Gonna go to the place that’s the best
The last words I said to my mother were simple: “see you tomorrow!”
She was in the hospital, dealing with what we believed to be pneumonia, but what she knew to be cancer. She was an intensely private person, up until — quite literally — the very end. The morning after I told her I’d see her the next day, we found out that she was dying, and would likely not be with us for very much longer. She had already fallen into unconsciousness, and the last words I said to her — while not untrue — took on a different meaning. It was never “goodbye”, but “see you tomorrow”.
My father spent most of her last day with her, with a quick break to gather himself. It was on that break that he asked me if I knew she had cancer. She hadn’t told anyone, and he had found out from the doctors. It was a gut-punch, and yet something I felt I should have been able to figure out.
After his break, my dad made his way back to the hospital, with the knowledge that this would be his last visit, while I waited for my sister so that we could head there together, as soon as we could. My mother had been moved from her room to intensive care, and when my sister and I arrived, we were met by the hospital’s chaplain. Welp.
The rest of that evening is a bit of a blur, but I’m pretty sure that my mother was being kept “alive” by a machine, and they were waiting for my sister and I — I don’t think we were at the hospital for 30 minutes before it was all over. I remember her looking very small — she wasn’t a very large woman to begin with — seeming to not take up any space at all on top of the massive hospital bed. I saw her, but she didn’t seem to be her anymore. And thinking back, she didn’t seem to be herself for months before she finally passed — I just didn’t see it.
I was 30 years old when my mother died. Not a child. She was 56, and far too young.
I miss her every day, and I will continue to miss her every day. I still grieve, though it happens less frequently, and in different ways, now. And for some reason, I’ve missed her more strongly in the last few weeks than I have in a while.
Not so much in the early days after she left us, but now and then, there are little things that strike me. Things that happened in my life that she missed, things that will happen that she will miss. They’re like little gut-punches too, some a little more intense than the others, no matter how trivial they might seem.
Of my current group of friends, there are just a small handful who knew her. Anyone I’ve met since she died, and everyone I meet from now on, will obviously never know her. There is a small comfort in the idea that they’ll catch glimpses of her in me (and my interests) from time to time, but they will never know the kind of person she was. That’s sad — for them! (Her funeral service was standing room only, if only because we underestimated just how much she meant to so many people — sorry, Mom!)
She never made it to Fenway Park (on her to-do list). She never got to see Cooperstown or visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame (also on her to-do list). While she got to see Scott Rolen as a Blue Jay (and loved him), she never got to see Josh Donaldson (and she would have loved him, too). She never got to see how Lost ended. (OK, maybe that’s not a bad thing.) She never got to see Leonardo di Caprio win an Oscar. (She would have liked that, but she was also of the mind that he should have won much sooner.)
And the one thing that’s been weighing on me — likely more than it should — is the thought that, with all of the recent changes in my own life, she’ll never get to see me as a happy adult. I was not one before she passed away, and it took a lot of time and effort for me to get there even now, nearly 8 years later.
I’ve told the story before, and I won’t get into the details here, but in the days leading up to my mom’s death, I was not well myself. The issues I was having, in retrospect, had a lot to do with what was happening with her, and I think deep down, I knew that she wouldn’t be with us for much longer. That sent me into a very dark place, and even though I’d been in places like it before — even earlier that year — this was it. I couldn’t bear it anymore. And a few days before my mother passed away, the day before she was re-admitted to the hospital for the final time, I spent the evening in the hospital myself. There were too many pills, leading to charcoal, a night spent in a secure room, and a conversation with some psychiatrists who eventually deemed that I would probably be OK (but should totally get some help). When I was released from the ward, I ran into my mom and dad in the emergency room waiting area — she didn’t make eye contact with me, and didn’t say a word. A strange sort-of full circle moment.
That would be the last thing my mother would understand about me: I was unwell, unhappy, and at the point where I figured that taking my own life was the only option. For someone who was dying herself, I can’t even imagine how that might have felt.
I’ve written about what the last few months have looked like on here before. I’m in a place I don’t recall ever being in before. Weight loss, leading to a new outlook on life, and leading to a sense of calm and happiness that I didn’t even think was possible. Someone pointed out to me a few weeks ago that my mom would have been so proud to see how far I’ve come. I’ve still got a ways to go to get to the point where I can flat-out say “HEY, I’M HAPPY!”, but I can almost see it, and I know it’s within reach. And when that feeling clicks in, she won’t be here to see it. That is difficult, and something I’m struggling to reconcile within myself.
My mother had a very dry sense of humour, and was not afraid to joke about dying. She never got the fuss about it all. For her visitation, I put together a mix CD to play, filled with songs that anyone who didn’t know her very well would probably find really strange and maybe kinda horrible and inappropriate. But people who knew her would totally get why I put “Enjoy Yourself” by The Specials on there. And one of her favourite songs fit the whole situation perfectly — it was SO her, and putting it on the CD was a no-brainer.
When I first saw the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy that featured some of the awesome music that would be part of the soundtrack, and “Spirit in the Sky” blasted over the theatre speakers, I smiled and it made my heart leap a bit — which happens often, even still, when I hear it. And when I saw the movie (and every time I’ve seen it since — which has been quite a few times, if I’m being honest; I love you Chris Pratt), I thought about how much she would have loved it. And she would have loved it — and probably would have seen it with me more than once.
I’m not really sure how to end this, likely because it’s not something that will ever be over for me. But scroll up and watch the video link I posted. Every time the song would come on the radio, my mom would shimmy. I recommend doing the same. It feels good.