A Second Flood…
Now that most of our personal FloodGate 2019™®© has finally somewhat subsided, I’ve been feverishly watching the last 3 weeks of reality shows so I could finally blog about them.
I was even all prepared to watch all the sickening crap I know that’s been flinging around on the shows and the resulting nausea that would inevitably set in by wearing a darling, stylish yellow hazmat suit. I also have vats of Pepto-Bismol®, Tums®, and Imodium® at the ready.
However, as I was innocently watching last week’s RHONY episode at 2:00 AM, I was walloped right in my face by a ton of bricks. BAM! It’s May 7th – my Mom’s birthday.
“No problem,” I say to myself. I shake my head to the left and to the right a few times while purposefully blinking hard. I roll my shoulders forward and backward. I’ve got this…
I mean, come the heck on – it’s been almost 33 years since she died. Surely, I’m over it by now, right?
Nope. The pangs are still there – they just change from year to year.
There’s an aching emptiness of all the “I wish we could haves,” generously drenched with copious amounts of “If onlys,” sprinkled with colorful “what might have beens,” and topped with one ginormous, “It just isn’t the same without you.”
I blame this year’s emotional setback to our little FloodGate 2019™®©. We’ve been going through boxes and boxes of stuff and it’s stirred up some mentascental memories.
Did I mention I have boxes of pictures to wade through? It’s been daunting but fun at the same time. I have found some great pictures. I have passed some of them on to others who might be interested in them.
I have also found some not so great pictures – ones that show my Mom at her sickest during her last birthday celebration only a month before she died.
The ones that shred my heart and pierce my soul.
Then a new flood – one comprised of waves of raw emotion – swept over me. The waters “tardis” me back to that exact point of time when my harsh reality was to helplessly watch as cancer ravaged through Mom’s body.
It’s tough to walk with someone through the end of their life’s journey. While there is so much to be said and little time to say it, you’re also acutely aware of the ineffectiveness of words against a behemoth like cancer.
I knew I would be the last one to see my Mom alive. My Dad and I had put Mom into a hospice hospital for a 3-4-day respite. We had planned on bringing her home the following day.
I phone the hospital early that morning because I had an overwhelming feeling Mom was going to die that day. I had never had that feeling before. I felt that God was preparing my heart.
The nurse on the phone, who knew my Mom well – assured me she was fine. She told me there were stages that most patients with my Mom’s condition would go through before they died. She had peeked in on her just an hour earlier and everything was good.
I remember sobbing in the shower as I got ready to go. I couldn’t shake the feeling.
My Dad had taken advantage of having a couple of days off from caregiving and was at a jewelry convention in Los Angeles.
I drove the 40 minutes to the hospital singing Carpenters’ songs attempting to drown out invading thoughts. As I parked, I took several deep, calming breaths before entering the door.
Immediately, the nurse I had spoken to only an hour before – ran up to me and began talking so fast my fuzzy brain couldn’t comprehend what the heck she was saying.
The bottom line? Things had changed. Dramatically.
Armed with a purse filled with Viva® towels folded like tissues, red lipstick (Mom’s favorite), chocolate kisses (My favorite), and a Diet Coke® – I entered her two-bed hospital room and began chatting to my Mom.
After tenderly brushing my fingers through her salt-and-pepper curls, I leaned down and kissed her forehead. It reminded me of the way she had kissed my forehead hundreds of times over the years.
I quickly grabbed the flowers on her bed stand and explained to her they needed a drink. I didn’t want her to suddenly open her eyes and see the deeply saddened expression in my own eyes.
I had 3 ½ years to prepare for this. Yet… I was unprepared for THIS.
Her face was different from just yesterday. Her closed eyes seemed to have sunken and her cheeks were hollowed. She was completely unresponsive.
I wiped the tears forming in my eyes away as I walked back into her room with the flowers. I remarked at how great they smelled. I took one of the roses and held it up to her nose so she, too, could smell it.
I gently traced the outline of her face using the soft petals. I smiled knowing she would love this – since she was a HUGE flower fan. She loved ALL flowers and could grow anything.
Mom did not have just a green thumb… She had a green arm… and likely, a green body. No, not an alien green body… but a green body, nonetheless.
I held her hand and chattered on about the amazing rock garden she created down the length of our backyard when we lived in Ohio.
I rhetorically asked her if she remembered the pansies she let me pick out and plant. I love pansies. They’re a flower with a face.
