One Word

I do not write about politics in Words Not On Paper.  I could, and I would have more readers — a lot more than you few who spend your valuable time reading the little stories you find here.  But there are plenty of other places you can go if you want to read someone’s opinion.  Head on over to some social media site or watch television “news” if that sort of thing floats your boat.

That being stated, I want to make an observation on the video we have all seen.

I watched it three times before I caught something I had somehow previously missed.  Just one word:  “momma.”

At that point, I knew he was going to because he knew he was going to die.

It is more common than you might think for that one word to be among a person’s last.

I stood by my grandmother’s bed in a hospital in Birmingham, AL back in 1983.  She was 87 years old and near death, but I had not lived enough life at that point to understand that it was going to our last time together.  I bumbled around, attempting to engage her in some sort of conversation.  Things like “Hey granny, remember that time we did this or went there?”  She just listened, expressionless.

After a long silence a remarkable thing happened.  A big tear rolled down her cheek and she said, “I want my momma.”

I puzzled over that for years.  Why would she say such a thing?  She had children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Her mother had been dead 30 years, and it had been over 70 since she had been in her care.

Then a few years ago I read Shelby Foote’s remarkable historical narrative The Civil War.

Foote dispelled any notion of Romanticism about that war.  Most of it was fought in an old-fashioned way, in which two armies faced each other in parallel lines and charged over open ground until one or both retreated and fell back.  But the carnage was unimaginable because the weapons were not old-fashioned:  accurate repeating rifles, metal bullets, and heavy artillery.

The battles ended at sunset.  If the contest had yet to be decided, both armies regrouped and waited for dawn on either side of the killing field, with hundreds or even thousands of casualties lying in the dark between them.  The wounded and dead, intertwined and stacked like cord wood.

The historical record reveals that many of the dying cried out through the long night.  The one word heard more than any other was “momma.”

I do not know if there is a rational explanation for this.  Grown men and old women, all seeking comfort from a single word.

Perhaps the dying see what the living cannot.  Death standing there with a crooked smile and stinking breath, his bony fingers reaching toward them.  Then they need to hold momma’s hand.  To seek comfort from the one who put a Band-Aid on their skinned knee or put a cool washcloth on their forehead when they had a fever.  The one who always said, “Hush baby, it is going to be alright.” Because it always was alright.

The mystical power of one word.

Rest in peace.  In those last moments I hope you saw your momma.

15 thoughts on “One Word

  1. I’m assuming you are referring to the death of George Floyd, which is not something “we have all seen.” I deliberately have not seen it. Some things you’re better off not seeing. Interesting that he said mama, but not all that surprising. I too have read that calling out for mama on battlefields is not rare. Of course, most who die in battle are young, not that far apart from their mamas. That your grandmother would say it at age 87 is surprising to me due to her having children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. You would think a woman so old would feel closer to them than to a long-gone mother. I doubt I will say mama on my deathbed, but who knows? It probably has lots to do with one’s relationship with one’s mama. I too hope Floyd saw his mother and everyone else he might have loved before they died.

    1. I’m glad you haven’t seen it.

      Unlike you, I don’t have an international audience. On average, about 50 people read what I write here. Hardly worth the effort. But I’d wager most of my readers have seen it. It’s almost impossible to not see it in the U.S., unless you completely “unplug.”

      I’m sure you are correct that it depends on the nature of the relationship. I’m very close to someone whose mother just gave her away shortly after birth. I doubt she’ll say it.

      1. I watched “Saving Private Ryan” on Netflix yesterday. Had never seen it. There were a couple of guys who said “mama” as they were dying. Sad phenomenon.

  2. Living in Houston and seeing what is currently going on I am speechless to what is being shown on TV as well as videos being posted on social media. Bur as I read this post there is much similarity to my own life. I was my Mother’s firstborn and of the 8 children she gave livebirth too yet the only one she walked away from. I was with her at her bedside as she died in hospice. Her final years she has Alzheimer so she was once again a child and often brought up her Mother. My Mother returned to speaking her Mother’s language – Hungarian which of her 8 children I was the only one that also spoke it so a bond was formed in those final years. But calling out to Momma is very common. We all need to do whatever we can to bring the human being together at this time.

  3. Because I am Momma, I won’t say much, but I think Felipe is wise to say what we all know, it depends on what kind of Momma you have. Speaking as one who had a really good one, a Mama’s unconditional love is perhaps a rare commodity, especially today. Never have I forgotten my Mama’s touch when I was sick or her reassurance when I was discouraged. I have loved a lot of people, one good man, two good sons, and on and on; but my own children continue to be at the top of my list, right under Jesus.

  4. Ray, this blog touched my heart! Now that I have turned eighty, I remember things that I haven’t thought of in years… First of all I would like to say Mama was always my best friend! I loved and respected her! I can still hear her laughter, the happy times, the times she saved me from a spanking, the meals she cooked, the dresses she sewed after work… The list is endless. Those memories are from my childhood. The ones that stay close to my heart are her last year’s on her journey to her heavenly home. Those were hard years, which is true in everyone’s life. What I have been pondering about is why one calls out for their mama at death. This has been haunting me all day! I remember when Mama insisted her mama was in the yard; she sent me to the door to let her in and me gave “down the country” when she didn’t appear… There were other times she saw and talked to her mama… I am not sure why people call out for their mama. After today, I can’t help but wonder if I too, will insist that my daughter open the door for my MAMA….I believe knowing your mama is with you in your last minutes is Gods way of giving you comfort …

  5. This is a very touching write Ray. I miss my momma every day and I hope it is her that comes to me on my death bed. Oh what a comforting site that would be. Now that I am a momma I understand that unconditional love we have for one another so much more.

    1. Thank you Mel.

      I know you loved your momma, and I knew you were going to be a good momma, and you are. Your son is fortunate to have you, and I can see from the photos you put on Facebook that he loves you very much.

  6. When my dear Grandmother was in the hospital, she survived a couple of major surgeries….but later- while still being hospitalised …she developed Sepsis and
    unfortunately, she did NOT survive. Those of us that were emotionally able to: Spent time with her right before she passed. My cousin, who had worked as an I.C.U. nurse, was with her towards the end and she came out from our grandmother’s room and told the rest of us that it would not be long now. Because at this point our dear Grandmother was asking for her *Mother*. It wasn’t long at all; my cousin was right:
    She passed very soon after uttering her last words asking for her *Mother*. This same cousin told us that a dying patient will quite frequently do this exact same thing. In fact, She had witnessed this very act numerous times while working in the I.C.U. at the hospital.
    When it’s my time: I pray that My Dear Sweet Mother, who was taken from me as a result of a fatal car accident, will be the one that comes to wrap me in her arms once again as I leave this earthly home. I will most definitely be smiling with Joy to see her AGAIN!

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