Where did I leave off? Oh, right – I was just pushed off a cliff.
I had been let go from a job I had for nearly 8 years. January 2016.
Two and a half weeks later, I flew to Minnesota to have my thyroid taken out (previously planned). Major surgery that came with a (very slight) chance of injuring my vocal cords or losing my voice. I use my voice for a living so…
The surgery went well, by the way. And I can speak. Phew.
About five weeks later, my boyfriend and I were about to go to Portland for a long weekend. But I got the call that my Mom was in the hospital. Again. I live in LA. She’s in Michigan.
I talked to her on the phone and she told me, “Please. Go to Portland.” She had taken my unemployment pretty hard – worrying – and she wanted me to take my mind off things. She thought the trip would do me good. “Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’ll be fine.”
My Mom had been struggling with major health issues for about ten years. We had had many scares in the past and she ALWAYS pulled through. Her system was so fragile and strained, a doctor used to joke that she was “at risk getting a haircut.” Anything – even a cold – could send her over the edge and back to the hospital. She is one of the biggest fighters I’ve ever known. You want to talk about a will to live?! But every day had become a struggle for her to keep going. To simply keep breathing.
I took my Mom’s advice and decided to go on the trip. But the minute we landed in Porlandia, I checked my phone. Lots of calls and texts. Mom had taken a turn for the worse. But this time, things were different. One of my sisters told me our lil’ ‘ole fightin’ mama had decided she was hanging up her boxing gloves for good. She wanted no more tests. No more treatments. No more poking or prodding. She asked that hospice be called in. She was done.
The odd part was that she was apparently very alert and in good spirits during this time. I wonder if it was because she had accepted what was happening. Made peace with it. I was told she was quite the chatterbox. One of my brothers talked with her into the wee hours that night.
But by the time I got there the next morning, things had changed. She wasn’t talking. She was unresponsive. Her breathing was labored. I stood next to her bed and held her hand and said hello. She didn’t vocally respond, but she did squeeze my hand back. I like to think she knew I was there.
Everyone was gathered around and exhausted. It had been a long few days. Siblings had flown in from Chicago and Arizona. And some who lived nearby had spent day and night at the hospital. I said I’d stay the night with my mom so that others could get some sleep. Plus, I hadn’t been in town and wanted to be there. I just sat there. Watching her.
If you’ve ever been in this scenario, it’s all a bit surreal. Even if you know someone isn’t doing well, even if you know they’re dying, it still feels very bizarre. Like it’s not really happening.
I wasn’t sure she could hear me, but I talked to my mom a little that night. One of the things I said to her was that it was OK to go, Mom. We are all here for you. It seemed like an important thing to say. I mean, this lady had been through so much. I wanted her to know we all knew how hard she fought and that if she just wanted peace and to rest – that was OK.
Hours later, I noticed some foam around her lips and I called for the nurse. She came in and confirmed we were losing my mom. I grabbed my phone. I thought I should call one of my sisters to tell them what was happening. Real-time updates, right? So dumb. But the ever-so-wise nurse said to me (thank goodness for her): “Put the phone down. They can’t get here in time. You should be here for this.”
I put the phone down. And watched my Mom die.
Death is such a strange thing. One minute you’re there and the next, poof, you’re gone. Sometimes there’s no fanfare. No super dramatics. No light suddenly shining in the room (unless you’re George Harrison —>read here))
You just take your last breath. And that’s that.
In a way, the way my Mom died, those final moments, makes death seem less scary. She certainly wasn’t in pain. And the struggle was over. She was finally allowed to just float.
It makes me think about how, at times, I’m more afraid of living than dying. Life can be such a struggle. And the struggle can be consuming. Whether it’s to find love. To make money. Build a career. Rebuild a career. Have a baby. Not have a baby. Be thin. Whatever.
What if we stopped struggling so much? Stopped fighting what was handed to us? Stopped flailing our arms about in the water? What if we just accepted the chaos we’re in and just allowed ourselves…to float?