I listened to a cousin wail and cry, and wondered why she even bothered. My mother was mine, not hers. I internalized my pain, and felt an almost snobbish pride at being serene, being calm in the face of the storm; literally. A hard rain lashed down on us as we followed the small procession from the church to the graveyard.
All the way from the church to the cemetery, I kept reliving the last five days of my mother’s life. The last panicked phone conversation I had with her, remembering the absolute fear and confusion in her voice. A voice that had soothed me during bad nights, a voice that had scolded me when I was being naughty. That voice that spent seemingly a year screaming at me during my terrible teens. The year I honestly thought my mother and I hated each other. What had I told my mother that day when she called to tell me she was feeling worse?
Did I tell her I loved (love) her? Did I tell her not to be afraid, that SuperMe was going to save the day? What had I said? I cannot remember my side of the conversation, but I remembered her telling me, with her voice all breathy and weak, that she couldn’t walk and she managed to sound almost excited when she told me that she even needed a wheelchair. Trust her to take pride in something like that, my silly mom.
As we climbed the slope, her coffin slid slightly, and one of her wreaths tilted to the side.
I remembered her in the bed during her first two days. I panicked a lot, watching her lie so still in the bed, knowing that all she probably wanted to do was sit up and talk to me, keep me updated with all the latest gossip. But her body was giving out on her. Little did I know that she was slowly leaving me. As she tore at her face mask, crying that she was drowning with so much oxygen, I was overcome with such guilt, having to force it back on her. I remember trying to calm her down, soothing her with my voice, telling her to breathe, not to panic. I remember the sense of relief I felt when the nurse finally gave her a sedative.
We hit the downslope, and her wreath once more fell into place.
Waking up in the hospital on the second day was a relief. The nurses were pleased with her charts, and I felt the stirrings of hope. I looked at her across the bed and saw that she was awake, and beaming at me. Such a smile! I went over to her and stroked her hair. I didn’t kiss her, though it was all I wanted to do. Instead I hugged her and petted her like a good little girl. She wanted to get up. As she shifted and struggled to get up, her machines beeped loudly in alarm. All was still not well. She had a long way to go.
It was almost midday when she could finally move without sounding alarms. I remember spoon feeding her lunch. I remember the look on her face when I fed her the soup. It had no salt, and she scrunched up her little nose and refused to eat more than a few bites. She had no problem inhaling the grape Jell-o, and we giggled like conspirators as we shared a few bites. We chatted a bit aimlessly, not really touching on the dire situation at hand. We had all the time in the world.
I could hear sniffling in front of me. I saw my little cousin walking solemnly behind the car bearing the coffin. She was silently crying under her umbrella, with big fat tears rolling down her cheeks, looking like she lost her best friend. And she had. My mother doted on her when she was younger, having raised her while her mother worked elsewhere. Mom always said that Janie paid more attention to what she said than to her own mother.
…after the good results of the second day of her hospital stay, I thought it best to head to the office again, and left for the night. Some arrangements had been made to keep her in observation, but that come Monday morning, she would be transferred elsewhere to deal with a specialist. For the time being, she was well enough, so I could leave. That was Thursday. I headed home for a long, desperately needed cuddle in my own bed, and slept through the night. The next morning, I headed to work, fully intending to put in at least half a day, before heading out for the weekend. At nine o’clock, I got the call that changed everything. I could barely make out what my stepfather was saying, he was crying so much. I could hear “cut”, “throat", “coma”, “dialysis” and “gone”.
The rain had subsided to a fine misty spray, and the sun struggled with the clouds, competing for some sky space. I looked straight ahead, thankful that I had no umbrella, so that the raindrops mingled with my tears, diluting the salty drops to nothing.
The rush to get to the hospital was brutal. My mother was transferred to the ICU in another hospital, and would be undergoing dialysis. When I arrived, I was taken to the administrative office, where payment was demanded. I couldn’t see my mother, and I railed at the injustice of it all. I had no money, I did not know how I could begin to pay for the first hospital bill, much less this second one. I just wanted to see my mother. But first, I got a lecture from the doctor attending to her. I was made to understand that my mother was in this dire situation because of my own bad decisions. Until you are told by a supposed professional something so cold and heartless, you have not fully understood guilt. In my panic, all I could think was, it’s my fault my mother is dying.
Over the weekend, she woke up once, and barely recognized me. She made as if she knew who I was, and my heart was in such pain, I could barely stand to be by her side. I whispered that I loved her, and ran out to send in my stepfather. Family members who had been spending most of their lives trying to bring her down and make her suffer showed up out of the woodworks. I didn’t have the energy to kill them or kick them out. I just wanted my mother to make it. But she did not.
The night of her death, I was at a friend’s house, looking to go to sleep. When the phone rang and I heard the nurse’s voice, I am ashamed to say, I felt a selfish sense of relief. I knew then, that my mother would not make it, and I was relieved to know that she would no longer suffer. All the dire conditions she would live under, the circumstances of her life as a dialysis patient would have absolutely killed her spirit. I thought of her life at home, and how different that would be when she had to give up her home simply to stay alive. I wouldn’t want her to live forever a prisoner. I knew I had to say goodbye.
The flat line on her heart monitor tore into my heart, and for one singular moment, all I knew was grief. Sharp, hot waves of grief ripped into me, undulating and cresting, crashing into my very core. My mother, the woman who raised me since I was two months old, and loved me like I was her very own - gone. Gone was the woman who proudly stated that even though she did not give birth to me, I was hers before I was born. Gone was this small, fiercely loving person whose love for me, and love for life, would never be matched. Gone was the only mother I have ever known.
The sermon at the cemetery was a beautiful one, with some sad, some joyful and some sweet songs and prayers. The ritual was short and sweet, and the process of burial as is often the case, painful. There is nothing that prepares you for that singular moment when you know that you will never again see someone you love. I watched as they covered the pyre and towards the very end, the misty rain completely stopped, and a most gorgeous orange, pink, lavender and red sunset graced us. The rays of the sun were incredible, and they gave off such a heat, it was enough to warm the soul, if only for a moment.
I remembered then and there her sweet laugh, her happiness at what she deemed my cleverness. Her joy at my every accomplishment. And for the one moment, I remembered the look of pain, hurt, surprise and flash of anger when she found out.
This is an excerpt from a book Mary is working on....
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