DISCLOSURE: Details were changed to protect confidentiality.
I sat there in silence holding the hand of an elderly mother.
As a hospice social worker, I have done this more times than I care to count. But this time … this time was special.
The mother held my hand on one side and lovingly placed her other hand on the chest of her adult son as he lay in his hospital bed.
He was dying.
For the longest time, we sat in silence. But, it was as if I could feel the intensity of her love for her son radiating from her hands.
The thought she communicated didn’t need to be spoken. She emoted, “I’m losing my baby boy.”
This man was no baby. Facial hair, thinning hair on his head, and lines across his own face.
But, he was her baby.
As we talked, and cried, she related stories of the past. In these stories, this grizzled man was a goofy toddler. He mispronounced words like “libary” and “aminals.” He got into her makeup and cut his own hair. One time, he swallowed a penny.
He was every child.
And now, life was serving one of the most unfair gifts – watching your child die before you.
She shut her eyes and tears flowed down her cheeks like rivers.
She continued to clutch my hand and as she told me how very special he was to her. Their relationship was different than the one she had with her daughters. It reminded me of the special relationship I held with my own son. The closeness that is so dear and sometimes so unexpected. The word that we both repeated was “special.”
As I left her house, she grabbed my hand again and told me to hug my boy extra tight tonight from her.
Because our boys are special.
On my drive home, I cried thinking about the mother and son. The words that kept repeating themselves over and over in my head were “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” That book has always made me cry. But now looking at it through the lens of my patient’s mother who was losing her only baby boy gave it a whole new intensity.
I arrived home to see my spunky 4 year old running around the house. He smelled like a puppy dog and was dirty faced and sticky (why is he always sticky?). I dropped to my knees, closed my eyes and pulled him close to me.
I breathed him in and held him so tightly, almost in an effort to burn the memory of him into my brain. I will always remember him this age; sweet, stinky, and sticky.
“I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”