To Handle the Loss of a Mother
My Biggest Fear Came True
Mom knew she was dying, but chose to not tell me. Even when Madelene and I took her on vacation, one month before she died, she knew this would be our last getaway together. We always took Mom whenever she was able to go. She had the best Mother's Day she ever had overlooking the ocean and eating her favorite food with her family. She loved the ocean, especially when storms came rolling in. She'd rather a stormy day at the ocean than a sunny one. I loved her for that. A month later, I remember getting a call from her asking me to come down because she had called an ambulance. Mom never calls an ambulance. She grabbed me and hugged me so tight. I said, "Ma, you're gonna be alright -- you just need a tune up!" But I saw it in her eyes, she wasn't going to come back home. She hugged me tighter and then said, "I love you, Debbie. I'm so worried about you." I told her I loved her too, and yes -- I was worried about me too. We both laughed and I went into her bedroom to get her clothes together. Strange, because she made her bed so perfectly. Even the remote controls for her TV were placed strategically, almost OCD-ish diagonally hotel-style. As she stood overlooking her beautiful made bed, she was patting down the top layer blanket, making sure it was perfectly even. I knew what she was thinking... "This is the last time I'm going to see my bed again."
As I tried to casually shuffle her nightgowns and underwear into her bag, I kept trying to convince myself this was just one of those routine visits. Eh, she'll probably be in there maybe 2-3 days to get a tune up and she'll be back home. But God had different plans. As I saw the EMTs carry her out on the gurney that sat high up, so they could roll her into the ambulance easily, the way she was laying -- the way she was closing her eyes -- it was almost as if she was accepting her destination...her true destination. I looked over at Madelene and said, "Did you see how she was lying on the gurney?"
The hospital visits were fine. She was joking around with the nurses, asking me to take her home and just being the normal mama we all knew and loved. She was eating a lot too. For some reason, she seemed to really love their hospital grub. As it got later, I told her to call me tomorrow and let me know when the nurses would discharge her. Later on that evening, Mom called me up.
"Deb? Whadja' have for dinner?" That was the number one question even before "how are you." She kept saying, "Oh, I can't wait to come home and we can sit outside and BBQ again!" I had been taking her outside more so she could get some sunlight. It was difficult for her to sit in the chairs due to her pain, but she managed to do it once her pain meds kicked in. I told her I'd be up tomorrow morning to pick her up. She gave me a list of things to bring of course. Then she said, "Okay, mommy," (she always calls her daughters "mommy") and then said, "Love you, love you!"
"Love you love you too, ma!"
That was our thing.
The next morning, I made some coffee and waited an hour to call her. I didn't want to call too early, because I knew the nurses would take longer than expected with the discharge papers. So at 10am, I called Mom. It sounded like someone had picked up the phone and handed it to my mother. I heard a mumble or something...
"Ma?" I said, not knowing what was happening.
"Oh Deb! Ohhhhhhhhhhh! IT'S TERRIBLE!!!!!!!!" She cried out.
"What happened? What's wrong?"
I never heard my mother in this type of distress ---ever.
"I'm coming up now!"
Then I got a phone call from my friend as I was having a panic attack. She was trying to calm me down but there wasn't anything I could do to help. I started getting chest pain, and had to hang up. I was escorted to the hospital in an ambulance to check out my own health. The ER was super crowded, so they slid me on the side of the nurses's station, among the other crammed in patients waiting to be helped. They took blood tests and EKGs and then I was sitting there by myself not knowing what was going on. About 30 minutes into my stay, my sister Cathy calls me on my cell phone.
"How's mom doing? Is she okay? What happened?"
And then the words I cannot get out of my head were spoken...
"Deb? She's not coming home."
"Wait -- is she staying longer, or are you talking about hospice?"
"No, Deb. She's not supposed to make it through the night."
