If you are an 80’s baby like myself, or maybe even a 90’s kid, you should remember the game “Mother May I?” This game basically had a captain or “mother” and a group of people asking if they could move closer until they reach “mother” and tag her. I can remember it being a fun game of exciting highs and lows. Trying to be the first to tap “mother” even if only by a nail to win the game. Well, lately I’ve been playing an endless round of “Mother May I” in real life. My mom has been ill since before I came to be. My initial memory of learning about her illness, is her being sick (my brother and I lived between two homes after our parents were divorced). One day going to visit upon sticking the key into the door I’d find I couldn’t enter, I’d later discover her latch prohibited me. I’d later be informed she was ill and didn’t want my brother and I to see her current condition. Her body swelled so much she was almost unrecognizable. When she didn’t take her medication properly things proved very dangerous and even deadly. For months and what really felt like the better part of a year, her apartment door prohibited my seeing her and provided a resting place while trading a few words when a phone call just wouldn’t do.
Much later my mother would come home from a lengthy hospital stay only a mere shell of herself, weighing what then seemed to my adolescent eyesight a whopping 50 pounds soaking wet. As she got better and gained her weight back I didn’t know that first episode wouldn’t be her last and my life as her daughter would include some 40 plus trips to the hospital for medication, lengthy doctors’ appointments, and more than a few hospital stays. Each trip being different than the last, and supposedly for various reasons. Everything was always on my mother’s terms and her terms only, and though internally I questioned that as did others, this would continue even as I type this post.
My mother has congestive heart failure and has been dealing with the complications of this illness since she was an adolescent. As a child the late diagnosis of Rheumatic Fever caused her to develop a weak heart and leaky heart valve that over time without proper diet, exercise, and medicine became worse. Ultimately the desired goal of her medical team is for her to have heart valve replacement surgery but she not only detests being cut on (which I understand as there are associated risks), my mom is also a large faith-based person and shares my belief in Christ. The surgery used to require the use of a pig valve and the need to have updated surgeries every 7 years, currently the surgery process has been scaled down and the incision site is very small.
My mom wholeheartedly believes the Lord will heal her and has been confessing for years her healing would be miraculous without a surgical procedure. I’m all for Jesus doing miraculous things as we in the faith understand that every time God shows His glory in the earth more come to know Christ, others continue to exercise faith for their own situations, and it shows the believers that His word and prayer coupled with faith changes things. However, when you are a Christian that trusts and rely on God and His word and has more faith than the required mustard seed, I cannot for the life of me understand why you wouldn’t even pray about your decision to have life-saving surgery that would improve your quality of life. My mother has been hospitalized over the years for her illness at least 5 times. For either not taking her medicine, not taking it correctly, overindulging in various dietary restrictions, and other similar things.
Currently, my mother has been in the hospital five and a half weeks. She went in due to not being able to walk and the usual swelling in her abdomen. The leaky valve has become two in the last year. This time around she didn’t take her heart medication for three full weeks because she also takes Tylenol and Ibuprofen and didn’t want to mix the two. The pain has yet to be diagnosed due to my mother not wanting to discuss it when she comes to the hospital but I have reason to believe it’s a form of arthritis. My mom has been home bound for the better part of 3 years, and has only come outside for my brother’s graduation, doctor’s appointments and once to go downtown with me (which was definitely a highlight). She doesn’t attend church, family functions, take her beloved walks along the lake, and not even to get her famous Starbucks Sumatra coffee or even check the mail. I am now unofficially her caretaker and have been for the last 4 to 5 years but really all throughout my life since around the age of 19 when necessary.
I shop, clean, run errands, check the mail, take out the trash, and everything in-between that she allows or needs. The only thing that she’s not allowed me to do is help to wash her hair or clothing. My mother is really only a shell of her former self and merely admitting that fact is so difficult for me. I’ve always felt as if I parented my mom, racing home from college late nights to pick up medication and groceries. Doing what I could to help and just show overall care and concern…
Update: My mother passed 8-19-16 at 8:30am, I was present for her transition and spent the night prior, I never thought I’d be the one to say that my mom passed but unfortunately I am, I never got to finish the above post (I was working on it here and there for the better half of two months). To bring this post to a close below I’ll share my random thoughts from days after her passing. This is one of the most difficult things I’ve EVER experienced.
