by Susan J. Tweit
On this day fifty-five years ago, just before dawn, my mom, Joan Cannon Tweit, brought me into this world. So today, I want to say “thank you,” and honor her life–and death.
Mom was a California girl, born in Berkeley during the Great Depression. She grew up hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevadas, honing her powerful crawl-stroke swimming in frigid mountain lakes; she had such perfect pitch that her high school choir director used her voice instead of a tuning fork to start concerts.
Mom loved school and went to college at University of California, Berkeley, a six-block walk from home, where she met my dad, a grad student in Chemistry. They married the June after she graduated, and drove to Mount Shasta to honeymoon, only the snowbanks were so deep, they picnicked in the middle of the one plowed road.
For almost 59 years, they were inseparable. Mom raised my brother and I, managed our household, earned a master’s degree in library science and worked as school librarian, all despite being legally blind.
She was a crusader against injustice in any form; she prized birdsong and wildflowers and mountains almost as much as chocolate; she loved good books, clear night skies, and classical music, and she passed her passions to my brother and me.
Determined to do everything for herself even after decades of rheumatoid arthritis reduced her 140-pound, five-foot, six-inch tall frame to 85 pounds and barely five-two, she refused help even when she knew her brain and body were failing.
Until she fell and broke her hip. “Your bones are so thin that we can’t fix the fracture; there’s nothing to attach to,” the orthopedic surgeon said gently. Coming home into hospice care, she found a kind of grace in being cared for.
I oversaw caregivers and medication, fed Mom, and spent hours holding her hand as she listened to the conversations around her, interjecting a word here and there.
The evening before she died, she was calm, lucid, tracking conversations, smiling at my husband Richard, lifting her eyebrows at a silly joke my dad told…
That night, Mom and Dad fell asleep hand-in-hand. When I checked on them an hour later, all was quiet. Same in the middle of the night.
At dawn, Dad called: “I think she’s gone.” I threw on jeans and a shirt and raced down the hall, Richard following.
Mom was still, smiling, and the skin on her face was warm and soft. I felt for a pulse. Nothing.
After I called her hospice nurse and sent Dad and Richard off to get breakfast, I sat with Mom, holding her hand as her skin gradually cooled. The sun rose, and then vanished behind a gray line of cloud. Snow began trickling from the sky.
I had just witnessed a bittersweet miracle, my mom’s final gift: a graceful death at home, helped along by love and caring.
Plant ecologist Susan J. Tweit likes to say she “evolved” into a writer. Her twelve books have won national and regional awards, and best of all, she says, the love of her readers.