Don't grieve alone; 14,000 members and growing
I'm a mamas boy. There was a time when I was embarrassed to say that. Not anymore. I would scream it from the mountain tops, especially if I thought that my mom could hear me. I was her caretaker. I couldn't stand the idea of my mom spending her last days (years) in assisted living. I wanted her to die in her own home, and I wanted to give something back to the woman who not only gave me life, but also loved me unconditionally until her last day on earth. She died on Christmas Eve, 2015. And boy did she ever take my heart with her. I haven't been the same since. Sometimes I will meet new people and they will tell me that I have a great sense of humor. That is hard to imagine. I did have one at one time, I know that, but I don't know where it went.
In 2003 my mom told me that she had been diagnosed with cancer. I can't imagine a more dreaded word. I immediately thought of death. My mom was going to die. My everything was going to die and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I could certainly pray, but we all know that is more of a release for us. People die every single day. People lose their mothers every single day. Eventually that time would come for me as well. There is no avoiding it.
My hope improved somewhat when my mom started taking treatment. It was certainly harder for my mom than it was for me. My mom hated chemo therapy, but for me it was the magic potion that may keep my mom alive. Mom did live, and she went on to fight several more versions of cancer. She always seemed to get the best of it. Mom would say, "No one beats cancer. At best they survive it."
Mom was able to survive each form of cancer but it was the treatment that eventually killed her. Too much medicine. She developed COPD which is what eventually ended her life here on earth. In 2012 I awoke to find my mom unresponsive. I called 911. Mom was put on life support. There were so many things that were killing her that it is hard to list them all hear. Her liver and kidneys were shutting down. She was bleeding internally from a blood thinner that she was taking. Her CO 2 levels were off the charts. She was surviving on a ventilator. She was in a coma. There was a lot more. She had some kind of bacterial infection. She was immediately placed in ICU. I had the discussion with her doctors. At what point do we pull the plug? That is not a very delicate way of saying that but it is quite a reality. No, they don't pull the plug from the outlet. They turn everything off. They would have turned my mother off as though she were a television set.
To make a long story short, my mom recovered. Only through the grace of God and my mom's own will to live. Maybe she could hear me telling her how much I loved her, asking her to stay with me. It's like when you a are a frightened child calling for your mother in the night. Mom's get up and take care of their child. My mom got up again from a very deep sleep. She heard me calling her.
When I could actually look into her open eyes again, open eyes staring back at me, I felt a sense of love that I may never experience again. The look of love in her eyes touched my very soul. And better yet, I knew that my mom would be coming home to me. I could love on her and dote on her till the cows came home. Selfishly, I was even excited about the notion of having my mom for a captive audience. It's not like she would be going aynwhere, right?
It didn't come as quickly as I had hoped. Mom had to go to a rehab facility for a while. And I had a decision to make. Assisted living was suggested and expected. I couldn't stomach that. I wanted to take care of her. No stranger was going to take care of my mother. There was one problem. I had a full time job. I had been with American Airlines for 27 years. I quit my job. Neither Hell nor high water was going to keep me from my mother's side.
I was scared to death. I knew that I was not going to be able to work and take care of mom. I cashed in my 401-K to give me some cushion. Some would say that was not a wise decision. Love makes you do funny things.
The next three years of my life were the greatest blessing from God that I have ever received. My mom rallied a few times. She even got to the point where she could drive again and go shopping. That was her favorite thing. Watching her pull out of that driveway, I was like a parent hoping that the Lord would take care of my baby and bring her home safely. He always did. Still, reality has a way of slapping you in the face. There were many 911 calls. There were many close calls but she always pulled through.
Towards the end of 2015 things were getting worse and worse. Her CO 2 levels would become so high that she could not stay awake, and she would say silly things. Her lung function was diminishing to the point where... really all she could do was die. Her last visit to the hospital was too hard for her. The doctor in ER told me that we could not keep doing this to her. They may be able to patch her up and send her home, but she would be back at the ER in short order. That was not fair to my mom. It was all too much for her weak little body. So, we went the Hospice route. When the Hospice coordinator entered my mom's hospital room to tell her what the next step would be, I could sense a clinical presence about that woman. She may have been accustomed to death but I wasn't. I only had one mom. I asked her to leave the room so that I could explain to my mom what would be happening. I had to tell my mom that she was going to die.