I would’ve never believed 10 years ago I’d wear the outfit my mother wore to my wedding to her funeral. Such an odd contrast of events, definitely one seemingly experienced too soon. I wouldn’t wish the death of a parent on my worst enemy, for the pain of this loss is so great. As I rewind time in my mind I can see how the events over the last 10 years have shaped themselves to this moment. I always hated to be so reflective and analytical because at times it devoids opportunities to excuse myself from operating wisely. I see how God allowed me the opportunity to get to know my mother as I got older, being raised by my dad most of my motherly interactions were during visits, summer stays, and phone calls after their divorce. I’ve gotten to know my mom as a woman, a friend, and an individual. She was such a sacrificial soul, always encouraging others before herself. She’d make you feel like nothing was impossible, yet when asked what she’d like to accomplish it always included her family and nothing really for herself as she often told me her life and desire was just to be whole and be able to do things for her family. Bright, vibrant, and full of life, I can imagine her dancing with my students had she ever met them. She certainly loved dancing. She taught me, and even my daughter the art of rhythm. I have video of my daughter dancing as my mom excited in the background would watch and encourage. Ironically my aunt encouraged my daughter to dance for my mother the day before she’d go be with the Lord. Though it wasn’t recorded, it’s a dance either of us will ever forget. Though my mother was weak, she was cognizant of her surroundings and family and was able to listen and watch as my daughter pranced around and my aunt had a worship experience unlike any other I’ve seen.
My mother with my daughter during a hospital visit
My mother wasn’t without her flaws, (as we all are) some I longed to just hear her admit to or apologize for, it’s funny how none of that matters now. When the night falls, the house is quiet, and I’m awake with my thoughts I try to pray. Instead I’m often alone with my memories and the tears just roll down my face. I journal, talk to aloud to her (and feel silly), pray, and after each of those events I cry. My husband (whom my mother loved dearly) wakes up and comforts me until I am able to go back to sleep. This is my nightly routine. I ask myself if this will be my life from now on? I ponder on when it’s my time to return to the ashes how my daughter will be comforted? I almost grieve for her future loss when no words, hugs, or gestures soothe the ache in her soul as my own. Some days I have a literal ache in my heart. I wonder if my mom’s heart sickness caused her physical pain as the pain of her loss does for me? Seemingly, a portion of my heart died with my mother the day she passed, I can almost feel the missing spot. So many close calls to losing my mom, as I often fussed at her to do better, begged her to choose wiser, and listened to the doctors speak of their opinions and after each time things would settle and my mother would return to her life at home. Her faith so strong that God himself would heal her and she could not be persuaded any other way. I ask myself do I have that kind of faith? Someone speaking at her memorial called it intentional faith, I thought I had this faith especially coupled with the things I know God will do, has done, and can do. Unfortunately, my mom won’t see the other side of 63. I am left to cherish many memories and seemingly not enough.
So many lessons she’s taught myself and my brother, she made us become best friends without us realizing. The constant instructions on how to carry myself as a young woman and later a wife and a mother. In my later years my mother was a part of every aspect of my life that she could be until she just couldn’t. She’s been to my 4 graduations, helped me with finding first apartment after college, my first heartbreak, my engagement, my wedding, and through the birth of my child and beyond. She actually remained in the hospital for a week with my daughter and I after I gave birth and we both had bad fevers. She slept on the tiny pullout couch in my hospital room until I was released and would later help me daily for the first 2 months of my daughter’s life. I had the pleasure of living with her (twice in between difficult times), I now realize what a blessing it was for her to sacrifice the way she did and allow my stay in her tiny apartment and how during that time I was given the opportunity to know her differently and almost make up for lost time. I made it very clear I disliked having to move back with her, she overwhelmed me with support, kindness, understanding, laughter, and various talks on life, love, and even regrets.
