I lay on the floor next to my mother's bed last night listening to her breathing, counting the breaths. One, two, three, pause.
I was listening for a change, a sign that she needed me. Several times I jumped up to check on her and then fell back into a light slumber lulled into a false sense of comfort by the cadence of her exhales.
In my house, my mother is at once everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Her pictures are scattered all over my den. Pictures of who she was. A version of her lies in a bed in my living room, waiting. But the brightness that surrounded her life is fading — her voice, her energy, her light is in the process of exiting this world, getting ready to enter the next.
I know her breathing will eventually change and at some point, stop abruptly, and then I will have to learn to stop listening for her. It will be hard to remember what it was like before I listened for her breaths every second, and instead, paid attention to my own. That's when I will have to tell myself over and over again — breathe in, breathe out. I will have to re-learn what it is like to breathe again on my own.
"Breathing Lessons" is an excerpt from Amanda Lamb's journal chronicling her mother Madeline's 2012 battle with brain cancer. To read more entries, visit Madeline's CaringBridge site, or find out more about Amanda's book, "The Living Room."