The cry that came out of my mouth wasn't even a cry. It was one of those 'mouth-opened-wide-silent-cries' that when it was over, the loudest soul-crushing type of wailing came out. It felt like my soul slipped out of my body and was reaching for the skies. Every scream that came out, somehow made me blackout a little. Then it went into a hyperventilation type of crying that made my cries sound like a home burglary alarm. I remember a few things when this happened. I noticed an older woman, maybe in her late 50's lying in a room on her bed pointing at me with such distress on her face -- as if she was telling someone to check on me. I saw a patient being rolled in with the look of extreme empathy on his face -- even though he had no clue what was happening to me. Then I saw the nurses all gather around my bed near their station, one asking if I wanted a percocet or maybe some fentanyl for the pain. Some of my cries were going back into the 'tears flowing-wide opened mouth cries' again. When I finally caught my breath, I told them, "M-m-m-my m-m-mother is dying upstairrrrrrrrrrsss!" Sure enough, all tests that were taken came back right away as negative. Clean bill of health. When Madelene came to get me, they unhooked me from the monitors and said, "Go to her! God bless you!"
Four days later, she was still alive. Her morphine dosage went up significantly. I know some believe it's a beautiful thing to see a loved one pass over, but for me, I personally could not witness this for myself. I couldn't watch my favorite person in the world leave me. I accept it, but I had to say my goodbyes while she was still in her little shell of a body. It was only Madelene and my sister Dawn there at this time. I held Mom's hand, without her squeezing my hand back as she always did. I remembered our drives to restaurants, to fun events, family parties, doctor's visits -- anywhere we went, with her holding my hand as we drove. It was cute. She would always grab my hand when we drove. Now, I was grabbing her hand, the same hand that used to reach for me while driving. I kissed her forehead and said, "Ma, it's okay to let go.... I'm going to be okay." She was so worried about me. Anytime she would mutter, "When I'm gone..." -- and she would say this even before the cancer struck, I would freak out! I would finish her sentence: "When you're gone, so am I!" And I meant it. Without her, I couldn't live. But I made a promise to her that it was okay to go, and if she did, I would be okay. It was the hardest promise I ever had to keep.
When I was around 10 years old, I had this terrible nightmare. I dreamt of my mother's funeral. I saw all of our family friends gather around her large mahogany casket, wrapped up with the most beautiful flowers. Her service was a bit different from my dream, but till this day, that dream is still so vivid. It was vivid because it was the most awful nightmare I ever had. When I woke up, I ran out of my room to find my mother. And thank God she was there! She was in the kitchen making coffee. "Ugh, just a nightmare, thank God!" And now, I just wish I could wake up and run downstairs to see my mom making coffee after this awful nightmare of watching her suffer from cancer and dying from it. Why can't that happen? I wish God could just wake me up and say, "Ah, just a dream my child. Carry on as usual." But this is life, and we are meant to see our loved ones die. It's completely normal, although we dare to entertain the thought of them leaving us. This IS life. This IS death. This IS how it all works out. It IS what it IS and as much as I hate that saying, it sadly applies.
I know I have written about my signs before, but I'm going to list them all out right now, in case you're a new reader of this blog. This is why my faith strengthened.
Special Signs & 'Hellos' From Mom
My mother and I had a love for owls. We collected them, and have owl statues and other things resembling owls all over the house. She gave me my first owl at the age of 8 and said it was good luck. A month before she died, she said, "What do you want me to come back as if I die?" I hated the thought of that, but I said an owl. And the same went for me if I should die first... The night before she passed away, an owl came right near my window at 4:17 am -- 4/17 is my mom's birthday. He "hoo'd" so loudly, it woke me up and the first thing I saw was my clock reminding me of my mother. That was how I knew she was going to pass away. It was our messenger. It was her telling me goodbye. Now, I see owls everywhere!
The day of her passing, a thunderstorm and a rainbow were there to comfort me in my time of grief.
The day I went up to the hospital to say my goodbyes, this song played. Madelene and I both cried, knowing it was my Mom sending me this song.
One night I had bad insomnia, so I was up at 3am reading an article online. Out of the blue, I heard my mom's voice call out, "Deb--bie?" Almost in a sing-song kind of way. She sounded incredibly happy and excited to have gotten through the veil, but I got a little scared and ran into my bedroom to just sleep it off.
I found two post-its on her nightstand. She wrote one that seemed so old, it looked as if it was written in the early 80's and one by me from 2003, when I worked at my old company. It was the same exact scripture. "Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!" -- 1 Chronicles 4:10
Why would we write this on two separate occasions?
