Today is the day my mother died.
The date has loomed on the calendar like the storm clouds of an impending storm, much like they did last year. The only difference between this year and last is knowing when the rain would fall and hearts would be shattered.
Several times in this year of mourning, I have tried to write about my mom’s final days and it’s been tough. Really tough. The emotions leave me raw and vulnerable, sometimes even rendering me speechless with no words to share.
But we all must learn to let go. We can’t keep hanging on to the past, no matter how we might try to change those events now frozen in time.
Today is the day my mother died.
One year ago today I awoke with a start, a panic of unknown proportions as I saw that I had missed several text messages from my mom’s husband, Bob, urging me to come to the hospital as quickly as I could.
I threw on jeans and a shirt, slid my feet into a pair of flip-flops and raced out the front door.
No contact lenses.
I didn’t even brush my hair.
See, when death taunts you each and every day, you must always be ready for the call. What I looked like didn’t matter a bit. There was a very real possibility my mom would be gone before I could make it to her bedside.
I drove to the hospital with tears flowing, knowing in my heart this was it. This was the day my mother would die. All the words had been spoken. All the love had been shared. It was time to say my final goodbye.
I was a wreck.
When I arrived, there was an empty parking space right at the entrance to the hospital. I parked and raced inside. It was truly like a scene from a movie: my long hair flowing behind me, my flip-flops flapping with each step as I ran with all my might. People walking in the halls stepped to the side, my path completely cleared like the parting of the seas.
I ran like I had never run before. I took the stairs so I didn’t have to wait on the elevator. I threw open doors and ran down the third floor, not caring for a moment who stared at me as I flew by.
Her door was partially shut. I literally slid into her room as I rounded the corner, completely out of breath and terrified at what I would discover.
She was there.
Sitting up in the bed.
My first words to my mother on the day of her death were, “What the hell, mom?!?”
Yes. You read that right. I actually cursed at my mother on the last day she was here.
Her laughter was priceless.
I sat on the side of her bed and hugged her, telling her how happy I was to see her.
She was alive.
I made it.
She didn’t die without me.
We knew. Oh, how we knew. Today was the day.
May the 4th be with you.
The night before, we had signed the hospice papers. I was packing up my things to watch my daughter’s final tennis match when Bob called me out of my mom’s room to add my signature to the page we had fought so hard to have. She would be removed from heart rate monitors and other unnecessary medical equipment so we could focus on easing her pain instead of monitoring her health.
As I crossed the Ts in my first and last name, the hospice nurse touched my arm. “Now that your mom is under our care I need to tell you… she doesn’t have much time.”
“Excuse me… what?”
Not much time.
Death was already marching down the hall.
Bob and I decided we would not stay the night. We wanted to give her the opportunity to pass away alone, should that be her choice. We knew of others who waited until that exact moment when everyone left the room to slip away; we didn’t want her to linger a moment longer than necessary.
My mom was in pain.
Her body was no longer working the way it should.
It was time to start letting go.
On the day my mother died, she texted Bob at 3:58 AM. She had already lost the dexterity to hold a pen or cup and yet… in the wee hours of the night, she was able to locate her phone, unlock the passcode, open her text messages and tell Bob that she loved him.
This was his sign to come.
The hospice nurse told us the night before that if we had family members that wanted to see my mom, they needed to come soon, preferably in the morning. So that’s what we did. We called our closest family members that evening and broke the news of her final demise.
The morning of my mother’s death began with a party.
Because… well, that’s just how we do things in our world.
My Dad and his girlfriend Cindy arrived. As he entered the room, my eyes filled with tears because, see, this is my full circle of life. These two people created me. There is a history between my mom and dad, with many years slashed in red, bound with turmoil, anger, and angst. Yet, with the passage of time, old wounds were healed, past grievances mended, and hearts reconciled.
When my Dad leaned in close to hug my mom, a part of my heart was healed as well.