It’s hilarious to think about now, but while Mom loved roses, her favorite “flower” was actually a weed – Queen Anne’s Lace. She loved the delicateness of each flower – and how, like snowflakes, each was different.
While others would try to get rid of them – Mom would gather several together and make a lovely bouquet. Mom had a special way of seeing the potential in things that otherwise might be discarded.
As I was jibber jabbering about anything and everything, six relatives of the woman in the adjacent bed walked in. I quietly stroked Mom’s arms and legs to try to calm her as the volume in the room dramatically increased.
I knew the doctor had told the family 6 days ago that their loved one’s death was imminent. They were basically standing around waiting around for her to die. They didn’t seem too patient about it, either.
After fighting over the one chair next to her bed, they began arguing about how they were going to divide her belongings after she died… This lasted quite a while and it was all done RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER!
This absolutely flipped my fig. I scooched my chair up to the head of Mom’s bed and quietly sang songs into her ear in an effort to drown out the sound of their negative voices.
I felt oddly protective of Mom’s space and environment. I kinda felt protective of the other woman’s, too.
I was disgusted by what was happening to the other woman. Mom squeezed my hand and a tear fell from her eyes. I kissed it away.
I decided to sit back in my chair so I could sing a little louder.
I honestly don’t remember how mean I was at that point… ‘cuz it’s never smart to piss me off… but I do have a vague recollection of singing, “Amazing Grace.” I especially emphasized the words “wretch like me” as I glared at those standing around Mom’s roommate’s bed… NO NAMES MENTIONED… lol.
Whatever I did… worked… and they all walked back out of the room, leaving only one sacrificial lamb to hang out with their dying loved one.
I remember singing every single song and hymn I knew… and I’m sure I made up the words for those I didn’t. If you know me at all… you know that’s a LOT of songs… lol.
People would periodically stop in and listen. They asked questions about Mom.
Somehow, I knew hearing was often one of the last senses to go before a person died… So, I spoke as if I knew Mom was hearing our whole conversation. I guess to this day, I’m not sure if that’s a fact or not – but that’s what I felt at the time.
“She has bravely fought this disease for over 3 ½ years which is 3 years longer than they thought she could,” I would proudly tell the person who asked about Mom. I explained, “She’s such a fighter. I don’t remember her ever complaining about anything. She wanted every available treatment and went to great lengths to get them all.”
Many asked me to tell them more about her, so I happily expounded, “She always tried to make this world a more beautiful place for us. I wish you could see all of the gardens she created… the clothes she designed… the Christmas ornaments she handcrafted… the resin gifts she made… and the pillows she needlepointed,” I boasted.
I remember feeling so danged proud of her – in a way I had never experienced.
A nurse came in and knew what was going on. She jostled Mom around a little and loudly said her name. Mom’s eyes flicked open for a moment but quickly closed again and again she was lost into a sea of nothingness.
The nurse told me it could be hours and hours or even days before anything happened. Mom hadn’t started doing the death breathing rattle thingie yet which alone could last several hours.
I called Dad around 7:00 PM when I knew he would be home from the convention. This was in the stone age before the existence of cell phones. I told him what was happening and asked if he wanted to come see her.
Dad asked me if the doctors knew for sure that she was going to die that night and I said that I felt that she was – but no one could possibly know for sure. He asked me how long I was going to stay. I wasn’t sure but I would at least stay until he got there.
He decided to visit early the next morning instead. He was completely exhausted, and it probably wouldn’t have been safe for him to be on the road.
I went back the room and sat there holding Mom’s hand. The hours slipped by.
The nurse reminded me of visiting hours and how it’s often better for the patient for visitors to abide by them. I asked if she could make an exception – and she said she would do her best – if I thought it was in the best interest of my Mom.
I asked for more time to think about it. It was about 11:00 PM by that time, if I remember correctly.
I was deeply conflicted. I didn’t want to wait around for Mom to die like the other people did… nor did I want Mom to feel like she was dying alone.
I wondered if she was holding on so she wouldn’t die in front of me. I was the exact same age as she was when her Mom died. She knew exactly how I felt at that moment. I knew there was a chance she wanted to protect me even in death.
Cancer had already tried to rob her of so much dignity – but honestly, it wasn’t successful. Oh sure, I saw things and did things that were likely embarrassing to her – but who cares? I didn’t see or do a single thing she hadn’t done for me at some point in my life.
I was faced with the hardest decision of my life. Should I stay or should I go?
As I often do during tough times of life, I laughed. The lyrics of the popular 1982 song by The Clash came rushing to my brain.
