I’m not going to lie; this is hard to write. In fact, I almost didn’t write it. But…here goes.
Last fall was surreal. When my father passed away, my mother was there to look after him. I could deal with it in bits, watching from the sidelines while my mother shielded me from the brunt. Then she got sick. Cancer, of course. Isn’t it always cancer? That’s when I realized nobody would be there to protect me from it. I had a choice. I could hide, and pretend it wasn’t happening. But that really wasn’t an option, especially when she became too weak to look after herself properly.That’s when my sisters and I stepped in.
In September of 2015, we took turns spending nights at her house. In the beginning, she could still get around on her own. Although weak, she insisted on getting her hair “done” every Friday, something she’d done for the last….I don’t know….forever. It drove me insane. I tried to hide it from her, but I got agitated. Why couldn’t she just lie down and watch TV? It’s not that I minded driving her to get her hair done, it was just so goddamned stressful trying to get her from the wheelchair, out the backdoor, down one cement step, and into the car. I still don’t understand why she did it. Was she in denial? Maybe. Stubborn? Definitely. She had grit, I’ll give her that.
You know, my mother and I always had a tense relationship. I came along too late in her life, grew up in an era she didn’t understand. She always wanted to stick me in a mold that I just didn’t belong in. She loved a lot about me, but there were two things I know she hated: My tattoos and my rejection of religion.
When I found out she had cancer, I was scared and sad. Of course I loved my mother. Do I need to say that? I didn’t want to lose her but she was 85-years-old. We all knew the day would come – as it does. So…time for me to deal with it. What scared me was the intimacy of taking care of her. Here she was, my larger-than-life mother suddenly reduced to bones and dry lips. I hated having to empty her porta-potty. I hated having to get her dressed and undressed. I am not going to lie.
Eventually, I found my rhythm. I accepted that there were some things I just could not do. Leave that to the nurses. What I COULD do, was make her feel pretty. When she was healthy, she was a pale-pink-polish kind of woman. I’ve always been a gothic-black nail polish kind of gal. So, one day, I got out my dark purple polish. She was too weak to argue. I held each gnarled finger, gently painting her nails the deepest colour she’d ever worn. It was hysterical. I remember her looking at her hand with interest. She still had a little spark in her eye. When her 90-something year old “boyfriend” stopped by, she lifted her hand and said, “Look!” He laughed and told her they were “sexy”.
My mother had three daughters and it was obvious that she knew how much each of us could handle. She cried and carried on for my oldest sister. She never did that with me. With my other sister, she talked about the ghosts of friends whom she claimed visited her. With me, she insisted I mail all of her Publishers’ Clearinghouse envelopes because “you never know!” OBVIOUSLY she knew I couldn’t handle very much.
She was diagnosed in June, became too sick to stay home alone by September, and died on November 20th, 2015. I thought it would never end. To this day I sometimes have dreams that she is still alive and it bothers me because I don’t want her to have to go through that process of dying again. I used to have the same dream about my father. It stops after a while.
With the anniversary of her death so close, I thought I’d remember her the best way I know how…through writing. I won’t go to church. I will never visit the tombstone. I don’t have to. She’s always with me. Both parents are always with me.
The house I grew up in belongs to someone else now. I can’t roll my eyes and say, “Well, I guess I should visit mom,” on Saturdays anymore. What I can do is move forward. She knew I loved her. And I know how much she loved me. That’s all anybody can hope for, right?