Reliably Austin
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Streaming troubles? We've made changes. Please click here on for more information.

Separated By Distance, Pat Sartor Celebrated Her Mother's Last Days Through Song

Pat Sartor wrote about her mother's last days, and the songs they sang, for our Common Ground project.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Pat Sartor wrote about her mother's last days, and the songs they sang, for our Common Ground project.

The pandemic has brought distances between people — literally — that can be hard to overcome.

Sometimes it has meant loved-ones being sick or even dying, and we're not able to be there.

Earlier this year, we asked for your true stories of overcoming distance or differences for our Common Ground project, in partnership with the Austin Public Library and the Library Foundation. 

Pat Sartor wrote about bridging a distance through song.

Read Pat Sartor's story below:

Covid conversations with my mother.

The Canadian border closes. My mother enters hospice. The separation? As if a large blade came between her and her children in the U.S. 

We’re to stay at home. But where is home? Well, it’s where the heart is.

So how can I get there? I have to deliver my heart through the instrument of voice alone. 

You know how water seeks its own level? Well, our love for our mother forced its way over the boundary waters.

Our mother's doctor called her his poster child for his treatment. Whenever a lump arose, that treatment shrunk it. Every scan afterward showed it worked! 

"Mumma? What are you doing?"

"I’m beating David in Scrabble and cribbage."

I could sense her sharp mind. See her deep-set, smiling blue eyes and hear her baritone voice laughing at her wins.

Then in April I heard my brother’s words: "Mom’s had a setback."

The words ran through my veins like a lightning strike.

It took only three days to go from walking on her own, to needing help to stand, to bedridden and not being able to finish sentences. 

It was late April and her last night in her home before hospice. So what did we do for that night’s conversation? Choir night. We sang.

John Prine’s “Grandpa Was A Carpenter.” There was applause, smiles and calls for more. 

"Mumma, remember The Band?"

"Yes," she replied, clearing her throat. “I pulled into Nazareth, was feeling half past dead. Take a load off Fanny, and you put the load right on me.”

And then Neil Young's "Harvest Moon."

“Because I'm still in love with you, I want to see you dance again ... Because I'm still in love with you ... On this harvest moon.”

Ending every call, she’d say, "I’ll love y’all forever."

I’d yell back, "Forever and ever amen!"

Every night another song list emerged from the landscape of our childhood.  

Last night in hospice.

"Remember singing this one to us Mumma?"   

“Oh Shenandoah, I long to hear you ... Away you rolling river ... Away I’m bound to go cross the wide Missouri.”

My brother, the conduit, said, "She’s smiling and squeezing my hand."

Lastly and singing tearfully: "Over in Killarney, many years ago, my mother sang a song to me in tone so soft and low. And I’d give the world if I could hear that song of hers today."

Flowers and handwritten cards started appearing on the porch. Drive-by deposits of love which made us feel closer to our neighbors and coworkers in Austin.

I have a deeper connection to all the people separated from their families.

Watching them on the news — touching hospital windows instead of their loved ones.

Another layer of love was woven, feeling closer to our siblings, lifting each other’s spirits while letting go of our mother.  The roots of love grow so deep they transcend border crossings.

It’s my mother’s voice I’ll miss the most.

Matt Largey is the Projects Editor at KUT. That means doing a little bit of everything: editing reporters, producing podcasts, reporting, training, producing live events and always being on the lookout for things that make his ears perk up. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @mattlargey.
Related Content