I come to realize I am all the best parts of my mother (hopefully) and I have even begun to look more like her here and there. Multiple questions will go unanswered. Did she know how much I loved her? Did she forgive me when I had to make tough decisions trying only to help her? Did she hear all the things I said during the last night I spent with her? I would later learn I spent her last night on this earth with her. Another interesting contrast of events considering I’m her first born child. I fell asleep of exhaustion after trying all I could to keep alert, I thought I heard her calling my name as I slept. I awoke to find her position in the bed changed and facing me. Knowing my mom she probably prayed for me even then. Was she thinking about how it may be for her children in this life without her? She was always so concerned about us, sometimes it seemed overtly concerned. “Nish, it’s too dark to be going out now why’d you wait so long to leave? Call me when you get in!” “Ryan! When are you going to remember to do what I’ve asked you? You said you’d call me, why won’t you just come stay with me? It would be easier?” Where was her mind towards the end? Was it fixed on the glory that awaited her?
The day she passed the sky was a gorgeous blue, the clouds looked like pillows and the brightest white and all so still. My husband noticed in the days prior her looking up at the sky, I’d often whisper asking her if she’d heard from the Lord yet gauging if she’d made peace with leaving or was still fighting to stick around. I held her hand most of her last morning, I’d sing, tell her I loved her, pray, and constantly let her know I was still by her side. I’d remind her that others were coming to see her and as it became more apparent she’d make her transition from this life I’d beg her to hold on to see others in route to her, namely my brother.
I’d say mom hold on Ryan is coming, do you hear me? She’d become really alert noticing the name and nod her head confirming she’d understood and heard me. I’d go on to do this often and name others too, her eyes only widening every time for the sound of her son’s name. Trying to be strong I fought my tears but alike every day since I had to make the hard decision of placing her in rehab only a week prior, my tears won the battle. The change of events from rehab to this moment came so sudden. Only 8 short days ago she was buzzing on the 10th floor for almost 6 weeks, being the tough cookie she was known to be. Now on the 9th floor in the ICU we’d come to this? I’ve scanned my thoughts looking for answers and signs even that pointed to my mother being in her last days. It’s been 32 days today since she passed, 23 days after her memorial, and her body has probably been cremated by now, I STILL sit in such disbelief that she’s gone.
I look for her call, feel as though she’s just still in the hospital, I’ve gone to her house to feel her presence. I was thankful it was still intact though we cleaned out her home by the time I finished this post, being there was very comforting for me. One of the night’s I laid in her bed, my head resting certainly in the spot she had so many times before. Was this the spot that collected her tears? Did she rock herself to sleep at night when she was alone with her thoughts? Did she rehash regrets? My mother was often riddled with pain in her joints. I replaced Ibuprofen and Tylenol like prescription meds. She used her fingertips to do most things as what would later be diagnosed as extreme gout overtook her joints and made so many things painful. I don’t know how she was able to do all she’s done in the last two years with all her ailments. She’d only come outside her home 6 to 7 times in the last 2 years. Three of those times to go to the hospital or doctor’s appointments. I remember my husband carrying her up the stairs one day as she was in such pain. Still so full of pride my mom denied my husband to help her but with each painful attempt to walk grieving the loss of life as she’d known it, we saw it would just be easier if he’d carry her and so he did. One of those last 7 times she got outside of the house, I actually got her to hang out with me. We went to H&M among a few other places. She walked so slowly but we enjoyed ourselves immensely. I’ll never forget that time, it was one of the best days of my life! I’d long awaited her to come out of her house and getting the opportunity to spend a whole day with her was the absolute best.
All these memories and more flash through my mind now as I recall watching the flashing and beeping lights at her bedside. They indicated her life was between horizons. 90, 70, 58…129,120,119…90…her heart rate jumped up and down sporadically. I held her hand and begged her to hold on, I called various people and no answer. I felt alone and afraid in that moment. What made me think I could do this alone, I didn’t have the strength I needed to call on Jesus like I knew to. Finally, receiving a return call from my aunt she yelled for me to pray and ask my mother to fight to stay. She and a family friend would be the only ones to make it to the hospital just in time. My brother was 2 hours away on the bus to Chicago, my husband and daughter only minutes away exiting the expressway, and her mother in route. My mother departed this life as I held her hand at 8:30am 7/19/16. Departed with her a piece of myself, my brother, her dreams, and our prayers. You couldn’t tell me God wasn’t going to raise her up, certainly she’d experience a Lazarus moment! I waited for her eyes to open, the color to return to her cheeks, and her to arise and walk and astound the doctors. This never happened and with everything I had in me I tried not to question the God I’ve come to know and trust that had never failed me. “Why did you allow this Lord?” With everything in me I tried to keep from asking that question but it was too difficult for my human mind to comprehend. Knowing my mother had made peace with earlier decisions against medical interventions regardless of everyone’s advice, forewarning, and pleads. It didn’t matter, her faith and trust was solely on God to heal her body, and He did…just not on this side of heaven.
