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  • If I hadn't been propped up in bed I would have fallen to my knees. It was just one line. One bright yellow highlighted line on page 366 of a 367 page book. Taken by surprise, I stopped breathing for a moment and then I cried torrents of tears, a pent up river of emotion that carried me to an earlier time-- not too long ago by calendar standards, just a few years, but eons to me because the earlier time contained a familiar figure, now gone-- my mother.

    It seems so long ago now. She went through so much in her final days, the last months bringing one episode of physical misery after another as her health deteriorated. It has been good to put it behind us, her suffering, our anguish, and move ahead into an uncertain future, as futures always seem when a mother is no where in sight. Mothers anchor us, keep us afloat, hold together the family even when they are grieving the loss of fathers. The family ship still sailed with her at the helm, weakened by loss but continuing to find the calm ports to dock. Unfailingly she would point out the many blessings we had, offering gratitude for each new day and appreciation for the smallest things.

    "How sweet of you!" she said when I gave her the books. She was staying with me, for the last time as it turned out, and just home after an unexpected emergency hospital stay. I thought a couple books would occupy her ever sharp and always inquisitive mind as she rested and got her strength back. She had only finished one of them before my sister arrived to escort her home on the plane, so she took the other, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, home with her to read later. Only weeks before she entered the hospital for the surgery that would be her undoing she told me on one of our nightly telephone conversations that she had finished the novel and was so very moved by the story. You must read it, she insisted. "I will", I said, "I promise."

    In short order life became a blur of plane rides back and forth, hospitals, doctors, medications, and an increasing air of apprehension. I remember an evening in her living room, the sun was setting and neither one of us rose to turn on the lights. Our conversation had turned to the unthinkable, to the topic we all so strenuously avoid while still drawing breath, as if abstinence from the subject would keep it at bay. She wasn't afraid of death, she said. She was afraid of living in a shell of a body kept alive by tubes and breathing machines. She asked an assurance from me that I wouldn't let that happen and I gave it, not knowing my brother and sister and I, in less than a month's time, would stand together in front of the doctor in the critical care unit to keep that promise. She wondered aloud about what it would be like to die, what would happen, would she somehow be able to communicate with us after passing over? In great awe we contemplated this final mysterious journey and then, anxious to return to the precious time we were afforded now, we savored bowls of ice cream together. This rich and sweet indulgence was not exactly on the approved foods list given the precarious state of her health, and we giggled like kids, giddy with the thrill of doing something forbidden.

    Three months after we lost her, we finally summoned the energy to take care of the house and it was then I saw the book sitting on her reading table. Remembering her insistence that I read it, I picked it up and slipped it into my suitcase to take home. Time passed, the novel lived on a pile of books I intended to read someday until that someday came last week, almost three years to the day after my mother had turned the last page and wept. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a haunting, heart wrenching story set in war torn Afghanistan. It is the story of two women who endure unspeakable hardship and form a bond of love that transcends the death of the elder of the two. My mother had highlighted one line, only one, in the whole book:

    "Mariam is in Laila's own heart, where she shines with the bursting radiance of a thousand suns."

    In a sudden rushing blur of time it was as if I was sitting beside my mother, watching her as she highlighted the passage, as she smiled, knowing that one day I would read it and realize it was her way of reaching through time to hug me, to hug all of us who loved her, once more. I was remembering all the times in the intervening years I spoke of my mother as now living in my heart, my older daughter emotionally sharing that she felt her grandmother now lived within her, countless family members making similar statements. Time stood still for me and contained every moment past and yet to be. And it was all about love. All of it, all of it, was about love.
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