My Mother’s Last Words to Me Before She Died

Tinka Falconer enjoys Nordstrom Cafe chicken and berry salad. Photo by BF Newhall.

A few months before she died, my mother celebrated my birthday with a chicken, berry and candied walnut salad at the Nordstrom Cafe. Photos by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

My mother’s last words to me were nothing much. No parting words of love. No heartfelt messages to the grandchildren.

Two days before she died, as I was about to leave her hospital bedside, I told her I’d take her to lunch at our favorite lunch spot the following week. Her voice was weak, but she smiled gamely and retorted, “I’ll pay.”

A day later, on the night before she died, she lay in bed with her head propped up on pillows eating a little soup with help from a caregiver at her assisted living residence. When the caregiver left the room, my mother turned her head on her pillows and said, “Get me some water, would you, Barb?”

No please. No thank you. Just a matter-of-fact, “Get me some water, would you, Barb?”

In the two years since my mother’s death, I’ve often felt short-changed by our last moments together. My mother died a few days before the winter solstice. Today it is the winter solstice again. The days have darkened and grown shorter, and I’m feeling that old sadness again, guilt even, that I failed to make our last days and hours together more meaningful and more profound for her – and for me.

And so, this afternoon, I took time out from Christmas shopping to have a memorial lunch in honor of my mother. I stopped in at the Nordstrom Café, our favorite spot, and ordered the

Barbara Falconer Newhall and Tinka Falconer at Nordstrom Cafe, Stanford, for lunch. Photo by BF Newhall.

Yet another mother-daughter lunch.

chicken salad with blue cheese, sugared walnuts and fresh berries, the salad my mother always ordered when we lunched here together.

Sitting there, with my mother’s blackberries and strawberries before me, I realized for the first time how much of my mother – and me – there actually was in those words, “I’ll pay.”

We had both laughed when she offered to pick up the check, because, as the elder in our twosome, that’s what she’d always done. We laughed at how predictable we were. We laughed at how much we relished being predictable.

My mother’s words, “I’ll pay,” reminded us both of the good times we’d had at our mother-daughter lunches over the years — no husbands, no brothers, just two pretty ladies out on the town.

For example:

  • Hot fudge cream puffs with ice cream at Sanders in downtown Detroit when I was a little kid.
  • A haircut for the teenaged me at Northland Shopping Center in the suburbs of Detroit – and a Maurice Salad upstairs at Hudson’s Department Store.
  • Corned beef sandwiches at the deli in Birmingham, Michigan, between stops at the Village Store and Kay Baum’s to try on clothes (for me).
  • And finally, when my mother was in her late 80s, a shopping expedition (for her) at the Stanford Shopping Center in a borrowed wheelchair, followed by lunch at the Nordstrom Café. Chicken with berries salad for my mother, the chicken with apple slices for me.

On the day she died, my mother was too weak to speak. And so, her matter-of-fact, “Get me some water, would you, Barb?” turned out to be the very last words I’d hear from her.

I’m thinking about those words today as I eat blackberries and walnuts in my mother’s honor. And I find that, in fact, I am satisfied with her words, with their familiarity, their straightforwardness, with the fact that no “please” was offered or expected.

Tucked away in my mother’s quiet request to me on the night before she died was a message as simple as it was profound: “You’re my daughter and I’m your mother and that’s that.”

Tomorrow the days will start to get longer again, and the sky will be a little less dark.

Read about the challenge of writing about my mother at “Write About My Aging Mother? I Don’t Think So” or about an early shopping trip with her at “My Mother’s Magical Babushka.”




