My mother died six months and two days ago. She’s been on my mind a lot, obviously, because round numbers are the sort of thing that stick out.
Whenever the 9th rolls around, I find myself thinking back to those awful days in the hospital. Watching her breathe through the respirator, the colonoscopy bag, her swollen limbs blistering and changing color as I listened to the awful suck-in/suck-out of the machines that were keeping her alive. Almost fainting when I spoke to the first doctor, when I realized that I would not be going home in a day or two, because she was sicker than anyone I’d ever known before. Feeling the responsibility settle in because I was the only one around to make decisions.
The room had a smell to it, half Lysol and half sweetness from her illness, the kind of smell that lingers in your nostrils long after you’ve left the room. I remember staring at the toilet in the room when I first got there and sat on the chair waiting for the nurse. “Your awesome daughter is here,” I wrote on the white board in a red Dry Erase marker, “and I love you.”
Not that I spent a lot of time in the room, because seeing her bloated form was very difficult. She didn’t look at all like my mom, who was a vivacious and often frustratingly silly woman. My mom was petite and curvy. The sick body on the bed was all of the opposite. Her body in the coffin looked nothing like her at all, because her body was so beat up by the illness. I never got to talk to her, never got to find out how she felt about what was happening to her. I didn’t hold her hand when she died, because I was scared to touch her, but I was there. I witnessed it, although I didn’t think that I could. I watched her turn blue, the thin lips that I’ve inherited changing color in a matter of seconds.
I really don’t know how I would have gotten through those days without the kindness of the people around me. Old family friends, her church, my “family” of friend in Virginia all flocked around me and provided support when I needed it. It was an awful time, but also an incredible time, and I have walked away knowing that I’m very loved, which is something that I’m not sure I really understood before she got sick.
I am such a different person now from who I was then – so much in my life has changed. I find myself longing for her, even though we were never as close as I wanted to be, and as time passes, her death just becomes more unreal. I know she’s dead, it’s deep in my consciousness, yet sometimes I nearly pick up my phone to call her. We had gotten into the habit of it in the months before she died, because I finally got over the grudge I had against her for never keeping my contact information. She was so organized in some ways and I had resented her for not loving me enough to keep my phone number around.
But as one gets older, the small hurts just go away – what matters is grabbing the people you care about and loving them unconditionally. No one is perfect, but one of the things that unites us all is that our time together is very short.