Four weeks ago, I suddenly became an adult. My mother died. That’s what happens when both of our parents are gone. You are an adult. You are no one’s child any more. I cant explain the feeling except that it seems that a beautiful warm light is now gone from your life, from your heart, from your soul. You feel dim.
The further the day of her passing retreats, the greater the pain of loss grows. You would think it was the opposite, but its not. Each day, the magnitude of the reality grows like a worm eating its way through your heart. The pain becomes a constant gnawing.
When I wake up, it is the first thought in my head. It is a weight I carry like a stone. I can’t smile as joyfully, as carelessly. I will never be the same. A great deal of the lightness that was my spirit seems to have muted. I am scared that it will never return.
So many times I had to take her or send her to the hospital in the last two years. It was routine. She kept getting pneumonia, or her legs would swell from the fluid collecting because her heart and lungs weren’t working up to par. She went so many times that she began to say she wanted to go to the “spa” or that she needed to go in for a “tune-up”. It almost became a joke between us. It did. It’s funny how in the face of underlying worry and fear we can joke. Some of the times I did not think she would be coming out. She would look so terrible, but this last time, for some reason, I did not think that. You are never ready. No matter how long you know its coming. Just like all of the other times, I kissed her as she was placed on the gurney. I said,”See you in a bit.” But,this time it was different. I love you, was the last words I ever spoke to her.
When I look back on that moment, it is like a cutout somehow. I remember kissing her but I don’t remember any reaction. Did she know we would not see each other again? Was it because she was scared? I only remember the side of her face. I remember that she was holding onto the sides of the gurney in her bright yellow dress with the embroidered red blue and green flowers and leaves.
I went to get dressed and I talked to David about what was happening and then I went to the hospital. I always went to the emergency desk and they would tell me what “pod” she was in, but not this time. This time the nurse led me to a tiny room and told me the doctor wanted to speak to me. “Did something happen?” I can’t tell you anything, you have to wait for the doctor. My heart and breathing became suspended. I was alive but I wasn’t moving in the same time and space as the rest of the world.
The doctor came and told me that 5 minutes after she came in her heart had stopped. They had restarted it 4 times but each time she reacted less to the medicines they injected her with to keep her heart going. He wasn’t sure if they had been able to bring her back the 4th time. I asked to see her. Her eyes were open but I don’t think she saw me. I kept repeating, I love you mama. I love you. I held her head. I smelled her hair. I held her hand. The doctor told me that it was cruel to keep bringing her back. It wasn’t working. I had to let her go.
One week before, she had come home from the hospital and then intense physical therapy. I was going to be her caretaker. I made schedules for exercise and medicines. I bought food that I thought she would eat. She wasn’t eating well. No meat. Her favorites were quickly dwindling day by day. She picked, she moved the food around her plate. I should have seen the sign and I did but thought I could change it by making things she loved, but I couldn’t. She had started to fade. I was trying to hold on and she was letting go.
Looking back I can see it as clear as day. I was ignoring the signs. I kept encouraging her to fight. I kept ignoring how she couldn’t do anything any more without panicking. She had been having panic attacks for months but we thought it was her breathing problems getting worse. We controlled the attacks with nerve medicine. When she went into the hospital before the last time, the doctors told her that she was experiencing anxiety attacks. We worked on breathing exercises to get them under control.
Each day, the slightest exertion would trigger a panic attack. Just going to the bathroom or switching chairs. I would calm her by saying, “In through the nose out through the mouth. Come on Mom, you know what to do.” I thought they were just panic attacks but now I know she was dying.
She was dying but we still did the exercises. She was dying but she still put lotion on her face to get rid of wrinkles. She was dying but I kept asking her to smile.She was dying but I ignored it. I planned what we could do each day to keep her busy, to work her mind. That was another thing that I began noticing. She was becoming more forgetful. “How do I get out of bed?” “How do I get on the toilet?” She began to be scared to move. All movement made her panic.
The first day after she came home was the first time she could no longer easily move to her chair at the kitchen table. As I rolled her up to the end of the table, it struck me. That had been my father’s place in his giant wheelchair (he had muscular dystrophy). He was sitting there when he had to go to the hospital when he passed away. It had been her husband Ernie’s place when he broke his femur and then succumbed to pancreatic cancer. I was his caretaker and I had rolled him up to that spot every day for 8 months. Now I was rolling her up to the spot. It was like a macabre parade of wheelchair floats and I knew the inevitability of her position there at the end of the table.