“I ate the little cookie and drank the grape juice, and everything got clear. I saw my mom,” Zack* said. “I really saw my mom. It was weird, but a good weird.”
* * *
Zack is a twenty-eight year old young man – already, he’s been through a lot in his life. He has struggled with ADHD and panic attacks. He has done time in prison: “stupid stuff … drugs,” he says with regret. Heavy, black ink covers his arms and neck and his build is thick – he could be intimidating, but I saw and felt something different when we met.
He seemed uncomfortable, maybe even afraid. He shifted in his seat at his mother’s bedside. She was curled-up under a large, down comforter; her studio apartment was dark, cluttered, and unusually warm. The room felt heavy, and Zack’s mother seemed tired. He himself was restless and unsure.
I was the first hospice team member Zack had met. To some extent, he’d been avoiding us – and his mom. It took courage to show up, and it seemed he was making peace with his mother’s choice no longer to pursue efforts to try to control the cancer in her body. The cancer was extensive, and there was a sense that this week could be among his mother’s last. Zack felt scared and he was hurting – and no wonder. But he was not alone. I stayed with him well-beyond our initial “hello.”
* * *
His mother and I had visited several times. She had told me about happier days in Greenwich Village and Chapel Hill, communities where she had felt a sense of spiritual connection and fulfillment. She disclosed her participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, the reality of divorce and loss, disappointing relationships with immediate family, and her ongoing struggle with mental illness. She had had an often-difficult past. She was grateful for our time together and asked that we share communion.
For our next visit, I brought the elements and it turns out she had asked Zack join us. “I haven’t had communion since I was twelve,” he said, “not since I went with my stepdad to church.” On the day we were together in the apartment, it was as if that twelve year old boy and twenty-eight year old man met in the middle. Even as his mother had fed and nurtured him as a boy, she invited Zack to be fed yet again — this time, as an adult, in the context of communion.
Zack’s mother’s hopes for him had been sometimes frustrated, sometimes fulfilled. “There were times she should have been ashamed to call me her son,” Zack said. “No one else was there, but she was.” And he was tearful. He had known it was important to her that he join us. On this day, hopes would be fulfilled.
* * *
A metal folding chair served as our table. I took the small silver paten and goblet out of their case and with a portion of two wafers and some juice, I prepared the feast. The meal we shared was much bigger than its component parts.
I sat facing Zack and his mom. I prayed and spoke with them, and the significance of these moments was palpable. I asked Zack and his mom if they might also want to say something. One reached out a hand to the other, they looked each other in the eye, and they said, “I love you.”
Zack’s mother died a week later.
* * *
Some time later, I spoke with Zack. He recalled the day he and his mother and I had visited. “I ate the little cookie and drank the grape juice,” he said, “and everything got clear. I saw my mom. I no longer saw the sick person she had become. I really saw my mom.” He saw the one who had given birth to him, a parent who had raised him. He saw the one with whom he had shared good days and bad ones, days when he had felt ashamed of himself — days when “no one else was there.” He saw someone who herself had had difficult days. He saw the one who had fed him and said “I love you.”
It was good. It was really, really good.
* This name has been changed to protect the family’s privacy.