I was lied to, back when I was in lamaze class.
Pregnant with my daughter, a scared, 20 years old, and feeling so lost and alone. My husband had left me at 5 months pregnant, I had lost my job and was homeless, so I moved back home with my parents. My mom stepped in, doing all the things a partner should be doing. She went with me to the lamaze class, just as she had gone with me everywhere else those past 4 months. Through all of the doctors appointments, nursery shopping, walking in the evenings, preparations for the baby, she was my constant companion. She rubbed lotion on my legs when they ached, she cooked nutritious meals for me and my baby, she listened as I purged the history of my abusive marriage and told the deepest and darkest of my secrets, never judging, never criticizing… just loving me and being there for me. We quickly became best friends and as a joke I started referring to her as my “diary”.
As we sat in lamaze class, me between her knees my back against her chest, feeling her breath on my cheek, holding her hands as they circled my growing belly… the lamaze teacher told us simply, “Child birth is the most painful thing you will ever experience in your life!”
Losing my mom, watching her take her last, gasping, breaths… THAT is the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life. There is no epidural for that. There are no drugs available to “take the edge off”. There are no focal points, no breathing exercises, no coach, no support partner. Just you, alone in your grief, alone in your emotions, alone in your loss.
The labor pains began when Mom informed me, first and alone with her in her hospital room, that she had cancer and had been hiding it from everyone for over four years.
The news socked me in the stomach harder than any upper cut ever could, knocking the air out of me. I was stunned, automatically feeling ill, panic rising in my throat I ran from the room looking for a bathroom, a lounge, any place I could be alone in my shock and pain. I found a lounge, and a hard orange, plastic, chair. I sat, gasping, shaking, crying silently into my hands with panic. Screams of “why MY mom?!?! Why now?!?! Please God, NO! Don’t take her from me!?!” streamed through my head. I was only there a few minutes, quickly gathered myself back into a tidy package of strength and stability, and returned to mom’s room.
She needed me to be strong, to hold her hand, to be there for her as she had been during the birth of both my children.
My sister, dad and I talked her into fighting the cancer. Begged her to give chemo a chance… for us. Mom was scared of chemotherapy, terrified really. She had watched her parents, family and very dear friends suffer more from the effects of chemo rather than the actual cancer itself. That’s the reason behind her hiding her cancer for so long, not wanting to have to subject herself to the effects of chemo. We knew her reasons, but still selfishly asked her to fight, and because of her love for us, she fought. She fought valiantly for 2 years with only a few minor set backs. She was forever a lady, never complaining, never asking “why me?” She just went into treatment like she did everything else, just daring it not to work, demanding it listen to her and make her well. She became thin, tired, sleeping often and staying nauseated most of the 2 years.
I got to where I was calling her 2-3 times a day, checking on her, telling her funny grandkid stories, saying “Thank You” for every little thing that ever popped into my head that she had ever done for me the past 38 years. Daddy took wonderful care of her also, doting on her, feeding her, driving her over on the days she was too sick to drive. Taking her to the hospital when she was so sick with Pneumonia that we were worried we were losing her at that point. He never left her side. We all fought together.
During these two years of her being sick and going back and forth to chemo and PET scans, blood work and boughts of Pneumonia, I tried my best to be there by her side. I was busy by now with two children and working nights and weekends in labor and delivery. I would stay in town after work long enough to sit with her in the waiting room and her being hooked up to the drip. She always felt bad when I did that, always worried I would be too tired. “You go on home, honey! I’ll be fine, you need to sleep”, she would say.. I couldn’t tell her I was clinging to every second I had with her, clinging to her every breath. I would just obediently kiss her cheek and tell her “I love you”, and go home. I remember those mornings at the Oncology Center, how the nurses would light up when they saw her come in, everyone loved Yvonne, she was always so sweet a gracious, asking about them and their families, she was always selfless in that way, never wanting to talk about herself or her health, it was always about others.
Finally, one day, the news came that she was “all clear”, she had fought and won, she was in remission.
She started getting her strength back, began walking again, immersed herself in her church activities more than she even had been before. She walked in the “Walk for a Cure”, both as a survivor and as a caretaker for her parents. She had beat cancer! She had won, we all thought.
What most people don’t realize, us included, is that once you have poisoned your body with chemotherapy, you become more susceptible to infection, your immune system is shot, plus the type of cancer she had also wreaked havoc on her heart and arteries. She was a ticking time bomb.
She started pushing herself too hard. She had missed two years of life, and she was in a hurry to catch up. She became involved in writing the history of our church for its 100th anniversary. She worked tirelessly on a book of music and songs composed by a lady in our church, then soon became that same lady’s caretaker. She started keeping my son for me on the weekends I worked nights, driving him back and forth to school on the days I had to sleep. She dove into everything she did, head first, like it was a race…she hardly ever came up for air. I complained one summer morning, on the phone to her, that she “never had time to sit a visit anymore, she was always too busy doing for others, I was losing her”. “Well, honey”, she replied, “I have too much to do… and if I don’t do it, who will?” Perfectly mom in her reply.
That was in August, little did any of us know, she had already had 2 heart attacks. Non of us had a clue she would be gone in a matter of 6 weeks.
The labor pains became more persistent.
