How Time Passes



“Time passes much too quickly,
when we’re together laughing…” Robert Lamm, “Beginnings,” recorded by Chicago

In December of 2000 my mother was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor. Together, she, my husband and I made the decision to place her under hospice care. At the time, I was already tired  from being her caregiver and caring for a parish full-time. I was grateful for the hospice staff and how they worked with the staff at Mom’s assisted living home to make her last days comfortable – for her, and for me. I was grateful that Mom could stay in the home she loved so well, safe in her room, big enough for a single bed, a television set, and a desk in the nook by the window that looked over a parking lot and the school yard of Tech High School.

A few days before she died, Mom sat on the edge of her bed facing the window with its city scene: “I wish it would snow once, just for me,” she said simply, the Milwaukee Girl who had been transplanted just two years before to this strange climate. Had I known that it was snowing in the hills that surround the Bay Area of California for the first time in many years, I’d have packed her into my car and driven to see the snow, only a few miles away.

Instead, I was focused on her, my Mom,  the last precious days and hours and moments that we would be together. Moments flash through my mind, many times since those precious days and now, in these precious days and hours and moments.

In the years since her death the following February, 2001, I have often returned in memory to singular, stark, and lovely exchanges in that little room. I see her growing smaller and smaller, her eyes becoming larger and larger, until I looked deeply into reflections of my own eyes in hers. I rub her back as she talks to me of ordinary things, as if we were in another time in our lives together. On Valentine’s Day, I bring her a large chocolate heart from See’s Candy; chocolate was forbidden her because of type 2 diabetes, but as the days of her life grew shorter, I set those rules aside to bring her what she loved. She didn’t eat the chocolate heart, but I think she understood the gift: “Thank you,” she said, looking into my eyes.

Three days later she would die in that little room, with me as her companion on this side of that journey, whatever it may be.

Time stretches out – forever – to the young. That’s how it was for me. For every dream, there was a possibility. For every hope, a stab of feeling that announced it had not yet been fulfilled, but could be fulfilled. For every ambition, there was a way, although not yet discovered.

In my fifties I would sometimes awake early in the morning and see in my inward eye my life floating away behind me, like calendar pages drifting off into the wind. The
feeling: panic. Was there enough time? Enough time, for what?

As I grow older, life becomes more and more a parade of moments. Some of the moments I have captured in memory, like those precious last days with my mother. Some of the moments have been lost, never quite noticed at the time, never quite snapped in the conscious mind’s Polaroid lens.

I understand that the very old retrieve memories they had not known they had, memories that float into awareness as if they’d been behind the curtain on some stage. I’m not in that place. I hope to be, some day.

Now, I am grateful and often saddened by the moments that do come to mind. So many of the characters in memory are no longer here; so many I have loved I will not see again. Some of the places are places to which I will not return. Some moments were painful then, and are painful now,  in the remembering. Some moments are  funny… I laugh again, just as I did the first time.

This moment is already this moment, now. Yesterday’s moment is already past.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

The passage of moments cannot be marked by the ticking of some inner clock. They pass by too quickly to be marked at all.

Happy New Year, dear friends!