My mother died on Saturday, June 23rd, 2012. Earlier that morning she was in respiratory distress. A few hours later she was gone.
My mother and I didn’t always get along. We clashed on a lot of things. She was a born again Christian and I am a multiple deity worshipping queer. Things were a bit rough at home.
I left home at age 18 and I never looked back. Although, I would occasionally find myself back in Detroit for short visits, I never stayed at my mom’s house. At one point, I stopped taking her phone calls and cut her out of my life completely. It took some work on my part to let go of the hurt I felt and let her back in. Still, we argued whenever we would visit.
Due to lack of funds and the aforementioned reasons, I didn’t see my mother that often. We did talk on the phone semi-regularly. My mother went back to school to earn her Associate degree in business and as she learned the necessary technology she would often call me with questions about computer programs and such. Other than that, our conversations were pretty shallow. I didn’t tell her much about my life and she didn’t share much either. I knew she was stressed and tired, but that was always. No matter how much my mother worked it seemed like she was always in debt. When I lived at home, there was very little to eat and lights and phones shut off unexpectedly. It was understandable that she would be stressed. What I didn’t know was that mom’s health was failing. She had a heart attack and I didn’t find out until years later. I noticed the decline in her presentation every couple of years when she would visit: the increasing grey hairs, the red eyes, and the difficulty she had walking. Mom never said a word about what was happening to her.
In the fall of 2008, my mother came to visit me in Chicago. She was on short term disability from her job at the hospital while she recovered from eye surgery. Mom was due to return to work days after visiting me. It was the first time in a long time that I got along with my mother. We didn’t argue. Not once. Despite her various ailments, she traipsed around the city with me, stopping every so often to rest. I cooked us a curried lamb stew. When she left, I was actually looking forward to our next visit.
Only a couple days after she left, my mom had a stroke. She never really recovered. She went from the hospital to rehab to a really good nursing home to another nursing home that almost killed her before we were able to get her a bed in an institution that actually cared about it’s residents (and accepted Medicare). At first my mom was really hopeful that she would walk again. She wanted to finish school (she was getting all As in her classes at college). My mom had so many dreams and had struggled all her life. It sounds childish to say that it wasn’t fair, but it really wasn’t. She didn’t get any better and over the years her health slowly declined.
In the months leading up to her death, she was in the hospital at least once a month. Still, her death was sudden. I had hoped mom would be around a while longer, but she had to go.
My mom never wanted to live a life of dependency. She never wanted to be a burden. Even though it was now my job to take care of her, she would always worry about me. She’d call me when it was cold and remind me to bundle up. Or if it was hot, she’d tell me to stay hydrated and cool. I remember she saw some story on the news about heavy winds and ice falling from the tops of tall buildings in downtown Chicago and she called to make sure I was all right. Because we lived in different cities, I still couldn’t visit mom that often, but at least once a year at Christmas I would stay with my sister and visit with mom every day I was in town. I would arrive at the nursing home around lunch time and I would stay until she fell asleep that night. I’d bring her cookies made using my paternal grandmother’s recipe. Last year, my sister and I cooked a huge feast at her apartment and brought it all in tupperware to the nursing home. It was the best Christmas since my mother’s stroke.
Still, mom wasn’t happy. She got tired and the general consensus is that she gave up. Mom stopped talking the last month of her life. I saw her in late April and asked her point blank if she wanted to die. She said no. Maybe she was lying to protect me, maybe she meant it at the time, but changed her mind. I’ll never know.
My mommy died on June 23rd, 2012. I wish we hadn’t lost those years of anger and pain. I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I had been able to care for her better. I wish my mother could have finished school and lived the life she wanted to live.
“If wishes were fishes…” as my mom used to say.