Two years ago today my mom sat in her wheel chair at MSUM’s Nemzek field. A yearly ritual, we would park nearby, walk up to the stands, listen to the cover band play old American classics and wait for the lights to dim. Once it was fully dark we would see the first reload shoot up with a “thwump”, a swirling smoke stream left in its wake, and then the first “pop” and “ahh” would echo the stands. My mom was usually the loudest to “ooo” and “ahh”; sometimes a pop would sparkle so impressively she would start to clap. She always remembered to tell us that the “palm tree” ones were her favorite—an opinion that I shared either because of her immense proselytization of their beauty and “awesomeness” or just because they really are the best and most awesome—I’ll never really be sure.
Two years ago was different though. This time we sat on the side because my mother would never be able to make it up the steps of the bleachers. We brought her walker/wheelchair and parked in the handicap spots about 100 meters from where we plopped our chairs on the grass. It was still a great view and you could hear the music off the side of the bleachers. My mother had wanted to go and had rallied a significant amount of energy just to make it to this unorthodox spot. We talked about small things that I can’t remember much until the fireworks began. After the first pop or two it wasn’t an “ooo” and “ahh” that I heard, but a remark filled with knowledge and sadness, “I just keep thinking—long pause—that these are the last fireworks that I’ll see.”
And right away I quipped back with a, “You don’t know that mom. You might be able to see them next year. Things could get better like they have before!” But, she did know and had grasped something remarkable that few of us get to experience.
What would it be like to see fireworks with eyes that knew they were the last you’d ever see? What would it be like to be aware that it was the end? Even in old age it’s rare to know exactly when you’re going to go. How good and bad and overwhelming and peaceful would it feel to get to say goodbye to someone with finality?
My mother, in her brown wig with highlights and her uncomfortable walker/wheelchair sitting outside the Moorhead football field, knowing this would be it; “ooo” and “ahh” she continued after we both let the comments be forgotten. “These palm tree ones are my favorite. I always love the way they sparkle.”
Me too mom. And I still do.