I apologize for being silent for so long. I had to take a break in order to find the words I needed to express loss, grief, and how to come to terms with falling short in a relationship when there is no second chance.
If I could see my Mom one more time I would tell her there is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss her. I see her influences in my life everywhere. There is the book series she lent to me because it was so charming and funny. Lately I haven’t had the heart to pick up the current volume. There is the pair of small beaded tassels we found during a shopping trip: I had finally figured out how to fashion a necklace for myself and planned to do the same with the other one to give her for her birthday. A sort of “BFF” matching set for Mature Girls. The charm bracelet with the little picture frames that I had planned to put the kid’s pictures in….because she liked that kind of thing. A bookmark she had given me and I found yesterday in my work tote. I have no idea how it got there.
In the days after her death, reminders of her were startling: I had both she and my step-dad programmed together in my phone as “Mom”. Each time he called me and “Mom” popped up on my phone, my heart would skip a beat….then sink. The day we made the arrangements for her funeral I was running late, so I called to let Robert know. It went directly to voice mail, where I was greeted by the sound of her voice. I was a crying, miserable wreck by the time I got to the funeral home.
Mom was a long-term Lupus sufferer. She was sick with it before they had a name for the invisible illness. Her life was dictated by her symptoms, and they cycled between respiratory issues, osteo-arthritis, seizures, migraines and an on-again-off-again relationship with leukemia. Her doctor kept careful watch over her white cell count, and in the last two months it had started creeping up. She had even battled cervical cancer in her 20’s. So when Robert called me on the morning of August 21, less than two weeks ago, and told me she was being hospitalized with pneumonia, I was worried, yet confident that the right cocktail of antibiotics would have her feeling better in no time. We were set to leave for vacation on August 23, so I planned to go see her on Friday and be reassured that she would be in good hands while we were on our trip.
Her time in the hospital became complicated when her blood pressure began dropping. Suddenly, pneumonia was the least of her problems, and she was transported to another hospital for emergency heart bypass surgery. When a heart catheterization revealed a hole on her heart, she began coding. And that was it: the person who had given me life was no longer here. I could not comprehend it, even as we sat beside her, spending those last precious hours before the funeral home took her away.
I feel that the first stage of grief is a protectant: It allows you to attend to the many details of saying goodbye, with less likelihood of falling apart. You do everything on auto-pilot. However, once those adrenaline-fueled days of planning, calling, crying, writing thank you notes, and ordering the monument are over, the thinking begins. I started torturing myself with snippets of memories that might give clues to her health.
The doctors determined that she had had a heart attack about a month to six weeks before she died. She had no chest or back pains. Just a little nausea, nothing more noticeable than a typical stomach bug. This caused damage to over half her heart. During the next few weeks the muscle deteriorated to the point of forming the hole.
So essentially, while we were all in the business of living, she was dying. I think of the last time we saw her…at my youngest son’s graduation in May. We were going to see her again in July, before he left for the Navy. We had planned a visit for the last Sunday before he was to ship out. However, he was called up to leave 4 days early, and the visit never took place.
In addition, recently my role as a caregiver has given me much guilt. My focus for the last 3 years has been caring for my husband, to the exclusion of spending more time with other family members. And because Mom and Robert worked in a nursing home, sometimes our visits had to be postponed because they had been exposed to some illness and were either a carrier, or were sick themselves. At the time, we laughed at their “Occupational Hazard”. Now I cry, as I long for all the missed opportunities.
So now I am left to deal with the fact that there will not be a chance to make things better. In my search for peace in a situation that will not be resolved in this lifetime, one day I had an epiphany. It is simple: If we treat EVERY interaction with those we love as if it WILL be our last, we might say all the meaningful things, spend more time, be more in the moment. Then, when we look back and evaluate the actual “last visit” of a loved one, we have no regrets.