I am still feeling numb, but little parts of me seem to want to reach out and find the me that is lost....the joyous me that loves life, the me that several years ago decided to reach out and grab it by the balls because not to do so would be death, a living death, but yes...death. And I'm not ready for the coffin yet. So here I am, giving it a try again.
I was looking at some drafts of posts I started but never finished. One of them was titled "My mother is dying...a little every day." Well she finally managed to do it. She went reluctantly, but she was ready. The pain was too much. The final sleep was welcomed after so many years of saying that she didn't want to leave us. Us as in my siblings and I. Us as in my sister A. They had never been apart.
My sister A has Down's Syndrome. As if that weren't enough, she is also suffering from Alzheimers, as many Down's syndrome citizens do when they reach a certain age. My mother never wanted to leave A behind. I think she actually wished for some natural disaster to occur so that they could go together. But it wasn't meant to be. Man proposes, but God/the Universe disposes. After several falls, mom started to go down hill very quickly. She told us she didn't have very long. No hospital for her. No dying among strangers. She wanted to die at home, surrounded by her children. If we were going to be out of town, she would wait. She wanted us there. She didn't have long. We didn't believe her. She was always there....the core of our family. Mom.
The pain was constant and one of her legs was badly swollen. I had taken her for x rays and ultrasounds. Nothing broken in the leg and no blood clots. The fracture in one of her vertebrae was healing, but probably pinching on a nerve. The next day she fell again getting out of bed. That night she fell again, stubborn thing that she was. No Depends for her. She would get up and use the bathroom or else. That was really the beginning of the end. The pain was too much.
We called the doctor and he called hospice. She had stopped eating. She wasn't hungry. I had already read the signs on her last blood work. Her albumin levels were low. I knew it was coming. I thought we had a little while though. We had round the clock caregivers, but they made way for my siblings and I. I called my daughter. She flew in from NYC and went straight to mom's house. The vigil began.
My brother was the worst. He couldn't believe Mom was really dying. All he could do was hold her hand and cry and cry. We took turns holding her hands and turning her. A whole day and night, and then her breathing changed. I called my elder sister, who had gone home to care for her husband who had had knee replacement two weeks before and she came. It was a good thing. We were all there, loving her. It was so strange...I'd done this before...
I was waiting for a certain breathing pattern, but all of a sudden we knew...I leaned over and whispered "You can go now mom. I promise we are going to take care of A and we are going to take care of each other. You can go to Daddy and Grandma now. It's okay." Two breaths later and she went. Just like that... My daughter was there holding me, because it hurt so much. We held each other. My brother was bereft. He had been asking her forgiveness for all the "stuff" he put her through when he was younger and he simply couldn't let her go. That was the kind of mother she was. Her kids....her family, were everything.
The swollen leg was down to normal size. She looked so beautiful and regal lying there with her flawless skin and white hair. It was heartbreaking, yet comforting. Her skin was still warm to the touch when my brother came back in to sit with her. Her sister and a childhood friend arrived to pay their last respects.
|A beautiful, classy lady, my mom.|
Days later, at the cemetery, as we waited for the minister, people started arriving. All her old neighbors, my cousin's wife and her married children, her friends, our friends. They all knew Mom. She had affected them all. To many, she represented the ideal mother...a warm hearth, the wonderful smells from her kitchen. Her children were a testament...we loved each other and never fought. She would never have stood for that. And she had managed to keep us all together. That was a source of pride for her.
We waited and waited and still no minister. It was getting late. The funeral director was kind, but he kept looking at his watch. We would have to do it.
I got up and recited the 23rd Psalms. It was her favorite. I fumbled over a passage. It had been a while.
My daughter had found the poem that my mom had told her was her favorite and it was called "La Despedida" (The Goodbye). It is a beautiful poem about a great love. My mother was a romantic, always. My daughter was going to read it, but her Spanish was heavily accented and she didn't want to trip over it, so I gave it to my older sister to read. She wasn't sure she could do it, but brought it along anyway. After apologizing to those who didn't understand Spanish, she told them a little about the poem, then read it with great feeling It was a wonderful moment. Just then one of the large flower arrangements fell over. We put it back against the coffin. My sister is quiet and not one to speak in public. Mom must have been turning over in the coffin with glee that she did it.
Next, two of the grandchildren spoke and broke up talking about their beloved grandmother. My brother and younger sister both spoke. Mom was a classy lady. It was easy. It was hard.
Finally, I got up and thanked everyone for coming, then spoke of my mom's wicked sense of humor and how we could never look at her at funerals or weddings or other such occasions because we knew that when her nose started getting red and twitching, something had tickled her funny bone and she was going to whisper some astute observation and we were not going to be able to contain ourselves. As a child she had been her mother's representative at all the Cuban wakes (very similar to Irish wakes) and the stories we heard as children would keep us in stitches. As a young women, she had written gossip columns for several small town newspapers and her arrows always found their targets. She was never mean, but she knew human nature and people's foibles and she was wonderful at pricking pomposity wherever she found it. The stories were legendary and told and retold by those who knew her. She was also a ham.
