One year ago right now I was home. I was getting ready for bed knowing that I might wake up in a world where my mother wasn’t alive. A part of me was hoping it would happen in the night so I wouldn’t have to sit in hospice watching her in a state I knew she’d have hated. If it had felt like my choice I never would have spent even a moment in that hospice room. I was told that I would regret not spending the final days with her, and that she might need me there.
That was bullshit.
The person I saw when I first got there was someone in so much pain that she couldn’t even recognize me. I left the room and sat in the hallway just outside the door. From inside her room I could hear her constant moaning and the nurse trying to reassure her that the medication would kick in soon. I wanted to run away. I was there because someone else had told me it was shameful that I didn’t want to be. I felt guilty and angry and horrified. Mostly I felt helpless. My grandmother arrived shortly after and I warned her not to go into the room just yet, trying to spare her the scene I will have forever burned in my memory.
My mother was in that room for only a few days. My aunt and sister rushed home and we all spent hours sitting around her bed. The days were endless so we would quietly chat or work on addressing Ricca and Shane’s save-the-date cards. We played Mahler, my mothers favorite composer, bouncing from symphony to symphony to convince ourselves she had something pleasurable. She slept; she had been asleep since the nurse had calmed her writhing that first day and they kept her comfortable until the end.
My aunt and step-father were dutiful. They were there first thing in the morning and I think even late into the night. I’m actually not sure how long they were there because I stayed 4 or 5 hours and could not take any more. I couldn’t be the one who put lip balm on her to keep her mouth from drying. I couldn’t talk to her like she could hear me or sit there for hours hoping that it was helpful in some way. That woman wasn’t her anymore and I resented all of it. I am grateful that my aunt and step-father could be there. Maybe having them there did comfort her, but I know my mother well enough to hear the advice she would have given me. It took me until after she died to push out all the other voices, all telling me what I should do regarding my own mother’s death; then there was just my voice and hers saying, “Go live your life.”
Of course the thing I’ve learned is that her voice and mine are one in the same now. I think like her, talk like her, make decisions based on what I know she would do and I live my life with her spirit and gumption. I’m angry that I allowed other people to sway me to choose something that wasn’t right for me. I wish I could erase the person I saw in that hospice bed or the hours I spent frozen in horror at the whole scene.
Tomorrow I will wake up and it will be just like a year ago; still living in a world where she is gone. I will have done that 365 times and somehow the repetition hasn’t healed the wound yet. I will get up and go live my life and strive to remember her as alive, glowing and vibrant. That is what she would want, and now more importantly I realize that it is what I want, and that is what really matters.