Caring Currents

Questions I Wish I'd Asked Mom

Last updated:

May 02, 2008

Is the first Mother's Day without your mother the hardest? Each gift or florist catalog in my mailbox makes me flinch. I walk faster past the card aisle at the drugstore. My mom died in December of a metastasized cancer she only knew about for 21 days, which were divided evenly between hospital and home hospice. She was 81.

What I wish I'd given her while she was still with us, during those last three weeks, was a certain kind of conversation. Not the I-love-you or we’ll-take-care-of-Dad (who has dementia) conversations. I had those. I wish I'd given her more openings to talk about her side of things. Too late, I've thought of so many questions that I avoided while we are all so busy trying to seem calm and normal about the whole abnormal, sucky thing:

  • "How do you feel -- no, really?"
  • "What do you think about what the doctor said?"
  • "Are you scared?"
  • "Are you mad?"
  • "Is there anybody you want to see or talk to?"
  • "Are there any special things you'd like anyone in particular to have?"
  • "What was the favorite place you ever visited? The most fun thing you ever did? Your happiest time?"

There are other questions I wish I'd asked her, too, but they're selfish ones like, "Who's in all these pictures? And how do you spell all their Polish names?" Or, "Will you teach me how to sew?" But those missed opportunities don't gnaw at me the same way the unsaid talking-about-the-end questions do. Those would have been more of a gift to her, I think, an invitation to lay aside the motherly impulse to protect us and say what was in her heart. She might have resisted. Or she might have felt a kind of grateful relief.

If you've been there, are there similar questions you wish you'd asked?

If you haven't been there yet, let me recommend this article, Talking to Your Parent About Death: What to Say and How to Say It, which, ironically, I first read just a week too late and is one of my favorites on our site. Though it's no fun to think about that topic, it beats the fresh loss you might feel every time you realize what you didn't say or ask, when you might have.