Six years ago today, I said goodbye to my mother, for the last time. It wasn’t unexpected that she was dying as she had been diagnosed with stage IV cancer three months earlier. But it was a surprise that it was this day.
I was always afraid to have another child after my first two because in our family, as it may be with many others, it seemed true that with the entrance into this world of one, came the exit of another. Crazy to believe, but it was kind of hard to ignore the pattern. My grandfather died around my birth, my aunt died when my first son was born and my father died when my cousin, who is like a sister, had her third child, etc. My mother was getting slower and slower and I was terrified to have a child. But I did.
Her health failed significantly within a week after his birth and by the time he was three weeks old, we were in the e.r.
She was diagnosed with kidney cancer right before Halloween, and with some significant blood clotting issues, surgery seemed virtually impossible. Three times between her diagnosis and her death, her surgery was postponed: once before my birthday, in November (ironically, the anniversary of my dads passing, a whole other story), before Thanksgiving and before Christmas. The surgery, in the end, was her only option for killing the cancer, but it ended up killing her. Had the date not been pushed back, we would have missed three beautiful holidays.
She went into cardiac distress as a result of the surgery, on my youngest’s three month birthday, basically a massive heart attack.
I thought, no, not today.
I remember her coming into her room after a surgery that felt like it took too long with a ventilator bag and a lot of worried looking attendants. Visiting hours were called to end and she was wincing in pain and said, ‘You aren’t going are you?’, with a look of absolute fear. I said very calmly, in order for all present to know that they stood zero chance of getting me out of the room without handcuffs, and perhaps not even then, ‘I am not going ANYWHERE’. One attendant answered my barrage of what the hell happened questions with, ‘you know, your mom is a very sick woman’, to which end I replied, ‘ no shit. She has stage IV kidney cancer, a weak heart and blood clotting issues…now what happened?’ In no way do I blame them, in fact I am truly grateful for their work and the hope they gave my mother as she went into surgery knowing she could fight. They were wonderful. Things happen.
The doctors put her into a semi comatose state and I could tell that her remaining kidney was failing to function, let alone take on the responsibility of the other, now blocked one. I watched anxiously as the bag ceased to show signs of fluid, even though she was hooked up to many i.v.s. The doctors confirmed my worries and suggested dialysis.
I am not medically ignorant, but I confess I truly didn’t understand this process as a blood cleansing process and didn’t consider the taxing effect it would have on her heart. Before she went in for the procedure, she could flutter her eyes open and hear me, even giving slight nods when I called her name and told her repeatedly that I was here with her, right by her side. She could squeeze my hand when I asked and could even manage a worried look when I told her I was going home for just a bit.
After the procedure, she was gone. She hadn’t passed, yet, but she wasn’t there. I knew it was a matter of time before she slipped away, and hoped, as I knew how she felt about most things, that she would go before her body showed signs of what the dialysis could not do.
My mother was beautiful, in her own way, and never knew it. We all possess some modicum of vanity, even if we ignore our true beauty. She would not want to bloat or ‘look terrible’. I knew. I wanted to protect her in every way possible, yet didn’t know how, but was pretty sure I would figure it out.
So, after we did the dialysis. I could tell right away, it was too much.
I wanted her to come back. I wanted her to wake up. To get better. Just to not go. So I kept asking her to please, if she could, try. After seeing her face so slack, I knew she could no longer.
I wanted to bring the kids to say goodbye, but I didn’t want to. In the end, I opted not to. I finally went home, the past three months of a new baby and her illness had worn me down and I needed to rest.
I had taken to keeping my phone under my pillow, and when it rang at 2:30 a.m., I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. The attending suggested that if I wanted to say goodbye, I had better come in soon. My heart dropped, it raced, I think it may have stopped. I went to the hospital, to the icu to say goodbye. The attending was wonderful and although she didn’t strike me as the type to cry, she was, as she stood in the room behind me. I asked how long and she said it could be any time. She had had another heart attack, but managed to hang on. I’m guessing, just for this. For me.
I asked about taking her off the life support, and she said it may expedite things, but being on it would not give her much more time.
I used to ask all of the time why aren’t we able to give our aged the grace and mercy that we give our dying animals through euthanasia. Now I know. Not that it was the same, but to me, I became a part in deciding when. I hope never, ever to be a part of that again.
Her face slack and lifeless, but still mom, was restored. No tubes, no i.v.s, no mask. All life support removed. I held her hands, I rubbed her legs and feet when they worked on her and I couldn’t be next to her side. I did not want to take my hands off of her or stop talking to her. She needed to know she was not alone and that I was there. I spoke to her and told her how much I loved her and how proud I was of her, but I understood she had to go, that this was too much. I told her she would be missed and that she was my best friend, and no one could have made me feel more loved. I told her my dad was waiting. All the while, the attending cried quietly with me, occasionally putting her hand on my shoulder.
I sat next to my mother and kissed her face and her hand and said I do not want this, even a bit, but it’s ok. Then, one tear rolled from her eye, and she left this world.
After she died, I was going through her things, a tortuous and beautiful event. I came across a note she had hand written, I don’t know when, that said ‘be my voice when I cannot speak’.
I swear she knew.