Independence Day- of a Different Kind
Posted July 3, 2010on:
Today is July 3rd. The day before my country’s Independence Day and 4th of July holiday. Most of the people I know are preparing for or already having barbecues, parties, camping, etc. Pretty much having fun and good times. I used to do that too, but not anymore. This day and this holiday has been forever changed for me by an event just eight years ago. That was the day I was with my mom as she took her last breath.
Eight long years ago today I spent the day very differently. My mom had ovarian cancer. She found out earlier that year, and in February she had surgery to remove her ovaries and all her lady parts in the hopes of eliminating it…or so the doctors had hoped. My mom knew differently. She even told me differently. We knew then that they wouldn’t get it all, and we knew then that she wasn’t going to opt for any further treatments either.
After the surgery, when the doctors said that there were still remains of the illness and they wanted her to go through chemo, radiation, and all that crap, my mom said no. She said, “I’m done…I’m not going to fight it, I’m going to embrace this gift as an opportunity to move on with my life and onto the next phase of life and evolution.” She wanted to transition away from Earth. The doctors pressed, but she held firm. She told them, just sign my approval for hospice care so I can die in peace at home…without pain and without tubes and wires and doctors and nurses. Mom knew what this meant, after all she had been a hospice volunteer for the past five years previous to this. She had been through the transition with many families, and knew what lay ahead. She knew…but I wasn’t exactly sure.
Mom and I used to joke years earlier. She used to tell me what an independent woman I was and how she admired that, and that she loved my spontaneity and my strength. I laughed. She also knew of my queasiness when it came to being around old and sick people, and my perceived inability to take care of messy things…part of why I never had children. I don’t do diapers. So Mom and I joked, I would say, “Mom when you get old I’m going to put you in the Arbors (our local retirement home) and I’ll visit you a few times a week, but this way they will take care of you because you know I can’t.” We laughed at it and she said that it was totally fine with her and she didn’t mind that plan. But that was before she got cancer. Before she told me that if it was entirely up to her that she would die at home…in her bed…right nearby where her second husband passed several years earlier. He was the love of her life, and she never wanted anything or anyone else after that. Now here I was with my mom after surgery, knowing that she was going to die, and not really sure if I could do what needed to be done.
So here we are, the months go on, Mom and I live together with this ticking time bomb knowing that it’s all going to end at some point. Mom was great! While she still had strength she went through all the stuff in the house and tossed out what she didn’t want anyone to find (including old love letters that I think were from my Dad to her). She went through the old photos and, as well as she could remember, she put everyone’s names and dates on the backs of them. We went through them together. She showed me who was who, we walked down memory lane, and I learned a lot about her side of my family. That in itself was a great gift.
She made sure that instructions were clear on what she wanted for her final plans. We even went to the funeral home together to complete and pay for her final arrangements. That was a most bizarre to do. She made me promise to carry her wishes out. She let me know exactly how she wanted the estate divided between my brother and I right down the middle. Everything was so methodical, practical and businesslike…just like my mom had always been…practical. And I complied. I did all my mom asked of me. I promised to do all she wanted me to do in the future. I was, like I had always been, the good girl….the obedient daughter. Then she got worse.
She tired more and more easily. I started canceling some of my clients, slowed down on scheduling more appointments for my very active massage therapy and holistic health educational business. I stopped advertising and stopped planning classes to teach. I started spending more time with my mom at her place. Her house was the “big house” across the driveway from my “little house” where we lived together on an acre of land. Grandma had lived there too in the even smaller house behind mine while she was still alive. That had been a marvelous gift to have three generations of women on the same land. We all had so much fun together.
You see I never grew up with my mom. My parents divorced when I was six and my brother and I lived with our father then. It wasn’t until I had gotten married at 25 that my husband and I moved out to Arizona, where my mom lived, to start a new life together. Away from the hubbub of Brooklyn. It gave Mom and I a chance to reconnect and strengthen our bond of love and friendship. I can honestly say that my mom was my very best friend, and my very best teacher. There was very little that I couldn’t tell her. But now I was losing my best friend…my mom was dying.