  1. Mary Kay Lester Forbes says:

    I just read the blogs and enjoyed them. As I was reading about the Sanders Candy and Ice Cream Store I suddenly remembered another story.
    While we were in B’ham for the ‘Dream Cruise’ this past summer I went to Sanders for an ice cream cone.
    Those thoughts of early days still lingered in my tasteful memories. Anyway, I walked into their new store on Woodward and enjoyed a conversation with two young employees. No one else was in the store so we enjoyed chatting for about 20 minutes.
    During that time I was asked if I had seen the sign at the the front door which read, “Help Wanted.” I said that I had seen it and they asked me, “How many people do you think have applied?”
    I responded, “Probably zero because young people these days don’t know what the word ‘WORK’ means and they certainly don’t want to do anything physical.”
    They laughed and said they had had three applications and only one had worked out for them. They told me the first one came in and immediately sat on the ice cream counters and began to text a friend. He was asked to begin sweeping the floors in the back. He informed them that he did not know how to sweep or use a broom. They let him go. They tried the next applicant and asked him to open a can in the back room. He informed them that he had never used a can opener. He was let go too. The third one they kept.
    My response to all of it, as a retired educator, was that I was not surprised because so many young children expect everything to be done for them or simply given to them. Thanks goodness Sanders had hired these two great, young girls and as I left the store with my two scoops of chocolate ice cream, I shook my head asking God to help the next generation, walked to the tables outside and sat down to enjoy the delicious taste of a long awaited Sanders cone. Mary Kay

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Note to readers: Mary Kay and I went to high school in B’ham — Birmingham, Michigan — an affluent suburb of Detroit. So those young people dropping in and hoping for a job were very likely the sons/daughters of well paid professionals and high-level executives.

      I’m definitely stopping in at Sanders for an ice cream cone — or better yet one of their sundaes — next time I’m in town.

  2. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    More from my high school classmate:

    “I am going to return to Greensboro, NC, and enjoy a lunch at the restaurant to celebrate my Mother’s 100th birthday like you did. Mom died at age 93 and I still miss her so much. We ate there together just about every Saturday and the waitress who waited on us is still working there and always recognizes me when I come for a meal.

    I think your idea of celebrating those special times we enjoyed with our moms, even though our mother’s are no longer with us, is an absolutely wonderful tribute to our dear mothers and the memories we have of them. Thanks for the great idea. — Mary Kay Lester Forbes

  3. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    My high school classmate Mary Kay emailed me this story about her mother:

    “My daughter went to spend the day with my mother following her operation and my mother suggested that she pick up lunch for both of them at my mother’s favorite restaurant where we ate almost every Saturday. Mom told Mary Heather the kind of sandwich she wanted, what she wanted on it, and the kind of bread she preferred.

    “Mary Heather drove to the restaurant and began ordering the lunches. She remembered the kind of sandwich Mom wanted, but suddenly forgot the kind of bread.

    “She turned to the waitress and said, ‘You know my grandmother, she comes in here on a regular basis.’

    “The waitress stood there for a minute then replied, ‘Red coat, black cane?’

    “Mary Heather smiled, ‘Yes, that’s my grandmother!’

    “‘Whole wheat,’ responded the waitress.

    “We all still laugh about that as we look back upon the many great memories we have of my dear Mother.”

  4. Linda Spencer says:

    Beautiful! Thank you, Barbara!

  5. Oh, what a beautiful post! Yes, indeed, you can still get a Sander’s hot fudge sundae – here’s where you can find them: I didn’t grow up in the Detroit area, only moving here in high school; but my maternal grandmother would bring the milk chocolate fudge sauce, which I adored, when she came to visit. Everyone I know who grew up here has memories of special trips to Hudson’s and to Sander’s – not just the food, though it was always good, but of the people and the magical aura of the events. Not every moment – even the last ones we spend together – is the stuff of legend. But the memories you and your mother created during your lives together … those are priceless … 🙂

  6. Judy Mitchelson says:

    Makes me sad but hopeful. Thanks Barbie

  7. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    I see that I’ve been posting a lot of sad/poignant/dark stories lately. Appropriate for the before-Christmas, Advent season, I’d say. I’ll try for some sunshine in future weeks.

  8. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    Thank you Anne and Kathryn! I had imagined being with my mother through her last days, having deep and meaningful conversations, like in the movies and Victorian novels, but apparently that’s not the way it is for some — most? — of us.

  9. Anne Pardee says:

    Dear Barb,
    What a special memory and I loved the meaning you found in it and that you shared it with us. I also was thinking about all that water symbolizes and found some grace and love in that as well as the simple, yet profound, act of moving to the other side. My mother also died at Christmas time, quietly, 2500 miles away from where I was, with her loving caregiver. It continues to give another layer of meaning to this season.
    Have a wonderful Christmas with your family . . . Anne

  10. Such a moving piece, Barbara. Thank you!

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