Friday, October 10, 2014


When my mother was dying, she insisted for a long time that she could beat death.

She had survived the murder of her family by the nazis, years in concentration camps, living from hand to mouth in America, an alcoholic husband suffering from PTSD, two cancers, arthritis that crippled her body, a bad heart that would sometimes simply stop, and a lot more.

She had hope. She was up front about it. If you asked her what kept her alive, she’d tell you.


I didn’t know where it came from but she had it. She didn’t believe in God, didn’t believe in others, didn’t believe in any philosophy. They were all worthless, one of her favorite words.

There was nothing that kept her tied to life accept her sense that there was some good thing that could happen and turn it all around. This kept her going for 5 years when she was dying and alone.

And then it left her.

One day I called her and she said, “Johnny, I don’t have hope anymore.”
It was gone, gone because she knew that there were no more miracles that could keep her alive.

But then five brutal years later, it came back, at the very end of her life.

At 83 she had a stroke that left her paralyzed over 85% of her body. She couldn’t move her hands or feet, couldn’t eat, couldn’t move her lips to speak.

The doctor said there was no hope for recovery. She would just get worse.

In the hospital, I asked her if she wanted me to take her off life support.

She struggled to speak, and when the word finally came out, it was “No.”

And what did I do?

I went home and wrote a poem:


Hope is kind.

Hope is a door and a window.

Hope is the silly neighbor child we ignore when we are children ourselves.

Hope is the lesson learned too late.

Hope is friday and sunday morning.

Hope is a train going so fast that not even time can catch it.

Hope is the brother of sorrow, the sister of grief.

Hope is soft cows in a distant pasture of grass. 

Hope is our mother. 


oriana said...

A spare, moving account.

She probably had great confidence in herself, having survived so much.

I know from experience that pain can be so overwhelming all you want to do is die -- at any age. The idea of a future doesn't enter into it.

But if the pain is still endurable, then existence is absolutely fascinating. For me it's not hope but simply wanting to know what happens next -- and the only way to know is to stay alive.

John Guzlowski said...

Oriana, thanks for reading the piece, and you're right about the pain. My mother has almost constant pain in hr last years, but she still love to sit outside in her wheelchair and watch the seasons come and go from her back porch and talk about the winters and springs she remembered from her childhood in the woods in eastern Poland

Anonymous said...

Hi John,

What a fine tribute to your mother: simple yet profound in the way you describe the end of her days. The last few lines of your essay were quite moving. Thanks for sharing that and your poem.

Anonymous said...

John, hope is a sign that we are human. Animals have no hope unless they come into contact with humans and experience the milk of human kindness. So perhaps your Mother was not as distant from God as she had imagined.

John Guzlowski said...

E, my mother was a woman who didn't believe in things. When I asked her if she wanted a priest to come and give her the last rites, she said, "No priest has ever come back from heaven to tell us what's there."

But she still had something--some spark that kept her hoping.

Was it God whispering in her ear? I don't know. I'll have to ask her when I see her in heaven.

Squirl said...

What a woman. Hope is a nontangible. It's the people who bring it to life. Your mother certainly did that, against all odds. Beautiful account, from a loving son. :-)


Donna Gawell said...

Thank you so much for posting this interesting and moving story.