As the illness progressed she got weaker and weaker. I spent more and more time with her. I never told her that I was letting my business slip away. I let her think that I was seeing clients while she napped. She didn’t need to worry about me now, and after all I now had a new full time job anyway. I was taking care of my mom and helping her prepare for her final journey. I smiled, I laughed, I kept her smiling. Inside I was crying. I didn’t want her to go. I didn’t want to lose my mom…not now not after all those years we were apart. Not when we were really having fun together. “Don’t go Mommy, please don’t leave me here!!” I never said those words to her. She never heard that from my lips.
Other people couldn’t understand her decision. How could she just “give up” like that? Why didn’t she go for further treatment? Why didn’t she fight? How could I “let her” do this?? How could I stand silently by and help her through each pain filled day and not try to change her mind? They didn’t understand. I understood my mom’s decision. It was HER decision to make, not mine, not theirs, not anyone’s…it was HERS!! While I didn’t agree with her and her decision, and I would have done it differently for myself, I stood by her and her right to make it. Even though it killed me inside to do so.
So here we are on the 3rd of July at the wee hours of the new morning. I had just checked on Mom and I knew it was very very close. I had a feeling that it would be that day. I made sure she was all clean and her medications were administered. I combed her hair. All as she lay there in bed…silent…no longer responsive…her eyes already closed. I kissed her cheek while I stroked her beautiful snow white hair, and I whispered in her ear, “I love you Mom. If you want to go fly with the angels tonight then it’s okay with me. I will be all right…Don’t you worry about a thing any more. I love you Mommy.” Then I put one of her favorite chant tapes, Om Namaya Shiva by Robert Gass, on endless repeat, and left the room.
I cleaned the last of the day’s dishes and tidied up the house. Then went to lay down in the next room with the baby monitor at my side. Hoping to get a couple hours of sleep before it was time for the next round of medications and clean up. At this point if I was sleeping for two hours at a time then it was a long sleep. I figured that this is what new mothers went through. The sleepless days and nights, the feedings, the diaper changing, the cleaning, and I laughed to myself…I used to say I don’t do diapers, but here I was changing the most sacred diapers of all. Caring for the woman that brought me into this world. Doing the best job that I possibly could in my sleep deprived state.
I looked at the clock as I lay down…it was 3:30am. I had to be up again about 5 or 5:30am for the next round. I set the alarm and closed my eyes listening as the soft music drifted into the room. I prayed to God for strength as was my way these last few days. I prayed that her transition would be peaceful, and I prayed that I would fall asleep easily for the next hour or so. Then I opened my eyes. I looked at the clock and it said 5:30am. I held my breath as I listened to the baby monitor. I thought I had heard something. A cough, maybe a gasp. I listened, and then I closed my eyes again and cried…Mom was gone.
I lay there and wept for a while and then got up and went into her room with a little bit of fear at what I would find. I held my breath and slowly walked to my mom’s bedside. It was true…she was gone. There was the most beautiful angel of a woman left there in her place with skin as soft and smooth as a young lady’s. No wrinkles, no lines, no stress, no pain…just peaceful beauty. I cried and then almost immediately wiped my tears knowing that she would want me to be happy, and to be strong. My mind began whirling….what now? The information had been given to me many times yet still it was a struggle to make my body respond.
The phone calls started…the people arrived…our dear family friend came first…then the hospice head nurse who was Mom’s dear friend…then the mortician (Mom had a secret crush on him) who also had taken care of her husband and Grandma. Then my beautiful angelic mother was taken away. As she was wheeled out of the room, I made them stop. I knew that this would be the last time I saw her ever again. I held her hand, kissed her cheek, and told her one more time how much I loved her…and then she was driven away.
It was now early morning of July 3rd and the people came. The phone calls continued…the people came…the rest was a blur….a sleepwalking dream that I barely remember. Then came the 4th…Independence Day. I sat on the back porch with a close friend and looked up at the sky. I could see fireworks going off, and could hear the neighborhood hooting and hollering while gun shots went off too. I looked again to the sky and there among the burst of fireworks saw the stars twinkling. Then one star caught my eye burning brightly as it shot across the heavens that night…and I knew…Mom was home…she too had her Independence Day.
Thanks for listening……Xxxses N Hugz!!