shifts.

In the tiny hours of the night last week, she started having difficulty breathing. I called 911. She’d been in and out of the hospital several times, so I didn’t know this would be the last time she’d ever be home.

The hospital confirmed the cancer had spread to her lungs and brain. A few days later, the doctors took her off life support.

She died at 9:36 in the morning on December 15, 2023, four days before her birthday. We (my dad, my sister, and I) were in the car on the way to the hospital to see her when she passed.

That night, when I called 911, I don’t think any of us knew it was the end. We knew the end was near, of course, but she’d had other crises, other storms she’d weathered.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, as I go through a million little things I never imagined having to deal with—arranging for the home hospice care people to come and pick up the hospital bed, resetting her iCloud passwords, all the various ways we close the threads of a life. (The truck is titled in my mom’s name but my dad isn’t on the title, something my sister is dealing with.)

You never know.

Someday, there will be a last time you see the moon through the trees. Someday, there will be a last time you hug the people close to you. Someday, there will be a last time you hear a bird sing, a last time you have your favorite dessert, a last time you feel the sun on your face.

You might not know when that is. It might have already happened.

You are an anomaly. Yes, you. The odds of your existence are incomprehensibly small. You trace your lineage directly across the billions of years to a primitive, single-celled organism, and any tiny disruption of that slender thread would erase your existence. Had your parents gone to the movies that night, you would not be here.

You have these brief moments under the sun, and that is a gift beyond price—beyond imagining. Somehow, you beat odds so great your brain literally cannot comprehend them, and of the trillions of potential beings that might exist, here you are.

These few moments are all you will ever have. Cherish them, because there will be a last time for everything.

2 thoughts on “There will be a last day

  1. Eleven years ago it was *my* mother. She came through crisis after crisis. I visited her faithfully in hospitals and nursing homes. Then one Friday it was starting to snow and we left a little sooner than we had been planning on, and I took the weekend off from visiting, since the weather was bad, just taking care of my dad at home, knowing that my aunt would be visiting Mom and she wouldn’t go two days without visitors. I’d see her Monday.

    Then Sunday evening the call came.

    I content myself with knowing that she knew I loved her.

    All you can do is the best you can do.

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