Mom at 1 years old
Oh mommy how I miss your laughter, your smile, isms, and gestures. Sorting through your pictures I found your baby picture, you were so tiny; learning to walk at only six months. All the things you’ve disclosed to me I feel so upset I couldn’t advocate in your defense earlier in this life. Even as a child you endured certain cruelties. Abuse and fatherlessness, yet and still you survived and went on to live as full a life you could. Finally searching your heart for forgiveness as you examined your past for answers. You too went to rest with unasked questions and a comprehension of events only to a point. You’re now reunited with the father you never knew, your nephew also gone too soon, and hopefully a host of your favorite family members that have gone on. We are left to pick up the pieces of your life via your things and see where they take us. Forgive me, as I told you it’s ok to go if you feel it’s time, I wanted and want so selfishly you here with me, with us.
Mom at my brother’s graduation
My heart aches for my brother who had the pleasure of your company at his graduation but won’t have you for any of his other major firsts. His wedding no mommy, his children no grandmother, his wife no mother-in-law. Why Lord?! Why’d you call my mom home so soon? Why only mercy to endure her last 8 days? Why couldn’t we have another 20 years with her, and a healthy twenty at that? 15? I’d settle for another 15 minutes if only to see my mom again. I long to hear her voice and I’m saddened I’ll forget so many things that bond a child to their mother. Her laugh, her scent… I’ve been blessed to acquire many mother-like figures through the years, my mother was so blessed to know that her children were favored in that way and others as it was her constant prayer. However, there WILL NEVER be another mommy! I can recall sitting behind your back so you could rest on me, you told me you were fine yet your body welcomed the assistance and for once instead of struggling through your pride you gave in and went to sleep. That along with my lying in the bed next to you and weeping before I had to leave you the first night in the rehab facility are both recent memories etched in my brain. As I type I recount various moments of this last two-month journey of your life. I cannot even believe it really all happened as my memory suggests it did. I feel like I’ve watched a movie, I wished it were all a bad dream but these tears I cry are wet and the constant reminder that I am not dreaming and this is real. I feel like I can never move forward in this life without you and yet I know I must and then again some days I want to conquer every fear you had and crush every goal I’ve ever considered, even those unspoken ones. Munchkin sleeps with the teddy bear she gave you in the hospital every night and smells it because it smells just like you. Hubby has been strong for me daily but I’ve seen even the evidence of his tears as he misses you seemingly almost as much as the family does. Your son is doing so well now; he is determined to make you proud even if you are not here in body to witness it.
Mom and her sisters
Your sisters move forward and though I know they don’t share their teary moments with me and they often check-in to make sure we are ok they too grieve the loss of their beloved older sister. Your mother who now eerily looks a lot like you just older misses you too, I wonder what goes through her mind as these days’ pass. Lastly, the only major love of your life, the father of your children and once upon a time husband also grieves your loss as he recounts memories and probably unspoken desires to do things differently here and there.
We all feel as if you have gone too soon but we also understand God’s timing is impeccable. Unfortunately, that brings no comfort to my weary heart. I guess subconsciously I dreaded finishing this blog post, in some ways it’s like your passing seems so final yet I’ve failed to come to the conclusion. I will forever love and miss my mother. Some days I have no idea how I will go on without you but I just have to continue to try and trust God as best I can that though it appears He failed my prayers by taking you to be with Him (His perfect will) He will really never fail me and is here to comfort me even when that comfort feels so far away from me. I love you dearly and wish if nothing more only to know you can hear and see me as you look down from heaven made whole as you always prayed to be.
Until we see each other again…
I love you,Nish