A train is a means of conveyance that moves on a track from one place to another. Passengers wait on a platform before departing for their destinations. I remember sitting with my mother in her hospital room as she was dying. This was December, 1999. I sat in the darkened room while she slept. I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want her to leave me. I had come to Texas from California for our last Christmas together and here we were in this quiet impersonal hospital room, her rhythmic breathing the only sound. Her condition was worsening after she’d elected to stop all chemotherapy for the oat cell carcinoma that was spreading in her lungs. I didn’t blame her for that decision; quality of life seemed a reasonable wish. I was due to return to California after the holidays with my three children and husband. It would be another month before I could come back. I doubted she had another month in her, at least in this life.
The song, “People Get Ready, Cause the Train is Comin’,” started playing in a loop in my brain, and I understood in that moment that it didn’t matter if I stood on the train tracks with my arms stretched wide, that train was going to move right through me and keep on going. This train wasn’t for me, but for her and it wasn’t stopping for anybody, including a grieving daughter who didn’t know how she’d make it without her mama. Still, that image and that song brought me peace. This was bigger than I was, bigger than my grief. That train had departed from the station long before I was born and had a destination and timetable independent of my existence. I felt my shoulders relax as I sat there, knowing that my role was a minor one at this point. My mother knew how much I loved her; she also knew that I would be okay without her.
The next time I saw Mom was three weeks later, as she lay in a coma. I stood at her bedside along with others who loved her, each of us midwives to the next world. We all laid our hands upon her and muttered whatever words came to mind. After a short while, I leaned close and whispered in her ear, “Go to Jesus, Mama. He’s waiting.” She turned, took her last breath, and stared straight into my eyes. I could almost hear a distant whistle and the clickety-clack of that train as it headed on down the track.