cancer, death, finding myself, kids, Living in the Moment, mindfulness, mother, mother loss, Mother's Day, pain, Uncategorized

A Motherless Daughter on Mother’s Day

People always say… you can put this behind you and you can move on to something better. Well, what happens when you just can’t? I mean, what happens when you slowly stop thinking about it and then you can’t remember when the last time you heard it… but it then comes back full on haunting you, at least for one day. There is a legacy to these things that stays with you for a long time, maybe forever… It bubbles up. It revisits you like a dream that continually reoccurs until it is just knit into who you are. You expect it and embrace it.

Whether I can put “all this” behind me remains to be seen, what is fact is that “all that” from the past keeps haunting me. I mean, days like Mother’s Day come and draw me into the past. It is without fail that I am thrown back to so many things. No matter how many breakfasts in bed or smudgy Mother’s Day cards I get, will never push it out of front and center on Mother’s Day. It makes me realize that there is so much that I have never dealt with. Never dealt with feels of loss and abandonment that sting and hurt and seriously won’t go away. I hope that at some point they can meld into just who I am, become just a stitch, and not be the entire fabric of my life.

I have never made it a secret with you all how tough things have been lately. I have made it no secret that life before “all this” was sometimes very difficult. Maybe today, the day that always haunts me, is the day that I put it out on the table and make it more real than it ever has been. By sharing it, maybe I can finally accept and let all the good memories back in, instead of those that haunt. In getting ready to write this, I can feel my mother wrapping her arms around my shoulders from behind. A bear hug that I always “know” as her being there, that she is pushing me forward into this thing… so here I go.

I have so many memories of my mother. So many wonderful memories, that always get over shadowed by the others. I am going to give you “another” in hopes that it will truly fade away, so that I can love other Mother’s Days and not dread them like I do.

My mother valiantly fought cancer for just over ten months. I remember strength from her. I remember her beauty and who she was, but what I most remember are moments from the last days of her life. Quite sad if you really think about it. She had her whole lifetime, almost half of mine, at that point, and I remember the sad and terrible parts.

In my Mother’s last few days, she was in the hospital under the direction of doctor’s to mediate her pain with morphine. It was no secret that she was not going to leave the hospital. Perhaps at the time, I didn’t totally believe it. I was living in hospital scrubs because there was no going back to the house. I guess it never truly sunk in that it was because there was a moment that was coming that I couldn’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t miss.

My mom had been lying in bed for days. Days of quiet that was not like her. She talked. She laughed. She lit up the room. Now she was the center, but really just an accessory around all of us. It is in these moments that my memory always drifts on Mother’s Day.

My Mom’s face was ashen and her mouth hung open. She didn’t look like herself. I couldn’t stand another minute looking at her. I needed her makeup. When I had packed a bag for her… I packed her makeup bag. She would have never have left the house without lipstick or blush.

It wasn’t even an option of whether I would make up her face. She would have wanted it that way.  I carefully applied her makeup as she would have wanted it. To give her the dignity that she deserved.

She was less ashen after, but the pallid color of her skin still came through. It was a mask of what was going on. It wasn’t until days later when the makeup had started to fade that the mask would come off.

She hadn’t responded to talk for days. No squeeze of the hand, no blinks, nothing. Her body was giving out.

I had taken to calling her “Mama” which was odd. I had never used that name for her. I had talked and talked to her with no response, but with Mama at the beginning of each sentence. Maybe it was because the mask was starting to slip off and to me, she was started to look and act like another person.

Her lips were so dry. They were cracked. They looked so sore. We had been directed by the hospital staff to use these sponges on long sticks to wet her lips, to wet her mouth that had long since dried out from breathing for days straight like that.

I dipped the swab into the small paper cup full of water. When I pulled it out the sponge at the tip was soaked through and dripped back into the cup with the excess. I squeezed a bit out with my fingertips. No worry about germs. It wouldn’t matter. Every time I squeeze the suds from my sponge in my own sink while doing dishes, I remember this moment.

There were others around us, but for me, it was like I was in a vortex and nothing else existed but me and that instant. I wiped around her lips and started for the inside of her mouth. In that moment she closed her mouth and swallowed. The struggle of it was so painful to see. No! She was strong! She was a rock! She couldn’t be working so hard to do something so small as to swallow.

To see her lifeless body perform a basic task made me know she was still in there.   The sadness I felt wasn’t from the fact that it was so hard for her to do such a thing though. It was because she was still in there. She was holding on. She hadn’t totally given up. In her last days, she was holding on because we hadn’t asked her to let go. I hadn’t asked her.

That’s what moms do. They never give up. They never stop until their kids ask them to stop. They do what’s best even if it is excruciatingly hard.

I did finally ask her to let go. “Mama, it’s ok. You can go. Please just let go. We will be ok. I will be ok.” She did. She let go in the early hours of the next morning.

That’s why Mother’s Day is so hard for me. I see that moment all day every Mother’s Day, every day. I don’t think back to her last moments on this Earth, but I do remember that moment.

It doesn’t matter if I am a good mom. It doesn’t matter that I won’t let go until they ask me to. All that matters for me on Mother’s Day, is that she wouldn’t. I had that. What I still need to remember though is that the bear hugs that I feel mean that she still won’t ever totally let go. Ever. She will always be here. Holding me. Loving me. Pushing me forward through every moment. Supporting me in those really tough ones and enjoying the really good ones. There will be really good ones. She will be there.

Maybe that moment is meant to stick to me. Maybe I need to look at it in a new light to move on from it. I will always be there for my children and she will always be there for me. That is what I need to celebrate on this day. The reality of that. Maybe then I can enjoy the runny eggs and wilted flowers..

