This song makes me come undone. The grief of losing my mom has lessened for the most part, but there are moments when it still takes my breath away. Mom died April 22, 2014, two years ago today. I never know what might set me off, but I still have bouts of grief sometimes. Not wallowing hours or days– usually just a few minutes, like a summer thunderstorm that comes on quickly, lets loose a torrential rain, and moves away just as fast, leaving behind a dankness in the air that you can’t escape for just a little while. Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes a memory. I like to talk about her, though, even though the tears come when I do. It doesn’t mean it causes me pain to speak of her– it just lets a little of the pain out that is always lurking underneath.
I have had to wrestle with a great deal of guilt since she died, but I am mostly at peace now. I felt guilty about every cross word we had while she lived with me, until I realized that we would have had cross words even if she had been healthy. I was selfish and lazy and mean sometimes, but I know she forgave me. She always did. I wish I had washed her hair more often. It was difficult but not impossible, and she hated when it was dirty. She gave me the greatest gift a few years before she got sick– one day we were talking about if something happened to her, and I mentioned that I would be left with guilt. She said, “You have nothing to feel guilty about!” Many things happened after that that I could feel guilty about, but honestly, the forty years before that contained plenty for me to feel guilty about. So the fact that she had absolved me of those forty years of guilt made it easy for me to let go of the guilt that came after her death.
Should I have given her more chocolate cake? I don’t know. I never knew if I was trying to get her better or taking care of her while she died. And so I pushed her, trying to make her healthier. But I bought her treats that would fit her diet, and she was always grateful for even the little things. Cottage cheese could light up her day.
God has given me little graces that help me. The day she died, Jason woke me up around 6 to let me know something was wrong– maybe a stroke. I got up and she was unable to talk clearly. She looked afraid, but maybe that is me reading into things. I don’t know what I said. I am sure I was soothing and loving, but I don’t remember what I said. The mercy is that I had woke up around 5 that morning to use the bathroom. I heard her call out “You ok?” That means that she wasn’t lying there all night scared and unable to rouse us. It means that at most she was alone for an hour with her fear. Maybe we heard her immediately when it happened. I don’t know if she was in pain, what does an aneurysm feel like? I imagine a terrible headache, but I don’t know. It also means that the last words I heard from her were words of love. “You ok?”
They took her to the hospital in an ambulance, and it was some time before they let me go back. Reed was in touch with my brother, and he asked if he should come. I told her I didn’t know yet. I wish so much that I had said yes.
They would not let Jason go back. The kids were still at home. We all thought she he had had a stroke, and we thought it would be bad. We had no idea. They finally called me back, and the doctor (who was the 2nd most awkward man alive) had to tell me that my mother was going to die. She had had an aneurysm, and she was not going to make it through the day. He told me this in a halting way, not because he was grief-stricken. He was just a goober. He showed me a computer image of her brain and told me that the giant green part was blood. He told me that they would keep her comfortable and that she would not last through the day. At this point I texted Jason. He called the kids. Reed texted my brother, and he headed to Columbus. The kids came to the hospital. I was in the room with mom and there was a nurse trying to give her an IV. She was having trouble– mom always had trouble with her veins. I asked her if she could just let her be since she was dying anyway. (I didn’t say it rudely, but I am surprised at my forthrightness. She said it was to give her pain meds in case she was able to feel anything. She doubted that she could. I agreed that she should have them.)
The rest is fuzzy. People came to the hospital: my cousin Ramona, Ruth and Lori, Cheryl maybe? I think I remember Joyce and Sharon and someone, maybe Kathy, but in the parking deck? Were there muffins? I don’t know.
They moved mom to a room next to a waiting room and let us stay all day. We stayed with her and literally watched her life ebb away, courtesy of the machines that monitored her vitals. Blessing or curse? I don’t know. We talked to her. We cried. I begged her to hang on until my brother got there. That was probably traumatic for my children, and I wish I hadn’t done it. She died two minutes before he arrived. Not that it would have been much different– she was essentially in a coma. She wouldn’t have known he was there. But he would have.
We actually watched her heart beat and respiration stop on the machine. It was surreal. The nurse came in, and it was like a slow motion movie. She took her pulse, shook her head slowly, took off her gloves, and turned off the monitor. I can see it in my mind like it was yesterday.
Shortly thereafter, someone called to ask for her eyes. Isn’t that bizarre? (I mean a foundation, not an individual– “hey can I have her corneas?”) WE agreed– apparently they needed to be harvested (what an icky word) quickly.
Eventually, they nudged us to leave so they could do whatever it is you do with the empty shell that was once my mom. I guess we went home. I know at some point, my friend Patty came and got my lesson plans so she could teach my class. I remember Denise coming by with gobs and gobs of paper products. Bless her! Billy brought chicken and ??? Jessica brought M&M’s and probably something else, but honestly the M&M’s helped us through. Reed and I remember me lying on the floor, singing “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and eating peanut butter M&M’s. As grim as that sounds, there was laughter. Moments of levity that week kept us sane. Some might find it disrespectful, but Mom would have been laughing with us.