Mom loved to sing and play the piano and in her youth she and her friends would stage talent shows and she would make her older sister (who wanted to kill her) play the piano so that she could sing and entertain people. Later many of them would go on the famous CMQ radio station and compete for prizes and dedicate songs, recite poetry to lovers, etc. Sometimes even that was fodder for her stories. She would recount them to the caregivers. It was her way to entertain them. Her arthritic fingers could still play the piano and she would play for them. It was her way of telling them she knew it was sometimes a shitty job they had to do, but they had to know her as the person she used to be. They loved her.
I also addressed how happy she would be to see so many of the people that came to pay their respects to her memory. I called out the people by name and they were pleased. I know she was there. I know that she was responsible for the minister not showing up. She wanted her children to speak ....and she ended up getting exactly what she wanted...kind of like she always did in life.
We miss her. And we are taking care of A. Funny thing is, A had a major seizure a few days ago, and, in the middle of my fright, I thought for sure Mom was trying to take her with her. The caregiver was besides herself, saying that mom had told her that she and A would follow one another, no matter which of them went first. She firmly believes mom is there watching over A. We know she is. Her physical remains may have been in that coffin, but the spirit that was my mother, is still very much alive.
A is still living at home with round the clock caregivers. I go almost every day and spend time with her and sit with her. My brother is the only one who hasn't been able to go back in the house yet. He's been taking off and going up to the mountains and communing with nature, fishing and taking long walks to get his head together again. We go out to dinner sometimes, but he's very subdued. He's on anti-depressants, but he'll be okay.
The rest of us are trying to pick up the threads of our lives and we seem fine on the surface. We are planning things together. But for me one of the hardest things to get used to is not seeing that light on the answering machine when I get home late at night sometimes. I live alone, so she always worried about me. She would call me up every night to say good night and if I wasn't home she would leave the message: "It's your bothersome mother calling to wish you a good night." Often she would add "You have no idea how much I love you and thank you for being such a good daughter and, by the way, I read in the paper where ....." and she would then cite some horrible thing that had happened to a women out and about on her own. I know she wanted to protect me, but it drove me crazy sometimes. I feel badly now, but I don't miss my gilded little cage made up of worry bars. I do miss the unconditional love that my mother always gave me, though. We had a special bond...like with my daughter. We were soul mates.
And so now I am trying to recall the muse again. I need to move on. I need to remember how much I love life and to laugh. A few weeks after mom died and the last night before my D went back to NY, I dropped her off at a restaurant, where she was meeting a friend for coffee and girl talk, and took my birthday $50 gift certificate from Diane Von Furstenberg and went shopping. I spent a few hours trying on dresses and ending up buying three of them (two on sale). I felt a little more cheerful...normal. D's friend dropped her off at the shop and D and I decided to go for pasta at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, a popular celeb watering hole. There were plenty of tables that night, but we sat at the bar, like we do when we don't have reservations. The bartenders are great , very complimentary and always happy to see us. It's cozy.
This night the owner came up and we started talking and I mentioned my mother had passed away recently. He was very close to his mother, who had passed away the year before and when he finished telling me about her, I raised my glass of wine and attempted to make a toast to both our mothers. He asked me to wait, went and got a bottle of wine, and came back and filled my glass. I was drinking a French wine and he poured a very good Italian wine into it to the chagrin and the rolling eyes of the bartender behind him. We drank a lovely toast to our mothers. He kept telling my daughter what a beautiful mother she had and that we were now officially friends. When I got the bill, he had comped my dinner and the wine. It made me smile and I felt beautiful that night...the first time in a while. A little of the old spark was coming back....
And now, I have to start writing again. No more excuses. I have to. I've started entering all the changes I've made to one of my screenplays. I need to wrap up one of the silly stories I started a while back on another blog. I can't leave it unfinished. I've done that once too many times before....left things unfinished. I'm still waiting for the muse to visit me so that I can get on with another script I'm working on. Nothing I write seems to sound good. It has no passion. I have to get my passion back. It's who I am. It's where I live.
Tomorrow is a new day. It has to be different then the one before it. Perhaps I will feel beautiful again tomorrow. Perhaps my sister A will recognize me again for a little while. When she smiles at me, the sun comes out. When she calls out for Mom, my heart breaks all over again. But life goes on. And I must too. I'm not ready to die yet. Not for a while. So here I am again. Let's hope I can find something interesting to say, something that has stirred my passion and hopefully will stir a little of yours too.
Life is good. Time to seize it again.