 

 

cancer, death, Ed Sheeran, mother, Uncategorized

My Mom and Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran is one of my favorite artists.  His performances are a boggling display of talent.  So, of course, I had to buy his newest album ÷, not a typo… it’s called ÷.

Lot’s of the songs touch my heart, but Supermarket Flowers has been on repeat for days now.  I have already memorized every word.  If you haven’t heard it, it is about losing one’s mother and coming to terms with the loss.

This one hits home and though I don’t blog more than once a week, due to time restrictions, I had to share today because my soul is so full of so much and the pain is excruciating.  I don’t talk about her often, but I think about her almost every moment of the day.  Some days are just like that.

Well, those that know me, know that I lost my mother, quickly from liver cancer when she was 50 and I was just 9 days passed my 18th birthday.  The tumors were the size of baseballs.  My mother was my best friend.  She was my everything.  She was the one that held my hand and let me cry on her shoulder when things got rough.  She would lay on my bed and just listen to my music.  She devoted time to the American Cancer Society, planning events and raising money to help with cancer research.  Little did she know that she would need to be the recipient of that money for experimental therapies.  She was such a special woman.

Two days after I started my senior year, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, something that is terminal but she vowed to fight.  She was given but 3 months.  That would have taken us to Christmas.  How can one die at Christmas?  How can you just leave your family at that time of year?  That was just her.  She wanted to keep living her life.  She didn’t want to leave us all.  She threw herself into whatever treatment they thought might extend her life.  She was a fighter.

It is amazing that she did the things that they asked her to.  Chemotherapy was still archiac at the time.  They pounded her body for days with a combination of horrendous drugs that they thought “might work”.  She was willing to try it all, no matter what happened to her, and what she needed to endure.  Her strength and determination was like none other.

She was deeply religious and a strong Catholic.  Church gave her more strength than I could imagine.  I have realized in the last couple of months what religion can do.  Doctrine is one thing, but believing that you will be taken care of by God is the main tenant that I know she devoted herself to.  No matter what was thrown at her, she could endure it because, “God would never give her more than she could handle.”

She was never vain but always proud of her appearance, in short, she would have never left the house in yoga pants and a sweatshirt, no matter what.  The same was true for her sick time.  My Aunt Jane went with her to find clothes that were comfortable but not sore around her waist.  At this time, even to touch her belly was uncomfortable.  She always put on makeup and lipstick.  I walked in on her one day in the bathroom as she sat crouched in the corner.  Her hair brush full of her hair.  I rarely saw her break down during this time, but this was a blow.  Maybe it was because it was a sign to the world that she was struggling and sick now.  We went to the salon and one of her best friends, Karen Yetten, washed her hair as it fell out in the sink.  She fashioned a wig for her.  My mother ended up opting to just cut it all off and wear a scarf.

She survived through Christmas, even showing a reduction in her tumor size.  It gave her hope.  It gave us all hope.

It didn’t last and chemo was given up.  In April, she went to Long Island where they installed an experimental pump to directly send a new form of chemo to her tumors.  It was barbaric.  It was huge, at least 3×5 inches and stuck out from her skin another 2 inches.  She said she felt so ugly with it.  She felt like a monster. It hurt her.  But again, she was willing to try anything to extend her life.  She wanted to see me graduate from high school and see my cousin, Cheryl, get married.  She had goals.

It didn’t work and we finally excepted that she was going to die.  We were going to lose her.  Her fight was gone and she gave in to dying in the most beautiful ways.  She embraced it.  She wanted to see her friends and be with family.  In May, she turned 50 and spent time with her friends at the Cape, her favorite place.  We had cake and it was so bittersweet.  It would be her last birthday with us.  She loved the beach and it spoke to me too.  That weekend, we borrowed a golf cart from the golf course and rode out the first hole to the beach.  There she sang to me and a video camera the songs that she sang to me as a baby.  It was a video so that my children would some day be able to hear her voice and know that she had been on this Earth.  That she would think of them always.  They were her legacy.  She loved those babies who hadn’t even been brought into the world.

In secret, she had shopped in secret with my Aunt, buying gifts for me for the moments she wanted to be present for.  They were wrapped and I didn’t know of their existence.  A wedding gift, a handmade garter she wore, a penny for my shoe and a hankie.  A card.  A wedding card. I opened it shortly after I was engaged.  Another present came when I was about to give birth to Conor.  A baby card, a quilted bib that she sewed herself.  That was the person that she was.

She saw Cheryl’s wedding.  She saw me graduate and then she went down hill quickly.

I came home from work to her completely out of it in her bed.  In that moment, I knew I was losing her.  I had just turned 18.  My uncle carried her to the car as my father followed and prepped the car.  She was so frail and small.  My uncle’s face spoke of so much love.  So much despair.  She was a shell and a testament of all that she had gone through.  And then they were all gone.  She was never to return.

She slowly died in Boston for 9 days while we tried to make her comfortable.  She was in and out of it for the first two and then it was time to start morphine.  At day 8, I asked her to let go.  It was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  It was time for her to stop fighting for me, for my father, for her family, for her friends, for her life.  She passed so peacefully, with us standing around her early in the morning light.  Holding her hand.

Ed Sheeran’s song says that “a heart that has been broken is a heart that has been loved.”  It couldn’t have been more true.  My heart was and still is broken for her.  She loved me.

She was truly an angel on Earth.  She was one of the best.  “You were an angel in the shape of my Mom. You got to see the person I have become. When I fell down, she was there holding me up.  Spread your wings as you go. When God took you back he’ll say, “Hallelujah. You am home.”  She is home.