This may sound crazy, but I can hear her sometimes. It's not in the audible sense of hearing -- more like an impression, but nonetheless, her calm little voice emenating within my own mind. I was prepping for a big "1st birthday in heaven" party with my sisters. Instead of us all being alone and said on mom's first birthday without her, I invited all of my sisters over to enjoy mom's favorite food. So as I was prepping the table area, I heard Mom's voice. "Oh get rid of those placemats -- they're too big!" I laughed and just blew it off. But it came in even louder. "Put my tablecloth on there, it'll look nicer." I entertained her voice and said, "I don't have a tablecloth, Ma." And as vivid and clear as day, I heard her say, "Go into my bedroom and look to the left. It's in new packaging!" And wouldn't you know, there it was, in brand new packaging that has never been opened before. It looked beautiful. I'm not a big fan of table clothes -- maybe a runner -- but table cloths were a thing old Italians believed in. But this looked really nice, I have to say. (Thanks, Ma!)
During vacation last October, Madelene was fumbling around looking for the coffee carafe. She was getting frustrated and after 45 minutes, she ran back upstairs of the beach house and said, "We can't make coffee, 'Deb." She sounded defeated. Whenever Mom came with us on vacation, she was always in charge of the coffee since she got up before any of us. I walked downstairs and said, "OK Ma, do your magic," half believing it would work and half not. As I'm on the other side of this large kitchen, I hear, "Oh c'mon! It's right in the dish washer all set and ready to go!" And voila -- there it was, in a matter of 3 minutes.
No matter if your loved one passed from a sudden death or a long struggle with some kind of illness, you're never truly prepared to say goodbye. I don't even believe my mom believed she was dying, even if her oncologist gave her only 3 more months to live. She had such hope and strength. I truly thought she'd make it. Now all I can do is sit and hope that I'll make it through these unbearable waves of grief. Some people like to talk amongst themselves, worrying over my periods of isolation and depressive episodes, but is it really that strange that I go through these things? Even while caring for Mom at home, I would rarely go out because I didn't want to leave her all by herself. Even though she was a very capable woman, my outings were limited, only by a few treks to the grocery store or maybe even a quick dinner out with my other half. I always felt guilty for going out. Whether I was at a neighbor's house or down the road at our favorite restaurant that's literally 2 minutes away, I always got a call from my sister asking, "Where are you?" I was the one responsible for making sure Mom ate. I cooked meals all the time, made her breakfast when she was up for it and even took her out to the park on some days so she could get some sunlight. There were days we went shopping at the local market together when she felt good, and some days driven to the doctor. My sister took care of the doctor visits, but each of them had the ability to go home and unwind with a glass of wine. They had their own lives to deal with. Every night, I ate dinner with Mom, watching her face literally sink into her plate. Sometimes, I would have to carry her away from the table, placing her gently on the sofa, until her pain meds kicked in. Soon enough, I pulled away from my friends. I stopped inviting my friends over for dinner, no more parties around the fire pit until midnight, no more guitar sessions with other musician friends. It was okay though. Mom's comfort was more important than my leisure activities. And hey, trust me -- I still tipped the wine bottle! And on good days, when Mom was feeling okay, she would have a glass of wine with me and we would talk for hours. Bittersweet moments that I will never forget.
Sometimes, I'll find Lola waiting at "Nana's" door, hoping she'll open it up and play with her again. I can't tell you what it feels like to go through this, but I can say that during the entire course of my life, I knew that if my mom were to ever die, I would surely die too. Some parts of me actually did die. I'm praying that God heals me even more so that I can get back to living life, loving those who are still with me today, and to make the best of each day. I realize many people don't know how to console someone or they may feel awkward around someone who is still grieving -- but I'm the same ol' person you used to know, only difference is, I have more faith in God and more realistic expectations for the journey ahead. I've learned a lot through this experience, and I'm still trying to reach that point of freedom, to where I'm out of the isolation cell and into the world of the living. Baby steps for now. I'm hoping those who love me will be patient with me as I take each step slowly and at my own pace. I'm not saying that my grief is worse than another's -- I'm just saying that mine is just different. Fact is, I truly don't know how to handle the loss of my mother.
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