A couple of nights before mom left the hospital for the last time, I entered her hospital room. Her eyes were closed. I thought she was sleeping. I reached out and held her hand. I heard this... "Brett, is that you?" I said yes. She said, "Will you let me go?" I told her that I had no choice. I realize that it is helpful to a dying person to hear the words, but I was not going to lie to myself or to her. I had told her honestly. She than asked me to pray the, "Now I lay me down to sleep," prayer. Her hope was that God would take her when the prayer was finished. My mother had actually asked me to pray for her death.
She was disappointed when the prayer ended and she was still alive. The nurse came in to give her medicine. Mom refused to take it. She said, "Please just let me die." I cried very hard when I heard those words. The nurse actually raised her voice on my behalf, "Your son loves you and you are hurting him right now." Mom asked me if I would feel better if she took her medicine. I told her that I would. The loving mother took her medicine. Not for her sake but for my own. That is unconditional love. Maybe the kind of love that only a mother could give.
In a couple of days my mom was here at our house on Hospice care. She had her hospital bed in the sunroom where she could be surrounded by light. She was my light. It wasn't a long journey. I lost her within about three weeks of starting Hospice. The first time I had to give her morphine was horrible (for me). She slept for a long time. When she woke up she did not know who I was. She asked me my name. I told her that I was her son, Brett. She then asked me, "Do you have a life?" I laughed and said, "Of course." She said, "I don't see how. I think all you ever do is take care of me." I will hear those words for the rest of my life.
The next two weeks were non-stop love and affection. I doted on her like there was no tomorrow. In reality there was no tomorrow. Every night before I would lay down to sleep she would say, "I love you. Thanks for taking care of me."
The morning of Christmas Eve was ominous. I knew that mom was going to die that day. I had called Hospice. The nurse came by and told me that it was only a matter of time. I sat with her until she started to fade, saying, "I love you mom! Thank you!" She would just look at me through confused but loving eyes. At one point she sat up in her bed. She was staring at something up high. She reached out her arm to it, and then she died.
My mom flew away. I walked her to the door. Jesus took her home.
I put her two little dogs on her hospital bed. They curled up next to her and took a nap. We stayed with her until the funeral home came and took her away from me for the last time.
A part of me is gone also. I didn't have a dad, just an incredibly loving mom. That was more than enough.
Now here I am. it is a year and a half later. I hurt as much or more that I ever did. I feel like mom's little dogs are a connection that I have with her. Last week one of them became very sick. She spent the week in the animal hospital ICU. Losing that little dog would have meant losing another piece of my mom, and another piece of myself. Fortunately the dog survived. Just like mom would always live to fight another day, but I know that mom's little dogs are getting old. Just like mom, I cannot keep them forever.
There's the rub. I have had too many goodbyes. When mom died her family rallied around me for a while, but those things don't last. Mom's sisters have their own kids and grandkids. There is a degree of separation there. Friends will walk by your side for a while. They will call you and ask if you are okay, but that ends as well. There comes a point when people think that either you have moved on, or you should have moved on. I think that some of my friends are even reluctant to talk about my mom with me because they feel that they may be enabling me. Again, there is a degree of separation there. My mom and I had no such degree of separation.
In this world I have two little dogs that love me. I also have a broken heart that will not mend. I see mom in everything. I see items around the house and I remember when she bought them. I will look out in the driveway. Her car is not there anymore. No more shopping. I think of Sunday dinners. Mom was a great cook. I remember her laughter. She loved to watch, "Everybody Loves Raymond." She also loved, "Judge Judy," and you could not convince her that was not a real court of law. I remember the loving way she would say goodnight to our little dogs. "I'll see you in the morning." Those mornings are gone.
I was not made to live apart from my mom. I am so glad that she is in heaven now, and that she is not suffering anymore. But, oh Lord, do I miss her. If I could go back in time to when mom was healthy, I would do it in a second. yes, that would be selfish. It would mean that mom would have to re-live all of that again. But you know what? Sometimes we have to be selfish, or we at least have to be honest with ourselves about what we truly want. The feelings are there regardless of whether or not we say them out loud.
I am broken. I am not at all mad at God. I am mad at myself for clinging to my mom for so long. She was my mom, my companion, and in the end she was even my child. I lost all of this at 4:16 pm, 12/24/2015.
I don't know if anyone will read this blog. I don't know if anyone will comment. I just know that this is a story that needed to be told. It's not like I keep these feelings bottled up inside. I cry and pray every single day. I ask for peace. God's peace. I have not found it. That's certainly not his fault. It may not be any one's fault. It's just a casualty of love.
I love you mom. I will shout it from the mountain tops. I will hear it within me every day. You would have wanted me to be happy. I have not been able to do that for you. I'm sorry.
Maybe one day. How far is heaven?