It still doesn’t feel real even as I type this. It still feels like she’s a phone call away and I’m just “taking a break” from the crazy. But it’s not a break. It’s permanent. There are no more chances at resolution. No more arguments. No more toxic remarks to tear down my ego. No more criticisms. But no more hugs. No more beautiful blue eyes that sometimes, for a moment, said I love you. I am, at once, in shock, relieved, and devastated.
She was my mother. And, at one time, my world revolved around her. There was a time, when I was young, that I wouldn’t want to leave her side for fear of her dying. I knew that she was sick. That it was possible. And the thought was my greatest fear. To lose her love was to lose everything. I would be left alone with the rage that was and is my father. He would have nothing to stop him from beating me…from destroying me. I was dependent on her. In comparison, she was loving and soft. She didn’t yell. She didn’t hit. It wasn’t till much later that I would realize that you can destroy something much greater without raising your voice. You can wound someone without a touch. She was a Trojan horse filled with the kind of hurtful comments that become the little voice in the back of your mind. The awful critical demon that makes you double-check every choice and read between every line. The one that tells you that compliments aren’t real and that you aren’t worthy of the love given freely around you. She wasn’t nice. But she wasn’t obvious either.
And now she’s gone…on the tailwinds of a tempest that she created in the last months of her life. Cruel words were thrown freely, cuss words vomited up toward me in front of my four-year old son, paranoia and delusions were her last companions. It’s like she imploded… all the lies and toxic waste that had begun to eat her alive over the last decade seemed to engulf her. It made her crazy. No matter what I did…how much love I tried to show her, she was convinced that I was trying to keep her down. She saw deceit in my truths and agenda in my gifts. She was forced to a mirror and it was the last image she ever saw.
The last time I saw her alive was the Friday before she died. It was the day after Halloween and we were coming to see her and show her pictures of Trick or Treating. She was in a nursing home…trying to rehab her way home and she was getting much better. But she had news that she was sure I was going to destroy and she was ready to strike out if I didn’t say what she wanted to hear. “I’m going home on Tuesday!” She was so excited that her body vibrated. I was not as excited.
“What do you mean, you are going home? What’s the news?”
“They said I’m better…that I’m doing fantastic. Tuesday, they are getting together to discuss the details of my release. Maybe we can do dinner out that night!” My mom was almost manic.
I frowned and that was all it took. A dark cloud formed over her head. “Did you tell them the truth this time?” It was only a couple of weeks out since the last time this happened…she had lied so hard it had been frightening. Telling the doctors, the nurses, and anyone else that would listen at the hospital that she had my aunt and I to take care of her 24/7 and that she was totally ready and able to care for herself. No mention that both my aunt and I weren’t speaking to each other, that I have a four-year old son to take care of and a pain condition that stops me from doing even the basics. No mention of the dog and cat she was responsible for that she couldn’t take care of. No mention of the stairs and tiny hall that would be impassable by wheelchair. It had been a nightmare as I struggled to alert the right people before she was discharged. I mentally prepared to do it again…and silently cursed the administration for not talking to me first before giving her this hope.
“I knew you would ruin this.” She scowled hard at me and I unconsciously hugged my son tighter as I prepared for her rage.
“Mom, I’m trying to help you….not ruin things. I want you to come home and stay home and I know that if you rush it, it won’t happen. I can’t take care of you and my son. I can’t clean two houses. And you can’t afford a 24 hour nurse. It’s not possible. You aren’t even strong enough to go to the bathroom by yourself. You can’t stand for more than a couple of minutes and your house is not wheelchair accessible. It’s a bad time until you are stronger.”
“I would do it for you if it was the other way around.” She seethed with anger…
“No, you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t even come up to hug me when you were well and I was pretty sure that I had a tumor in my brain!” I kept my voice even and soft for my son’s sake. Almost sing-song. I was suddenly glad that he was engrossed in the iPad.
We glared at each other. “Go away!” She suddenly was crying.
I switched my words to soothing, comforting tones. I told her it wouldn’t be long. That she was getting stronger everyday. That she just needed to work the program a couple of more weeks and then we could split the work with a social worker that we could afford. She would be able to stay home and not make a quick return to the hospital…my biggest fear being that she would fall on my watch as I was unable to physically lift her or help her move. How would I bathe her? How would I help her on and off the toilet? And if I’m honest, I will admit that I wasn’t happy at the thought of being around her frequent and sudden fits of rage. Especially since my son would have to be with me. She could be so cruel and jealous of him. I didn’t want him to see her like that on a daily basis. His well-being had to come first.
“I said, go the fuck away! You just want to keep me down. You have the control and you just are loving this, aren’t you?” Her mania was now mounting with rage.
“Watch your mouth, mother…little ears are listening and you are being mean. Of course I don’t want you here. This is my nightmare having to see you suffer and struggle all the while completely stuck trying to do everything in two households. I am spending everyday in the car for hours and the rest on the phone with case workers and hospital staff. This is not convenient or fun for any of us. I love you and want you home where you belong. I would even let you go if I could…if we could, without legal recourse. I believe a person should die where they want and so if you wanted to risk it, I would say sure. But the truth is, if I let you go home, knowing I can’t care for you and you do die, my family can be held responsible for neglect. It’s not something I can risk with my son. We have to do this the right way. I’m sorry. I love you.”
“Go away, I don’t want you here anymore.”
“Don’t say that…you don’t mean that. What if that’s the last words I ever hear from you? Please…”
“I said, go away!” And then she turned her chair and rolled away two feet with her back to us. I stifled a laugh at the absurdity. I was long past taking her shit personally. This was nothing compared to some of the nastiness she had said even a few days before.
We stayed for a few minutes so that I could give the illusion of calm to my son and give her the chance to cool down and change her mind. But she didn’t and so we left. I had him give her a hug and I wrestled with whether I should too. But I really didn’t want to. I was hurt and tired. And so instead I looked at her face for a moment and memorized her eyes. Her beautiful blue eyes….even when they were angry. I kind of knew, for some reason, that this would be the last time I would ever see them. It felt important. But I brushed it off as my usual worrying. And then I took her advice and spent the weekend with my family. It was the first extended break in months. It felt good.
On Tuesday morning, the day that the meeting was going to be held (They had called me later to invite me), I received a call from a frantic nurse. My mother had taken a turn for the worse. I needed to come. I asked if she was dying since I wouldn’t want to bring my son to the hospital to see that. I would need to get someone to watch him. She told me to get someone. My heart freaked and sputtered and then I was dull…numb. This couldn’t be happening. She was almost going home. She had been getting better. She couldn’t be suddenly dying.
I didn’t make it. The doctor called just as my husband got there to go with me. She was already gone (Later, I found out that she had died hours earlier but her pace maker had confused an incompetent nurse into thinking that she had a pulse). My world shifted into black.
My mom. My beautiful mom is gone.
I miss her so much it takes my breath away. And yet I would not be honest if I didn’t admit that I feel relieved. It’s over. It’s been weeks without new wounds. Weeks since I’ve been yelled at. Belittled. And with each moment of relief comes fresh guilt…even though I know it’s normal to feel this way. It still feels wrong.
She was my mother. I loved her deeply…always will. I also hated her deeply but I’m determined to let that go as time passes. To make her death a time of change and new beginnings. To heal and forgive. To let go.
I love you, mommy. I hope you aren’t in pain anymore. I hope you know how much you meant to me. I hope someday to remember only the love we had.
And your beautiful blue eyes.