On My Mother, With Love
The first two friends anyone has in this world are named Mom and Dad, and for me, that couldn’t be more true. Growing up and even more now, my parents are my best friends. I tell them about my triumphs, my struggles, and they’ve always been around to help me through it all. At 23, I never thought I’d have to go through the rest of my life without either of them.
That is, until about 4 months ago.
Rewinding to November 2016, my mother was on chemotherapy treatments during her second battle with Cancer. She was first diagnosed back in 2008, she had her treatments and was fine for 6 years. After 6 years, she found out that the cancer had come back, spreading from the breasts to the bones. When it came back, I was upset, shocked, and terrified of losing my mom. For almost 3 years she fought, enduring many chemotherapy and radiation sessions. She said her cancer wasn’t curable, but it was treatable. She would always tell us that she was fine, and that she felt fine. Until the last few weeks of her life, you couldn’t tell that she was sick. She kept working, kept living her life. She didn’t let her illness define how she lived.
Thanksgiving 2016 is one I’ll never forget, and that’s for two reasons. The first being that I put together an entire dinner by myself (with mom’s assistance of course). The second reason, retrospectively, is because it was the last holiday she would ever celebrate.
4 Days later, my Cyber Monday was spent at the hospital. The pill form of chemotherapy my mother was taking affected her liver, causing jaundice, stomach distention, and swelling of her legs. All of that fluid and bacteria in her stomach caused an infection. After draining the fluid in her stomach, she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. The next 4 days were spent between my job and the hospital, as soon as I could be there. Any time I could be with with my mom, I jumped at the opportunity. She was doing well, eating solid foods and even starting physical therapy. It seemed like things were getting better, and that soon she’d come home.
Or, so I thought.
Day 5 in the hospital: my mom is barely awake, writhing in pain, reverting to speaking in Spanish instead of English. I was scared, asking questions to any physician or nurse that walked in. No one was telling me anything, I didn’t know what was going on and I demanded answers.
Sometime that afternoon, my dad took me into a family waiting room. I’ll never forget how tense those moments were. He sat me down and gave me the news that I was dreading to hear. He said that mom’s condition was getting worse. The cancer was spreading, and that we needed to be ready for whatever happens. I was devastated. A little while later, my brother arrived at the hospital, and he took the news even harder than I did.
The next day, after spending the night at the hospital, my father, brother, and myself returned home. We needed to get cleaned up, and take care of some things around the house. After that, it was back to hospital. My mom was still getting worse, and her breathing had become quick and shallow. The nurse told us that was a sign that the end was very close. So, as a family, we went to my mother’s bedside. We told her that she didn’t have to fight anymore. We told her she could let go. We told her that even though we’d miss her terribly, that we would be okay.
She held on.
After that, visitors began to arrive. News of my mother’s condition spread like wildfire. 2 pastors were called in to pray over her and give her last rites. Hours passed and she was still hanging on. After a while I was exhausted from all the tears and visitors, so I ventured to one of the family waiting rooms, where we set up makeshift beds.
A few hours later, my dad woke me and my brother up. We ventured back to Mom’s room in the ICU, to spend what could be her last hours (may even minutes) with her. We played some of her favorite songs, and just spent our last moments together as a family of four. By this time, my mom was on morphine to keep her comfortable. Little by little her heart rate was dropping, but she was still holding on.
8 AM hits on December 5th: calls are being made to coworkers, godchildren, loved ones. Slowly but surely, people start arriving at the hospital. There were coworkers, close friends, totalling to about 15-18 people in the ICU room. Usually not that many people would be allowed in, but the hospital staff let us be.
After praying and speaking with her, something came over me. I started singing a song I learned during my high school choir days. The lyrics were: “Hallelujah, Salvation and Glory. Honor and Power, he is wonderful.”
I wasn’t the only one who knew the song, so people started joining in. After a while it got quiet again, but my dad encouraged us to keep singing. My brother starts to sing, and I joined in with him. At this point, we were the only two people singing.
And with that, my mother took her last breath at 11:27 AM. She was 58 years old.
The next few days were a whirlwind. There was so much to do, plan the funeral, plan the burial, clean the house. Visitors were showing up, bringing tons of comfort food and doing whatever they could to help. Her wake was like a party. So many people were came to comfort and grieve with us, there was a line outside the funeral home’s front door. The love that many had for my mother was so palpable, it was a powerful feeling.
It’s been about 4 months now. I miss my mother terribly. So much has occurred since her passing. Every day something happens that makes me wish I could call or text her. Some days I cry, other days I’m laughing and sharing happy memories about her. I find immense comfort knowing that she’s my angel, guiding me through the rest of my life. It’s certainly hard when I think that I’ll always miss her. Perhaps, on some level, we never truly overcome the death of a loved one. Maybe you just learn to live without that person. Some days I think to myself “Why did she have to go? It wasn’t her time.” But then I know deep down that there’s a plan for everyone and everything in this world. You just have to take it one day at a time, and trust that peace comes like waves that kiss the shore.
Photo: London Scout via Unsplash