"Honey, your Mom died."
"OK. OK. OK. I'm coming right now. I'm coming."
I threw on something, got in the rental car .... and pulled into the parking lot of the hospice. I don't know how I got there. Maybe God's hand was on the steering wheel for me. Her room was quiet. She was on the bed with her hands folded on her belly, her eyes were closed. I stood a couple of feet away from her bed and said, "Bye, Mom." I didn't cry. I just looked on, curious. I felt like I was looking at a picture of a holocaust victim - she was thin and hollow in that way a person can only be if the essence of their body had died long before their formal death. I touched her. She was was cool and firm. I left the room and went to the porch with my aunt. We made phone calls - to whom, I don't recall.
My Aunt Barb and I walked down the hall, coffee in hand, to sit on the porch and watch the sun rise. It was peaceful. The sun rose in a flurry of bright orange and pink....a flock of birds took off from the pussy willows at the edge of the pond.
"She would have loved this," we mused. You wouldn't know that 6 hours earlier we were shaking and wailing at my Mom's bedside with my mother-in-law Judy.
Judy, one of the kindest, most generous and forgiving souls I know, picked me up at the Tampa airport early Thursday morning and we drove through the pouring rain of a stormy Florida afternoon to a hospital in Naples. I had decided only the night before to go to Florida. We had just interviewed our now-nanny and Tim and I had a date planned for that night. Instead, Tim booked me a red-eye flight while I packed. I nursed 11-week-old Ada, straddled over her car seat, on the way to the airport.
Once I got off the plane and got in Judy's car we didn't stop driving until we got to Naples. When we got to the hospital and found my Mom's room I walked in. I saw her - what it must have looked like for every person who was there with her over the previous five months. Every person who wasn't me. She looked tiny in the bed, wide-eyed. What happened then was one of the most beautiful and soul-moving experiences of my life: I ran to her like I did when I was just a tiny kid. All of the tension that had tormented our relationship for the previous 10 years vanished.
Everyone else left the room. I played a song for her, "You and Me Against the World" by Helen Reddy. It was our song. I can't even put it on my own playlist now because I cry at the sound of the first note. I told her that I didn't forget and that this song played when I gave birth. She said, "Did it really?" and she gave a little chuckle. I told her she was a good Mom and she said, "Sometimes I wondered." I died a little bit inside. I told her I loved her. I wanted to tell her that I wished she would live long enough for me to understand her position as my mother. That I wished she would live long enough for us to let time fix us. But the nurse came in to move her to hospice. I went to the bathroom to pump for the first opportunity in 18 hours. With my pump precariously perched on the edge of the sink, woosh whish whoosh whish whoosh whish, I stood and cried.
The ride to hospice was wet and bumpy. She was blessedly, heavily drugged but I held her hand anyways. Judy and I got her settled in and then went to shower and get food. We came back in the late afternoon/early evening. Everyone else left and it was just my Mom, me, Judy, and my Aunt Barb as the sun set. My Mom was uncomfortable - I kept asking the nurse for more pain meds, "Please, give her as much as you legally can." In and out of consciousness, moaning, grimacing...the last thing she said was, "I'm so scared." Shit.
Judy used to work for hospice so she'd been here before. She started to do some guided imagery, "You are walking on a beach. Do you feel the sand between your toes? And the warm sun on your skin. Monica is with you and so is Ada. They are waving at you and you are walking ahead now...." Her breathing softened, she let the tension fall from her face. She was peaceful. This talking went on for easily two or three hours and while Judy guided my Mom to a more peaceful state I sat there at the head of my Mom's bed on her left side and I cried. That was the hardest and longest I think I've ever cried in my life. Her illness had badly frayed the fabric of my heart but these last hours ripped a hole so big that no patch could ever fix it. It was so painful.
As midnight approached Judy was tired and it was time for us to go. I had heard that people will wait to die until their loved ones had left the room. I didn't want her waiting for me. Somewhere in there, I felt some kind of resignation - I wouldn't exactly call it peace. Aunt Barb went outside to smoke a cigarette and Judy went to the bathroom. I stood at my Mom's bed, my voice suddenly steady and clear, and told her, "It's OK to go now, Mom. You did a really good job of teaching me to take care of myself. And I have good people around me. I'll be OK. But you'll always be with me because I am a part of you and Ada is too. That's just the way it is. I love you, Mom."
She died 4 and a half hours later.
The birth of my daughter happened only 11 weeks to the day before the death of my mother. And the stages of these two processes were so similar - birth and death. One ended so beautifully - my daughter: my very own Heart personified and real. The other, while touched with moments that were frighteningly spiritual, ended so tragically. I read books about near-death experiences because I want to believe that after she said, "I'm so scared." that my Grandpa was there. Where was this comforting presence of Jesus that I read so much about? I am still pissed that God would let her feel fearful as she was dying.
I also read about people feeling the presence of their loved one or even being visited by them. The first night after she died, I was afraid to go to sleep. 3 glasses of wine and I still couldn't stop my nerves from buzzing. I was afraid she would come to me and I was afraid that she wouldn't. I searched and searched for some message from her - something, anything - to tell me one more time that she loved me and forgave me for the times when I was jerk. But there was nothing. There is nothing.
One year has passed. I have found some resolve, yes, and there are still things that I still just feel sick about. I think this is going to take a very long time. The walk to and from the beach yesterday gave me lots of time to think (there has been so much of that lately). It was a tough period (the lost weeks, my Mom, adjusting to life as a Mom myself) and once the dust settled I needed a little time to readjust my focus, get back on my feet, and dust myself off. I can feel my spirit starting to open up again - just waiting to welcome in all the good that is surely to come. And it is coming. Oh, there is so much good to come.
|Baby Nancy - "My firstborn," my Marge called her.|
|A little toddler. I see Ada's face in her face.|
|My Mom's high school portrait. Wasn't she beautiful?|
|Her and me against the world.|
|Judy and my Mom clowning around a couple days before our wedding.|
|My baby shower in FL. I was 36 weeks pregnant. Less than 1 week after this picture was taken, my Mom was diagnosed with lymphoma.|