Learning from My Mother’s Death

People often commented on how strong I am to have gone through so much. But I became strong because I often had to be, not because I wanted to be.

I pushed through the pain. I sucked it up, dried my tears and kept it moving. I’ve always done that. It’s the 1st survival technique I learned as a kid .

Mom had just come home from a month long stay at the hospital after being rushed in. In my 8 year old mind at the time, I was just glad that she was somewhere where I could see, hear and touch her again. She was home now and everything was normal…for a month. 

“Sam, Sam,” cries one of my brothers violently shaking me out of my after school nap, “Come upstairs, something’s wrong with Mom!”

Half asleep, I follow him as fast as my little legs could carry me. Last night, she was moving. Last night, she was talking. Last night, she was breathing. Today, she was still, lifeless on the bed I shared with her the night before. 

“Amy!” “Mom!” “Mommy!” sings a chorus of our voices. Shaking her body, moving her legs, splashing water on her face were all futile attempts to wake her up. An air of permanent silence radiated from her body in a language only death understood. She’s cold now. She’s paler now. I don’t know what woman lies on this bed, but it was no longer my mother.

What happened after that was a blur. My dad had to have directed us to leave the room because before I knew it, my brothers and I were sitting on the couch downstairs…waiting. Waiting for the ambulance. Waiting for help. Waiting for change. Waiting for someone to come and save her. 

When the ambulance arrives, the medics run upstairs. After a few minutes, they walk back down. 

“I’m sorry sir. There’s nothing else we could do,” laments a paramedic as they exit. 

I run over and wrap my arms around his waist: “Daddy, where’s Mommy? Is she coming back?” 

“No, Sam” tears falling onto my head as he holds me close, quick intakes of air between those words out of a heart that is breaking and breathing simultaneously “she’s gone. She’s not coming back.”

They escort what was left of her out of our home on a stretcher covered in a white sheet. I didn’t feel 8 years old anymore after that.

She had a preexisting condition known as a “heart murmur” and died of congestive heart failure at 37 years old. When she was hastily hospitalized for a month, the physicians wanted to operate on her while she was there, but she refused. 

She didn’t tell any of us that.

I wouldn’t find out that information until well into my 20s. By that time, I had already reasoned for 2 decades that her death was somehow my fault. 

It’s taking me some time to forgive her. I saw my dad self destruct silently as alcohol became his accompaniment to sleep over the years. My brothers and I coped in the best way we knew how.

For 2 decades, I held her death in personal guilt and inadvertently lived most of my life as an apology for it. My family realized life sucks, and the world doesn’t stop its rotation over broken hearts. So…we dried our own tears and rubbed dirt on our wounds. We picked up the remnants of our lives and reluctantly moved forward in this new normal. 

I didn’t get to say goodbye, because I didn’t expect to say it so soon so suddenly. Now, I’m prepared to tell anybody goodbye. Have you ever felt this way? May be the person didn’t die but both of you moved in different directions, the relationship didn’t work, trauma happened, but you still feel the loss? Have you ever felt like you were the only one carrying sorrow or hurt or anger? May be you felt like you were the only one who cared? It takes time to grieve and it’s ok to give yourself as much time as you need to do so.

I’m 27 years old, and I am still healing from it. There is no timeline for grieving. I don’t think there is a time where you’ll feel completely “over it.” But hey, if you needed someone to say it, here you go:

“I’m here. Take as much time as you need. All of your feelings and hurts are valid.I don’t have the perfect answer or a cure for the pain and I know it hurts; I know it sucks; but I’m here…even if you don’t need me.” 

If I didn’t love her or didn’t felt loved by her there would be no pain. In the end, though I don’t agree with the secrecy, I give her the benefit of the doubt that she may have thought it was for the best for all of us to not tell us. And in that, I respect her decision, no matter how much it hurt.

It’s ok to let go of what I wanted. It’s ok that life has not turned out to be my ideal. It’s ok that I don’t feel ok. It’s ok to pray that too. To be raw and open and honest with my God and beliefs, that I absolutely hate what I’m going through right now. The pain I feel, the memories I have, the hurt done to me. I don’t cover it up. It is what it is.

There are milestones in my life that now echo her absence. She wasn’t there when I got my first period. She wasn’t there when I was bullied in middle school. I couldn’t ask her (or cry to her) about guys. She didn’t get to see me graduate with my college degree debt free as a first generation college student. Dreams, hopes, and goals that I would have loved her physical presence can now only be imaginative or figurative. Sure, I’m grateful there were those that stepped in place for her, but it never compared. The fact is she’s not there in the way I want her to be. And she’s not going to be, but that doesn’t mean I died because she died. No, now I can live for the both of us.

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