I’ve wondered if I would be able to put the memory of losing my mom into words that are meaningful – not just a rehash of events. But I think it’s helpful for context and important for me in the healing process to try. It feels good sometimes to let yourself get close to the experience again. It can allow you to feel something after what are often temporary bouts of numbness. Tears are a treasure in some moments (I often have to convince my husband of this as I water the couch with my overflowing eyes and he desperately searches for hilarious cat videos to show me on YouTube).
These are the memories that I have. Each of my family members has their own special account of last moments and words and feelings, as true as my own.
I had been traveling India for two months with a best friend in the summer of 2009. We were both, shall we say, riding the wake of romantic trauma, and both feeling equally alive as we moved through one of the most beautiful, overwhelming, countries in the world. Life was good – really, really good. At the end of our trip, some plans changed (for no really good reason except fate perhaps) and we decided to head back to Canada a week early. I thank God for the extra week I had to spend with my mom.
As I passed through the doors of the airport, there she was – already crying of course (she used to say that she wore turtle necks because they collect tears better) – and the moment that I hugged her and she told me I looked beautiful is one that I will hold dearly to my heart forever. It’s the picture of what I hope will happen again someday.
Two weeks later, in the unfortunate setting of a closest-friend’s bridal shower, my mom gave a toast to the bride and then quietly walked away, not wanting to cause a stir. She was always stubborn in terms of going to the doctor or letting people know when something was wrong. I found her sitting in the hallway with her friend, a nurse, and I knew something wasn’t right. She had a headache that progressively grew worse, and as we were about to gather her things and take her to the clinic, it seemed as though somebody clicked a fast forward button. Her condition deteriorated quickly and she began to pass through a series of painful symptoms. The ambulance was coming. I held Mom’s face and instructed her repeatedly to look at me – she was losing focus. It felt like an eternity. By the time the paramedics arrived I simply sat beside her and held her to my side, as she had given in to closed eyes.
They told me in the ambulance it could be a stroke. That was hopeful, I thought, because people get better from strokes all the time.
They pushed her into emergency and left us for a few seconds while they processed things. Mom I said into her ear, I’m right here beside you. It caught me off guard that her eyelids opened a crack and a soft moan escaped her lips. She heard.
I sat in “The Room”, that some of you may be familiar with – the one that looks so nice, you know things are bad. Should I tell my family to come? I asked. I had no idea who was on their way. That may be a good idea… They’ll probably want to be here, the nurse told me. The doctor came in and said it looked like there may be some bleeding in the brain. An aneurysm. It doesn’t look good… He said in a gentle but matter-of-fact tone. Where is my family? They don’t know that things aren’t looking good! I didn’t particularly want to see them find out.
Family and then close friends began to file in, the room was so full of love when they told us that she wouldn’t be waking up again. What a strange concept… Why can’t she just wake up?! If she’s breathing, how can she be gone? Seeing my family members stand around her bed is something that probably won’t ever feel real to me. And that’s okay. Our bodies know when to administer small doses of numbness when we need them. As a trusted friend of mine advised me, your body only lets you feel things in pieces (thank goodness).
We took our time to say goodbye, at least fifty people came and went from her bedside through the night and the following day. Then, with a final rub of her foot and kiss on her eyebrow, I said goodbye. Oh to let yourself drive away by choice from somebody you love…
In the midst of everything, I experienced a level of human love from people that you only really get to know when you are in such a situation. There are many people in my life that deserve a rack full of medals up in Heaven.
The good news is the story is not over. Life is so gracious – I have laughed hundreds of times in the past two years; I have felt a warm heart; I have watched funny movies and wondered at beautiful things. Life is not over, it is just different. I have so much to learn and so far to grow. This is only the beginning.