Confessional / Good Grief

Good Grief

Manga and Layla, 2005

Today I don’t want to grieve. I don’t want to cry, but the dam is breaking. Too strong for too many days and now the crash.
I can’t get her out of my head. The last day we spent together before the hospital. It seems so close that I could reach out and grab her and never let go. Our stupid minivan was having issues, as usual, and I borrowed my mom’s blue Accord to get around and to pick her up from chemo. She was on so many meds that she wasn’t supposed to drive. Her mouth was so dry that sometimes she couldn’t talk. Her bones were brittle and she couldn’t pick up my baby.
Chris brought Layla and Piper over to my mom’s after he picked them up from school that afternoon. We needed to take our van to the shop near my mom’s house. I was so frustrated because Sophie’s mom (I babysit for Sophie) was late picking her up from me and we needed to get the van to the shop before it closed. This is something that bothers me about babysitting. Parents show up when they want to and you are captive until they do. I was so frustrated, and it showed.
I sat with Simone on a green armchair by the window and watched, anxiously, for Shelley to come get her kid. I turned and looked at my mom who was sitting on the brown flowered couch. She was admiring the baby and me. She had a look on her face that I won’t forget. My doctor said maybe she knew. Why does that get me crying? Maybe she knew that the pain in her shoulder was taking her down. So I put myself in her place and wear her eyes like goggles and imagine watching me and Simone on the chair. I imagine being killed by cancer and leaving my family behind. I don’t know how she kept her spirits up as well as she did. And I want to slap myself in the mouth for being stressed out about my minivan that day.
I’m grateful that Layla and Piper stayed back with my mom while we took the van to the shop. My mom made them hot chocolate and they colored pictures. We always gave big hugs and kisses goodbye and said we loved each other. That was the last time Layla and Piper saw her.
After my mom had been in the hospital and out of consciousness for a few days, I knew we wouldn’t talk again. My emotions were suffocating me. It was surreal. I came home for lunch and my house was empty except for the dog. I grabbed fistfuls of my hair and screamed bloody fucking murder. I hollered at the injustice. I howled, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” And I bawled, Jesus did I bawl. I could have wailed on and on forever. If you could die from feeling desolate, I’d be ashes now.
When I offered to call my grandparents from the hospital and let them know how bad it really was, my dad was on the fence about whether it was necessary. He mouthed to me that the breathing tube, “Doesn’t mean she’s dying.” That night I had a mild panic attack. “Chris, is she really dying?? Am I being dramatic? She has a breathing tube now. She has air leaking into her body and they don’t know where from. It’s correct to think she’s dying?”
My dad didn’t wave the white flag until my mom’s trusted surgeon gave him permission to think it was real. My biggest fear was that my mom was in pain. When she had gotten her diagnosis Chris, my dad, and I sat in the hospital room with her, talking. Again, it was surreal. But her presence was soothing. She made me feel like I would get through it. She only said, “I just don’t want them to stop treating the pain.” Chris told her, “They won’t. They will make sure you are comfortable, Gwen.”
I was on a mission, then, the last few days of her life, to keep her out of pain. I watched her eyes, her chest, for any sign of discomfort. If she winced, I ran to the hallway to tell the nurse that she was in pain. The nurse said she may just be reacting to a noise, but I didn’t care. “Do you want me to give her more pain meds?” Yes, I wanted her to have more pain meds. I preferred she die of a drug overdose than anything more painful. The nurse resisted, she said she couldn’t give her more, which was the opposite of what the Palliative Care team told us—they’d promised us they could give my mom ten times the maximum allowable pain medicine if she needed it. They came and gave her more meds. I feel confident that she wasn’t in pain the night that she died. The monitors were off and it was quiet. The nurse stepped into the room to let us know she was gone and I howled like a wolf. I had been holding it in. I just let it out.
My daughters know that their Grandma died. That her body was burned to ashes. I told my girls that we won’t ever see Manga again. I let them know, though, that we couldn’t get rid of her if we tried. She is such a huge part of us. When we give each other hugs and kisses, we’re giving Manga hugs and kisses. She made us, and she was so deeply proud of us all. Love is a feeling and those feelings are always with us. I told my kids that I will die, too, though I don’t want to for a long time. I said they would survive if it happened, though it would hurt very badly. I told them that the thing a mom wants most for her children is for them to have happy lives, even if she can’t be there with them. My kids have dealt with her death so well—I’m glad I never lied to them to make it easier. When they ask a question, I give them a real answer. They’ve spent months watching me cry, crying with me a few times. I felt guilty that they saw me like this. But this is life, this is reality. I had to believe that I was teaching my kids love by grieving my mother. Reality, sometimes, is the hardest thing to accept. But when you accept it, it’s rewarding. The fear disappears because you’ve lived through the unimaginable and you know you’ll do it again if you must.

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Me, my mom, and my ruffle butt. Susan’s a bun in the oven, 1985.

10 thoughts on “Good Grief

  1. Oh. Thank you so much for being so true. The tearing up started for me at “Chris, is she really dying?? Am I being dramatic? She has a breathing tube now. She has air leaking into her body and they don’t know where from. It’s correct to think she’s dying?” It was the first time, I think, I had a horrific glimpse of what the reality will be like when/if I experience this with one of my parents.

    I wish there were something to say. I am sorry for your loss. Am grateful for your brave vulnerability, and your beautiful writing.

    • Thank you, Jessica! I never want to bog anyone down with my grief. It is unreal to me that you appreciate reading about my experience. Better than any therapy I could buy. I love you. Thank you for caring and for your thoughtful response!

  2. In our grief we sometimes get angry at ourselves for things out of our control because there is no one else to be angry with. Don’t slap yourself for being stressed about your life when your mom was sick. I didn’t see the look on her face, but I can imagine it. I know I look at my kids sometimes when they’re unaware of it and I’m thinking about how amazing it is that I gave these people life. That they are pieces of me and I wonder where their lives will take them. Or I think about how proud I am of them just for being themselves. Your mom was probably thinking along those lines, just watching her daughter living her life and thinking how amazing it was that she made you and you made her grandchildren and she had all these people living around her that she was responsible for creating. For women, I think its a pretty powerful feeling, that headiness of knowing that without you, these crazy wonderful people wouldn’t be alive. I think your mom enjoyed you just as you are and always will be. Even when you were stressed out and frustrated.

    • Thank you so much, Tamara. Sometimes it is difficult to extend the same kindness and understanding to myself that I would give to my loved ones when they are hurting. On Wednesday night, I was almost asleep, and the vision of my mom watching us sprung into my head and strangled me. It was anxiety. Talking it through helps me so much to understand it and accept the way things happened. Thank you for saying what you said. I know that you are correct. Even my stress must have reminded her of herself and of being a mom to young kids. She used to worry much more than me. My sister and I nicknamed her, “Henny Gwenny.”

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