I’m not even going to bother sugarcoating this post. It’s ugly, it’s dirty, it’s raw, it’s depressing. It’s my life in the last 1 month and 3 days, beginning December 14th, when my mom had her stroke.
I’d left just an hour earlier. And an hour after, I received a call just to be told she’d had another stroke. Off I went dutifully to the first hospital, where I was promptly informed it didn’t look good. Off I went to the second hospital, where they again told us that it was all most likely over.
And it was.
My mom lived on life support for 9 days in a coma. Her best chances, they told us, meant being in a persistent vegetative state. She’d never be able to feed herself again. Anything.
Just hours earlier, we ate lunch together and she talked about how she wanted me to make that pizza for Christmas.
I didn’t even hug her when I left. My son was rambunctious and he was hard to hold. So, he hugged her. I smiled. I left. And I didn’t know I was speaking to my mom for the last time.
When the time came, I sat in a cramped room with several family members, praying mom would die quickly so she could donate her organs. At 57 years old, her body gasped for an hour before she finally slowed her breathing in her last minutes. A week later, we held her funeral.
My mother-in-law took my son up to the casket to say his good-byes. It all seemed so absurd. That at 28, my 2-year-old and I were saying good-bye to my mom. And yet it was happening.
I’ll tell you the truth about grieving: everybody disappears immediately after it’s over.
My brother and I go through our routine of caring for our dad. People very rarely contact me now that the funeral has ended. It’s as though I don’t exist. Life has gone on. And as angry as that makes me feel, it casts a light on the numerous times I did the same when encountering someone who was grieving. It makes me feel guilty. It makes me feel awful.
On a petty level, I stew over the messages of people who tell me that they “know” what I’m going through. If you’re twice my age and haven’t lost a parent, you don’t know. If you are my age and haven’t lost a parent, you don’t know. Acknowledge your ignorance. But don’t you dare try to coat it as though you have any idea.
My relationship with my mother was complicated. I fully believe that she had narcissistic personality disorder. It wasn’t an idea I learned about until I was in my early 20s. After years of unrelenting conflict with my mother, it helped me navigate my relationship with her in far easier ways. I accepted that in her eyes, I’d never be good enough. I also accepted that her evaluation of me actually had nothing to do with me. And from then on, things were actually pretty good.
I knew her limitations and didn’t demand more of her because of them. I knew she’d never be able to love me as I hoped a mother would. I knew I’d never measure up in her eyes. I knew that in her mind, I’d never wash the dishes well enough or dust well enough or otherwise even marginally compete with her in caring for the home.
Things were easier after I moved out. She adopted the persona with me that she adopted for everyone who didn’t live with her: kind, compliant, never aggressive. I could snap at her and she’d never say a word. I knew that what she did when she got home was different, though.
In that way, I never really knew my mother after I moved out. She had become a different creature.
It’s hard to deal with because she was a really good grandmother. She would get breakfast sandwiches without meat and she and my son would split them. She’d beam over how well he ate. She’d play with him, color with him, sing to him, cough obnoxiously for his entertainment. And despite everything…God, what I wouldn’t give to have just five more minutes. Me, her and Nathan.
The three Musketeers, she said. Just like she, her mom and my older brother had been “The Three Musketeers” before cancer had wiped Grandma Kathy from the Earth when she was only 42.
My mom did apologize to me in the last few months of her life for her behavior while I was a teenager and early 20-something. She’d apparently said the same to my dad, too. It doesn’t take away the trauma I grew up with, but it is a comfort. Was she genuinely sorry? Did she just realize that she didn’t have long to live? I’ll never know.
Learning to live with the uncertainty is just life, I guess.