This was originally written for the October 2013 issue of Pagan Edge, and the theme was, of course, endings and death. We’re a little bit past that now, but also into a season of gratitude, so maybe it’s not a bad time to take stock of one’s life.
“Hey, Mom, how are you feeling?” Barbara asked her mother. As usual, Dolores was in her sewing room, working on some project. Barbara looked at the 92 year-old woman with some pity. When her mother was young, she had worked on needlepoint and all sorts of tasks that required fine motor control and good eyesight. Now, both had left her and she mainly knitted; even that often proved difficult.
Dolores set down her knitting needles for a moment and rubbed her hands. “I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Well, Aunt Elizabeth just passed away. I thought you’d be pretty upset. She was the last, um, sibling you had.”
Dolores shrugged and resumed knitting. “She was 94 years old.”
Barbara watched her mother knit for a few minutes. “So you’re feeling alright?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Because, well, I just thought you’d be more upset. I’m worried you’re not grieving enough.”
“How much is enough?”
“Well, any grieving, I guess. But you didn’t even cry at Aunt Elizabeth’s funeral. So I’m worried you’re keeping all this grief and anger inside, and that worries me,” Barbara answered. “You can talk to me, Mom. You know that, right?”
Dolores peered at her daughter through thick glasses and watery eyes. “Did you ever finish that quilt?”
“What? No, I’m still working on it. I hope it will be ready by the time the grandbaby is born. Aren’t you excited to be a great-grandmother?”
“I’m glad I’m still around,” she answered dryly. “But I’m afraid I won’t be around long enough to make much of impression on the newest little one. He’ll only remember me from old photos. If photos are even still around when he gets older.”
“We don’t know the baby’s a boy, and don’t say things like that. You’ll be around for a long time, Mom,” Barbara said sympathetically.
“Barb, honey, that’s just not true.”
“Mom! You shouldn’t say things like that.”
Dolores sighed and set down her knitting needles again. “Barbara, what do you want to talk to me about?”
“What? No, I’m here for you. I mean, well, you don’t have a lot of friends your age anymore,” she said, trying to be gentle with her words.
“Yes, I’m aware of that. I watched my parents die. I watched your father, God rest his soul. And now I’ve watched all my brothers and sisters die, not to mention so many friends. I’m not upset by this anymore, Barbara.”
“See, that’s what worries me.”
Dolores shook her head. “I understand. I remember when I was your age. Bill and I both retired and finally the kids were out of the house. And then there were grandbabies to spoil, so for a few years, I didn’t quite realize where I was in life. And then we both realized that statistically speaking, we only had ten more years to live.”
“That’s a terrible thing to think,” Barbara exclaimed.
“Calm down, sweetie, and let me finish. It was a terrible thought, but that didn’t make it go away. It is terrible to realize how close you are to the end of your life. I know, there’s always the possibility of accidents or illnesses, but those seem like the odd event, not the normal.” Dolores sort of sighed. “So much of life, I’ve found, is not stopping for Death. But, as the poem goes, he will kindly stop for me. I do understand how hard this is for you, but please understand I really am used to this by now. I have my projects and my kids and grandkids. I’m keeping busy. You don’t worry about me.”
Barbara listened, both appalled and oddly reassured. Her mother was right; recent retirement and the birth of her first grandchild had gotten her to realize how many years of her life had already passed.
Dolores slowly stood up from her chair, creaking and cracking in various places. She walked over to her work bench and pulled out a pair of antique pair of silver shears. The shears, while in good shape, had clearly not been used in quite some time. She held them out to Barbara. “These were my mother’s, and she got them from her mother. Grandma used them, but Mom didn’t, and I haven’t.”
“Should I use them? Or not? I’m confused,” Barbara said, taking the shears.
Dolores sat back down in her chair. “I know we’ve had some differences about your religion, but I think I’ve made peace with that. And I know you’re Hellenic, right?”
“There’s Lachesis, the Dealer of Lots, followed by Clotho, the Weaver of Fate, and last is Atropos…”
“The Cutter of the Threads, and her abhorred shears,” Barbara said, remembering the description of the Fates from mythology. “She’s also the crone.”
“You’ve been the maiden, you’re still a mother, but she’s next and the shears don’t have to be ahborred. There’s always an end, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Barbara felt tears sting her eyes and she closed her hand around the shears. “Thanks Mom.”
“You’re welcome, sweetie,” Dolores said, and resumed her knitting.