After the doctor speaks to us and informs us of the bullshit that is now our lives and we see her. It’s a strange feeling to know that the person you know and love isn’t really there. Visually it’s her, those are her hands, I’m looking at her face, but what makes her her, her spirit and her soul, they have left. And I think that maybe they’ve been gone from the start of this, that they left her in the Bistro when she collapsed. I still haven’t decided how I feel about this; I haven’t tried to make sense of it since.
We wait for my grandparents to arrive before we make any final decisions. In our waiting we each spend time with her together and alone, knowing when each other needs support or space. Today is May 11th. I look at my Dad and say, “What day did Pa die?” With sad eyes he responds, “May 11th.” My Pa passed away 6 years ago to the day. To this day. The day that my mother would die. What are the chances of that?
We know that my mother would not want palliative care. She wouldn’t want to be hooked up to machines indefinitely. She would want us to let go. And so we let go. Surrounded by her husband and children, her parents and her family, we all let go together. I like to think my Pa took her, that he said to her, “How’s your mother?” It’s an inside joke we used to have. She would get it and laugh. There is a double rainbow in the sky today, and I like to think it’s from the both of them.
I am with her long after she is gone. I hold her hand and put my head on her shoulder like I have done so many other times throughout my life. How many times have I done just this and cry? A thousand maybe? And she would comfort me and tell me it was all going to be ok. She would wait a little while and then she would say, “Alright, time to pull ourselves together.” But there is no comfort. She doesn’t hold my hand back, she doesn’t stroke my hair, she doesn’t say anything. Because she’s not here anymore. And I wait and wait for it to come, for this to be a dream that I wake up from, but it doesn’t. So I sit and cry and don’t know how to stop. I keep waiting for the sheer exhaustion of it to wear me out and to stop simply because I don’t have the energy to cry anymore, but that doesn’t come either. I, like my mother, hate crying, especially in front of people. I have lost the energy to care about crying alone or not. It is a long time before I can pull it together.
My brother and his family live around the block from my husband and I, and our children are more like siblings than they are like cousins. They are together almost all of the time. They fight and play and wrestle and make up like brothers and sisters would. We decide to tell our kids together. It’s literally my worst nightmare, to not be able to do anything to ease their pain, to not be able to fix it for any of them, breaks my heart.
In the days that followed we did a lot of things. We made funeral arrangements, wrote an obituary, went through pictures. If there is anything I’ve learned during this nightmare, it’s to take pictures. Take them often and a lot. Of everyone. On special occasions when everyone looks put together and on ordinary days when everyone looks like shit. When someone dies the pictures are what you have left, the memories you have captured in the frozen moments. We meet with the priest and choose the readings and the songs. Friends come to the house and it’s a nice distraction. It’s nice to be around people who love you, who loved my mom. We all get to pretend that we’re all just hanging out, that we’re still normal, that maybe this isn’t real. But friends go home to their own houses and reality creeps back in, despite everyone’s best efforts.
The wake is lovely. My mother looks like my mother, not the way she looked in the hospital. I remembered from my childhood that my aunt actually did my great aunt’s hair and makeup after she passed, and I asked her if she would do that again for my mother. For some reason I have been blessed with aunts who will literally do anything for me, and she agreed without hesitation. I can only imagine how difficult it had to have been for her to do this, but I wanted someone who knew my mother to do this, to make her look like her. Flowers keep getting delivered, even after the calling hours have started. People line the room and into the hallway. Friends and family, even those we have lost touch with, come to pay their respects to my mother. So badly I wish I could talk to her, to tell her about something someone said or what they wore, to gossip like mothers and daughters do. It is an exhausting day, during which I find myself often comforting other people. It’s amazing to see how many people loved her, who valued her friendship and are affected by her absence. When I was a little girl, my mother always told me I should be an actress, mostly because I was a very dramatic child. Today I am the best actress. I am good at this part, at keeping it together around other people, at being polite and gracious. And I mean the words I say, but I don’t want to be saying them. And I don’t want to be doing this. I want to crawl into a hole and never come out. I want to sleep for a thousand years. I want to exist in a place where my mother is alive and I can hear her voice. I have been ready to have this child since I was 6 months pregnant, and I feel like I have been pregnant for forever, but I would actually be pregnant for the rest of my life if it meant she could come back. But despite my willingness to barter with God, life doesn’t seem to work this way. It occurs to me how ironic my situation is. I’m bringing new life into the world, the same world my mother is no longer a part of. I wonder if there was some trade that happened, my mother’s life for my unborn child’s, but I know this isn’t the way life works either. I’m searching for a “why” everywhere, but can’t seem to find one. Maybe life doesn’t give you why’s.
Her funeral mass is sobering, making all of this more real. We have asked a family friend to play the bagpipes during the processions. She loved bagpipes. The same person played them at my brother’s wedding, mostly because she wanted them. My aunts did the first and second readings during mass. I know how difficult it was for them to do this, and again, am thankful. I decided a day earlier to write a eulogy. It was kind of a game time decision. I wasn’t sure I could get through it, but I just felt like I owed her this. How many other times had she felt she couldn’t get through something, but did, for me? It was short and to the point, much like my mother, and I think she would have liked it. I hope she liked it. I got through it with shaky hands but no tears. Because I am the best actress, and maybe I can pretend to be strong like she was. We have a beautiful luncheon after mass and an “after party” of sorts at the Bistro where we toast to my mother, with wine of course. But the day and the commotion end, and my husband and I go home with our daughter, all thankful to be home and with each other. But here I am not strong, here I am not an actress. Here I come unraveled and again cry until the exhaustion covers me like a blanket, and I drift off to a dreamless sleep, only to begin the next day the same way – unraveled and exhausted.