I knew something was wrong when I saw her the first week of September. I felt it. She was so thin, pale, almost a yellow color. She just didn’t look like mom. I questioned her and she dismissed it as being tired and run down from worrying about her friend. I still felt there was something more, but mom could convince the Pope he was Baptist if she had a few minutes alone with him, so I left it alone.
By the 29th of September she was in the hospital and 9 short days later, she was gone.
Just like that.
I compare losing my mom to labor.
It’s happening, be it fast or slow, things are changing. No matter how hard you fight to maintain control, no matter how hard everyone works to stop it, labor, and death, both march on.
I fought for my mom for 8 full days. I only left the hospital, her side, when forced by nurses with threat of having me committed to the mental hospital. I argued with surgeons, doctors, nurses, I threw so many residents out of my room it quickly became a joke among hospital staff.
I had promised her in the ER that she could trust me, that I wouldn’t let them put her on life support, I wouldn’t let them do heroic measures, to let her go if it came to that point, she made me promise, so in trying to keep up my promise I focused on, NOT letting her go. I was a woman on a mission… a mission to “fix my Mom”. I dreamed of her waking up and telling me how much she loves me and she could not have “made it through without me!” I focused on keeping her beloved “pink stuff” on her lips, I talked to her, played hymns that she loved on my Kindle for her, I read to her, I brushed her hair, covered and uncovered her feet, and silently prayed over and over that she stay with me.
Just as labor, the moment came when it was time to push.
There was nothing more the doctors could do. She was brain-dead.
Just as some women have beautiful birth stories, some women have beautiful death stories.
“Oh she smiled at me then closed her eyes and breathed out her last breath.”
“I told her it’s ok to go mom, and so she did”.
I’ve heard them all before, I am sure there are some very beautiful stories out there…
My moms story is not like that.
It was horrific, absurd, terrible, hilarious at times, painful and awful.
The hospice experience was everything BUT peaceful. (Maybe someday I can write down the events of that night, but now is not the time.)
I had been very proactive that entire day, I knew in my head that mom was already gone, that this was just her body lingering, so I tried to stay busy and continue doing for her, in hopes that she was in the room, watching, somehow. I fixed her hair, applied her makeup, washed her hands and filed her nails, not talking.. just doing.
After the removal of the breathing tube, the stepping in of hospice, the transferring of her from one building to the next and getting her settled into the room at the hospice, we were informed she would most likely be struggling for the next 6-9 hours.
Around hour 4 I realized this was it. I could no longer stop this from happening.
It was around hour 5 that my body went into shock.
It was around hour 6 that I started to give birth.
I gave birth to the pain, the heartbreak, the realization that I would never ever see my mom again. I would never hear her voice, feel her cool hands on my face, feel her play with my hair as I laid my head in her lap. I would no longer be called “Momma’s baby”. I was losing my mom, my best friend, my everything… and I could do nothing to stop it. The pain was unbearable.
I suddenly couldn’t look at her. I couldn’t stand the sight of her. I hated her for leaving me. I hated her for rather being with Jesus than with me! I was so disgusted by this pale, gasping, stiff corpse that had taken the place of my sweet, precious, beautiful, mother.
I wanted to beat it up! I wanted to scream at it! I wanted to demand it bring my mom back and it go away instead, but all I could do was cling to my boyfriend and wail as my heart literally crumbled.
If you don’t belive you can actually feel your heart-break, then you are one of the lucky few that have never lost someone who you love more than yourself. My heart literally hurt, felt bruised, for several days after mom died.
Then, at 5:35am, the nurse quietly said “she’s gone”.
And that was it. I no longer had my mom.
I had gone through the entire ordeal, the entire loss of my mom, without meds, without an epidural, without her to hold my hand. I was now a woman alone, a woman without a mom.
It’s common to think back on one’s life and say, “Before I had kids I…”
or “After I had kids I was changed in many ways, like…”
Well, it’s the same for losing my mom.
Before I lost mom, I was so carefree and innocent. I was still a child in so many ways. I relied on her for so many things. No matter how mad I would get at her, I still knew she was there for me if I needed her. She was my best friend for so many years. She was my confidant, my babysitter, my sister, my boss, my teacher, my everything.
My thinking is different now. I feel suddenly, old. Like I aged 100 years in those 6 hours. Like I now have privilege to a well-kept, ancient, secret… you can live through the pain.
My writing is more difficult to produce, less creative. I look back at things I wrote just 2 years ago and think “silly, nieve, dumb little girl! How simple life was back then!”
Life will go on without my mom, I realize that. I have to keep going, for my children, for my daddy, for myself. That’s what mom would have wanted. I know she is proud of me… I do, really.
And in writing this, I am hoping I can start finding some closure and some relief from the constant pain of loss and abandonment.
And just like the birth of my children, I will always have my own personal experience of my moms death. Nobody, Nobody… has any magical words that will instantly make me feel better. No amount of scripture can make me start “rejoicing in her heavenly rebirth”. Although I appreciate all the cliché words and phrases so many people have said to me this past 7 months, non of it will ever make me feel instantly better. Sorry, but I will never think “Oh, Wow! Thanks for telling me my mom is in a better place!” because I am selfish and I am in pain, and I’d rather have her here with me.
I have given birth to the loss of my mom… and it WAS the most painful experience I have ever been through in my entire life… but I came through it, bruised and bleeding… but gradually healing.
Someday I will only have sweet memories of mom, and the happy times we shared over our 39 years together.
Someday, the pain will fade… just like the pain of childbirth.