Howl at the moon…..

Recently, right before bed time, my 8 year old asked me if it was hard when your parents die. I lost my mom and dad to cancer around 12 months of each other and my dad lived with us while he was dying. Hence the question. I fumbled around with some words before she threw her arms around my neck and wailed “I don’t want you to die!” I just held her while she cried because the words that I would have pulled out of my mommy bag two years ago no longer fit. I started to tell her that I wasn’t going to die, but she is a smart girl. I started to tell her that I was not going to die for a long time but can I guarantee that? Instead I just told her how much I love her, held her tight and hoped that she thought the tears that she felt on her cheek were all hers.

Is it hard when your parents die? That brought up so many other thoughts that I can’t share with my sweet 8 year old but perhaps I can put down in writing. Mom died first. The weekend before she died, my baby brother, the one she called cowboy, because he had a habit of toddling around the house in cowboy boots and a diaper, got married. By that time she was not lucid, so attending the wedding was not an option. The wedding was breathtaking, and also just a few miles away from the hospital where she was dying. My brother, sister and I took turns celebrating this beautiful union and finding a corner where we could privately fall apart. New beginnings and death will bring you to your knees.

Mom died in a hospice house. She was only there for a few days. Cowboy came home early from his honeymoon. When we realized that mom had breathed her last breath there was this sound that I can only identify as a wail….it was short and collective…. children wailing for their mother. I will never forget that sound or doubt the force of a mother. Don’t confuse the relationship with the impact.

The staff at the hospice house gave us as much time as we needed to say goodbye to mom. My tender hearted brother stayed the longest. I wouldn’t leave until he did and as I watched him stand in the the parking lot as the funeral home drove away with mom, my heart broke. I wondered if we would be like a balloon with no one holding on to the string. Could we just float away now? Is that what happens when a mom dies? Does the foundation give? Is the anchor gone?

The next day was Thanksgiving and we courageously attempted it. We gathered at my oldest brother’s house and I can only describe us as the walking wounded. My dad, who had lost his wife of 44 years three months earlier (my beautiful step-mother), joined us and we just tried to get through the day. I wore the same clothes that I had worn in the hospice house with mom. I refused to wear anything else. I was afraid if I wore something different I would send a message that she didn’t matter anymore. I would like to say that I washed them but hey….no promises. I would also like to say that was the only strange thing I did during that time period but I also wanted to talk to the manager at Walmart one night because they were selling a candle named Happy Home and I wanted a guarantee, because we were heading into Christmas and it was looking bleak. Fortunately my dear husband found me wearing my week old black leggings and green sweater and gently led me out the door.

The following April we found out my dad had cancer. Fast forward to Thanksgiving……dad has moved in with us. Hospice comes and goes. Scott and I adjust our work schedules as much as possible. We hire someone to be with him because life has to go on even though death is more persistent. Family comes in every weekend to spend time with Dad. Scott cooks huge Mexican meals and the irony is not lost that my white husband cooks better Mexican food than any of us in the younger generation. Que Lastima. I am working like crazy so I can be home with Dad and the kids during Christmas break. He died a week before Christmas. For whatever reason this time it was more gentle on the heart. Maybe because we had a few months to prepare and with mom it happened so fast. Maybe because dad was ready. Maybe because relationships with dads tend to be less complicated. Probably because I was still numb from mom.

So mom died the day before Thanksgiving and dad died a week before Christmas. What is it with death and holidays? As if holidays alone aren’t enough to send you over the edge? The day after dad died was the last day of school before holiday break and for some ridiculous reason I went to the little one’s parties. Except for the tube socks and Birkenstocks that I wore I did pretty well. I also wore a lamp shade on my head for our family talent show a week later on New Year’s Eve…….but I won so I don’t know if that should be a concern.

So my dear sweet child…..does it hurt when your parents die? Yes it hurts. Some days it is a gentle hurt and other days it rips your heart out. There are a lot of different hurts that you will face in your life but you are made of good stock and you will get through it. Howl at the moon, cry your eyes out, wear a lampshade on your head. Do what you need to do to get through it…..but you will get through it. I promise.

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