We've been living life this past year, grabbing at time whenever we can. Since my mother entered hospice, our lives have become built around daily visits to her. She needs us, our family of five, and she is in the front seat of every activity in our lives.
My mother is with us on this 4th of July, and we want to do as much as feels normal for all of us without being too much for her. Today, her shoulders were made tender by the sun, and she smelled summer in the hamburgers that my husband grilled. She felt the preciousness of days past in the roasted corn that momentarily burned her fingertips as she pulled a cob from the plate. We served my childhood favorite, sweet mandarin carrot salad, and she savored it, telling me it was better than she remembered it as a little girl.
It would have been too much for her to attend our small town's annual 4th of July parade, and so my husband and our three children form a miniature parade of our own through our yard. The five of us march and wave our small flags from the hardware store. We single file high step past her in her wheelchair and she laughs when my oldest son salutes her. In a fleeting moment, I catch her eyes and see them wet with joy.
This season of hospice care is a bittersweet one for all of us. We mark our days, everything resonating in a deep awareness. I marvel at how her hands are still as soft as silk, so much like my youngest son's, as she presses my own against her face on this day. Her eyes close; I know she is trying to remember all of this as hard as I am.
She grows tired, and we drive her back to her room in hospice. We say goodbye and she tells us she wishes she had energy to see the fireworks together. Once we are back home, we'll walk with our rolled-up blankets under our arms and find our place on the hill. Anticipating the thunder of the opening fireworks, my son's small hands will slip into mine and he'll lean his back against my chest for support. The excited crowd's chatter will rise as the sky grows dark, and my little boy will whisper how his favorite part is when the first firework breaks open, the colors zigzagging overhead like fireflies.
We sit, our elbows propped up on the maroon and green picnic blanket that my mother gave us 18 years ago, when my first son was born. My hands feel the familiar fabric and tears slip down the side of my cheek as I remember the number of times she sat with us on this blanket.
I hear the first whoosh of the rocket launch and a firework, as large and full as a chrysanthemum, bursts into a million lights filling the velvet above us. The boom from the first flash cracks in the night sky and twinkling embers slowly trail away in the darkness with an echo settling deep in my chest.
I feel the weight of my little boy against me. My eyes follow the drifting dust tails of a thousand white diamonds left shimmering across the blackness. I think of my mother as the night is illuminated with the flicker of what once was.