I prayed for wisdom, as I had throughout the entire day.
It was gut wrenching. What would she need to hear in this moment?
I held Mom’s hand and told her how proud I was of her. I assured her my brother and I would be okay because she raised us so well. I told her not to worry about us at all and I thanked her for everything she had done for us.
I told her she was an inspiration on so many levels. I promised to keep in close touch with her sister and that I would try to keep the family together.
I reminded her I had good, quality friends who would be there for me.
Through tear-stained eyes, I told her I was jealous that she was getting to go to heaven before me, ‘cuz of course, I had to make a joke, right?
I told her she was soon going to be doing her thing and having way too much fun for words – likely partying like there was no tomorrow… ‘cuz… ya know… there is no “tomorrow” in heaven, right?…
I told her she would be so busy having fun that in a blink of an eye that we would be there with her, too. I told her the Light of the World was welcoming her with open arms and that she could be at peace in knowing of His grace and forgiveness.
I sang “Amazing Grace” one last time – She had requested that I sing it to her a few times during the time she was sick, so I knew it was important to her.
I kissed her hand, her cheek, and her forehead. I placed a fresh rose next to her face. I told her for the millionth time that day that I loved her. I told her we ALL loved her.
I pried myself out of the hospital room, walked down the corridor to the nurse’s station, and crumpled into a chair.
The nurse came flying out from behind the desk to console me. She assured me she would personally check on Mom several times throughout the night.
Somehow, I made it to my car – though I have no memory of walking there. Sitting in front of the steering wheel, I sobbed.
I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing or not. I just didn’t know. It was excruciating.
I knew that one of my fears was that it was going to be a messy death – I had heard stories – and that the image would be tough for me to live with for the rest of my life. I felt incredibly selfish.
My eyes cleared and I made my way home. Dad was waiting up for me. We exchanged a few words and he went to bed.
I stayed up knowing in my heart of hearts the phone would ring.
And it did. The nurse whose voice I had heard consoling me only a few hours earlier said these words to me, “Your Mother rested.” She told me she was right at her side at the time. I thanked her. Hung up the phone. Sobbed.
I miss her… but aren’t we supposed to? It’s not the kind of “miss” that keeps me from moving forward – but it’s the kind that has me occasionally glancing backwards especially during this time of year.
Her birthday, Mother’s Day, and the anniversary of her death all happen within 32 days of each other. #FunTimes… lol
I have been somewhat wrestling with death stuff since my heart attack 3 years ago. Every day is a gift. I’m still convinced every time I feel a twinge in my heart that I’m going to die in the next 3.2 seconds. I try not to panic about it – and the feelings are NOT too often as intense as they once were – but they’re still there.
My own experiences with death with both of my parents (and others) have framed my perspectives. I have a dear friend from college who is on his death bed even as we speak. Dying is hard.
I will say this… I do NOT want my husband’s last visual of me – to be the one when I’m taking my last dying breath. However, if that’s what HE wants – I have no problem with it at all. It just wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice.
I don’t want anyone to be afraid that I’ll die alone – it’s impossible. There are too many people in my life who have expressed they love and adore me for that to happen. It’s impossible for me to die alone. I may be physically alone when I die… but I won’t ever die alone.
I totally believe we need to freely express how we feel about people along the way. Let’s not wait until a diagnosis or a death bed propels us to.
I wish we would all be better at telling people what they mean to us. I wish I would be better at it.
No, I don’t mean flipping someone off on the freeway who cut us off…
But I think it would be kewl to tell people what we admire and respect about them before we’re saying it during their eulogy. Maybe I need to go on a rampage and tell my friends as I talk to them over the next 32 days – 3 things that I admire and respect about them.
Or maybe 3 ways they have made a difference in my life… or retell 3 fun stories I have of them…
Of course, I run the risk of everyone freaking out that I was about to die… but I kinda think it would be kewl. I mean, none of us are promised tomorrow so I may not even have 32 days, right?
But we have today… While we have today… let’s love each other today.
Love ‘em while you have ‘em…
Spoil them while you can…
Be gentle bentle with yourselves…
… Thanks for reading… I have tissues with aloe if you need ‘em…
As a reward to all of you reading this far… Here is my favorite picture of my Mom – She’s the goofball in the picture… and that’s her sister, Phyrne on the left, Dad, me, bro, and goofball Mom. I love this pic ‘cuz I don’t especially remember her being a goofball at all… but it must have snuck out at times… lol!