My mom died 76 days ago, and now it’s Mothers’ Day weekend.
People have been checking up on me. They want to know if I’m going to be okay. Yes, I assure them. I’m fine.
It’s odd, but I can now get through a hour without a constant refrain in my head of “She’s gone. She’s gone. She’s gone.” For weeks, that was all I heard.
But being without the constant refrain means that I sometimes remember it.
Sometimes the awareness slides up to me gently. I’ll be in the middle of something — teaching a class or buying Apple Jacks or driving through carpool line — and suddenly I’ll think to myself, “Mom died.” I usually lose my train of thought and stare blankly for a few seconds. Then I take a deep breath and move on.
Other times, the reminder is brutal — a jarring, blunt kick in the gut. Something will happen — this week it was my middle child breaking her arm and seeing the nurses start to wrap the cast — and I’ll reach for my phone to call her…and then stop…remembering, breathless and hurting.
I wonder when that will stop?
The last few months of Mom’s life were surreal. Transitioning from the “what’s the next thing we need to try?” mentality that got us through the first 38 years of MS to the “what is it now time to let go of?” approach of the last 38 days was tough.
The weekend before Mom died was terrible. Her digestive system was shutting down, and she was very ill for a day or so. After things leveled out, she refused all food in her feeding tube. Dad called me on Tuesday and asked me to go talk to her. He wanted me to find out if she wasn’t eating because she was scared of the nausea and vomiting or if she wasn’t eating because she was done. If she was scared of the nausea and vomiting, there was a medicine we could try. It would knock her out for a day or so, but we could pump her full of fluids and calories during that time, which would mean that she might feel pretty good the next day. We needed to find out if Mom wanted to try it.
I left school Wednesday at lunch and drove to her house. I went straight to her room and closed the door on her caregiver. No more dilly-dallying around. It was time for a serious talk.
She was not good. Her coloring and breathing were different. Her eyes and mouth were half open. I found myself staring at a pulse in her neck, afraid it would stop. Afraid it wouldn’t.
But she could talk. Granted, there was a long pause between me asking a question and her replying, and her words were faint and breathy. But we talked.
I quickly got to the point.
“Mom, if you aren’t eating because you are scared of the nausea, there’s another medicine we can try.”
I swallowed hard and took the next step. “But, if you aren’t eating because you are done. then that’s OK, too. It’s OK to be finished. You have fought hard. Being done is OK because we know how this story ends.”
She looked at me and formed her words carefully, with tremendous effort. “Yes, we know how this story ends.”
I held her hands and tried not to cry. This was it, I realized. She was letting go. I watched her pulse for a few seconds, half expecting it to stop.
In my gut I knew, but some small part of me needed clarification. I had to be absolutely sure.
“Um, Mom,” I said, “I know how this story ends. And you say you know how this story ends. But I need to be sure our endings are the same. I need you to say it.” I took the deepest breath I’ve ever taken. “Tell me, please. How does this story end?”
She looked at me with a huge smile. Her eyes lit up, and she said, “When this story ends, I get to see my mom.”
My grandmother has been gone for several years.
I did cry a little then. But we smiled at each other and held hands. I finally found my voice. “It’s OK if you don’t want to eat. We’re going to miss you, but we will be alright. I promise.”
Her eyes closed. “Thank you,” she murmured, and then drifted to sleep.
She died five days later.
Those weren’t the last words she said to me, but it was our last actual conversation.
Whenever I miss her, I try to think of that moment. Of the smile on her weak face and the joy in her tired eyes as she thought of seeing her mama again.
Happy Mothers‘ Day, indeed.