My Uncle Buddy and Aunt Kathy arrived as did Bob’s son and we stood around chatting about old times and fun memories that made us laugh. I even had a high school friend whose father was in a room a few doors down pop her head in to say hi and we invited her to stay at our makeshift celebration of life.
My mom was hilarious, cracking one liners like a stand-up comedian on stage. How could she even find the words? How could she even tell the stories?
On the day my mother died, she gave us the gift of joy.
After about an hour, her energy began to wane, her words began to slur, and her eyes started to shut like all the days before. It was her last hurrah. Each person in the room took their cues like a carefully orchestrated play, the final act halfway through. They hugged my mom, said their goodbyes, and left this space, knowing they would never see my mom again.
Bob and I remained the entire day.
In the afternoon, the reverend arrived to check on her as she slept in the bed. He prayed over her, a final blessing bestowed on her frail, weak body.
He knew her time was near.
Her favorite oncologist, Dr. K stopped by in the late afternoon, the shock on his face at her quick demise transparent for all to see. My mom loved Dr. K. She begged and begged for him to visit her, to call her, to talk to her, anything at all, but we never heard a response.
Until he showed up at her door.
On the day of her death.
I believe she couldn’t let go until she had one last moment with him as well.
The nurses changed shifts. Those that had spent the day with us came back for a final goodbye. My mom adored these nurses. They adored her. They took such amazing care of her during her brief stay. One nurse even brought in her baby boy cradled on her hip:
“I believe when someone dies, a part of their spirit lives on in those who are near. I want my son to soak up her spirit. There is so much love and joy in this room.“
When the sun started to set, my cousin Amy arrived and she had an opportunity to say goodbye as well. She stayed for a bit as light turned to darkness, then rain started to fall.
Bob realized the front doors would close at 9:00 PM and we would have to exit the back of the hospital then walk all the way around the perimeter of the facility to get to our cars later. He decided to move his car to the back entrance so we wouldn’t be drenched when it was time to leave.
Somehow we knew we wouldn’t be staying the night.
Somehow we knew we would have to carry all her things home.
Somehow we knew.
A little after 8:00 PM, I was overcome with emotion.
This was it.
Through my sudden tears, I asked Amy to leave, a rush of apologies and incoherent sentences trying to explain the urgency of the moment. She quickly said goodbye with tears in her eyes and then there were two.
For the first time in her entire 23 month battle with cancer, I told my mother she was not allowed to die.
“No way did we come THIS far for you to die when Bob is gone.”
“Don’t. You. Dare.”
“You can hold on just a little longer, Mama. C’mon now. Just a few minutes more.”
I stared at the clock above the doorway in complete panic mode, praying desperately that Bob would return before she took her last breath. The minutes ticked by as I held her hand and watched her face, willing her with my mind to hang on until he arrived.
I don’t think I could have survived the guilt had she left this world with me by her side and not him.
When Bob walked through that doorway, I felt such a relief in my soul, that I knew God was with me the entire time. Her time was here, but so were we.
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Nurses arrived again, but this time it was to unhook the high-flow oxygen tube and replace it with an oxygen mask.
We watched the inside of the mask cloud with her breath, then clear when she inhaled.
We kept waiting for the breath we knew would cease to come.
Bob held her right hand.
I held her left.
We sat and waited, both whispering to my mom how much we loved her.
She took a breath.
May 4, 2017
This year of firsts without my mom has been heartbreaking. We tried our best to make her final days complete with celebrations of love, but there were still so many milestones that carried on without her.
How does one heal a broken heart?
By loving those still here every chance they get.
Never miss an opportunity to tell someone you love them. Don’t turn down an offer to connect with an old friend. Live your life to the fullest, embracing each and every moment with the joy and exuberance of childlike wonder.
Make memories. Be silly. Do things that will create funny stories that will be shared for years to come.
Be passionate. Be kind. Be you.
And know that your life has meaning for those around you.
Be the star that sparkles in the darkness.
And when the darkness comes your way?
Shine even brighter.
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