It started simply enough. She was not feeling well so my sister took her to her house. But very atypical, she asked to stay. I traveled down to visit her. She looked fine but was complaining about some weakness in her legs. She thought she had some medication imbalance, had some doctors’ appointments lined up and I came home.
I had barely put my suitcase down when my sister called and said that they had taken her to the hospital. When I arrived the following day, she was mumbling The Lord’s Prayer, over and over. I remember a day in my life I did the same and wondered if my mom was in the same state of panic I had been. I laid down next to her, held her, and cried. And then the next day, a day of agony. My mom in obvious distress, obviously scared and crying out in pain. Over and over, for hours and hours. They gave her morphine and more morphine and nothing touched it. For me it was a day of sobbing and praying and so much anger that her god would put her through this.
And then there was quiet. A massive stroke had affected both sides of her brain. There was no longer recognition. Just a gentle staring and a rhythmic but labored breathing. We made the decision, based on her request, to remove all life support. Her lungs started to fill with fluid and the breathing got more and more labored. All through the night I would sit beside her, holding her hand, and listen to her breathing. But still she hung on. We moved her to hospice.
After a few days I left to return home, needing to restock my meds and clothes. On the train I got a call. Her breathing had changed. Barely discernible. I returned to her side and then she finally passed. It’s been a long, emotional week, but not without its blessings.
- Long estranged from my brother (because of his homophobic wife) we shared a small hospital room for a week and sobbed in each other’s arms over and over again. The estrangement broke my mother’s heart. I hope she knows it’s going to be okay now.
- Sharing tears and stories with my mom’s best friend, Joy. They had been friends for more than 60 years. Everyday Joy came and shared stories. How wonderful to see my mother, as a single working girl, as a newly wed, as a young mother - all through the eyes of her best friend who was with her through it all.
- Meeting the myriad of women who came to say goodbye and tell us stories of how my mother had impacted their lives. I was bursting with pride.
- After my father died (and donated his body to a medical center) there was no wake, funeral or memorial service. I never really understood why. Now, having read my mom’s final wishes, it came to light that my parents wanted to have their memorials together. My mother also donated her body and when we receive her ashes in two years, their ashes will be buried together. Just as they wanted. Together in life. Together in death. Theirs was an amazing love story.
I know how fortunate I’ve been to have my mother in my life for as long as I have. How blessed I have been to have an inspiration and model for healthy relationships, for deep and abiding friendships, for volunteerism and citizenship. I can only hope to be a fraction of the parent/spouse/friend she was.
Saying goodbye is so fucking hard. But remembering is so very sweet.