16 years was not enough time

My momI wonder sometimes what my mom would think of the woman I’ve become. I wonder if she’d be proud of the choices I’ve made, of the paths I’ve taken. I wonder what a conversation with her would be like today. There are so many conversations I never thought to bring up, so many questions I never thought to ask.

Before my mom was diagnosed, she complained of different pains. I was unsympathetic. I was 15 years old and everything in the world was about me. Nobody understood me. I was alone and hurting. My mom would come home from the doctor and say that he didn’t find anything wrong with her. And he was a doctor, so he had to know what he was doing, right?

The sicker she became, the more I realized something was wrong. Still, I couldn’t really allow myself to believe it. On Easter in 1995, my mom laid on the couch at my aunt’s house . . . tired, sick, and in pain. I vaguely remember noticing. She was my mom. She was strong, always, always strong. This couldn’t be anything serious.

The next day, my step-father picked me up from school and told me that my mom was in the hospital. Her doctor had finally admitted her. She hadn’t been eating and had lost a lot of weight. A deep, unimaginable fear struck me the moment I saw her lying in that hospital bed.

They told me it was a compression fracture in her back. I didn’t really understand what that meant.

When visiting hours were over, I didn’t want to go home. I asked my step-father to take me to my Alateen meeting. They were just finishing and everyone would be outside smoking and talking. I needed a cigarette and a conversation.

My sponsor gave me two cigs that I tucked into my shirt pocket – my step-father could see me from the parking lot. I cried as I told him what happened. I shook as I expressed my fear. He said, “No one’s ever died from a compression fracture.”

I went home that night feeling a little bit better. I locked myself in my room, smoked my cigarettes, and wrote in my journal. I went to school the next day and pretended I was fine. I called my mom from the pay phone outside of the cafeteria during lunch.

Each day after school, my step-father would pick me up and we’d go to the hospital. It was still scary, but I was sure everything was going to be okay. My mom would be home and back to normal soon. This would all be a memory.

Friday afternoon came and once again, we went to the hospital after school. My mom asked me to sit on the bed. The doctor walked in. My mom asked to hold my hand. I smiled. I thought she wanted it to squeeze because of another needle. I didn’t notice that there was nothing in the doctor’s hands.

The doctor started, “You know how your mom was sick a long time ago . . . .” I don’t remember any more of her words. The world spun around me. This couldn’t be it. It couldn’t be cancer. That was just a story from when I was a baby. My mom beat it. She was healthy. They had said after five years, she was essentially cured. No, it couldn’t be cancer.

Tears fell from my eyes like a Japanese cartoon. I felt sick inside. I wanted to simultaneously run away and hold onto my mom for dear life. She squeezed my hand, “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere. I want to see my grandkids. . . . But not any time soon!” I forced a smile.

April 21, 1995. Four and a half months before my mom would take her last breath.

Spring and summer were filled with chemotherapy treatments, radiation, a trip to ICU and a blood transfusion, home oxygen machines, hospice nurses, hair loss, wheelchairs . . .

My mom knew everyone. She was friendly and social. She loved to talk. She was kind and memorable. She was extremely well-loved. None of that came as a comfort while I was bagging groceries and customers coming through the line would ask me how she was doing.

I spent all of my free time trying to be a caretaker. When my mom could no longer sleep in her bed and slept on the reclining chair instead, I slept on the couch. When she was so drugged up that she couldn’t remember to turn off the oxygen machine to have a cigarette, we kept them in the kitchen and I helped monitor her when she lit up. I bought flowers in the Spring to brighten up the house. My mom loved flowers.  I called her every day during lunch at school and every time I had a break at work.

I wanted to quit my job, but my mom said no. My best friend asked me if I’d quit school too. I said, “Yes, if my mom would let me.”

I was angry with the world that summer, but I did my best not to show it. I was in pain, but I smiled. There was a lot of cutting, a lot of suicidal ideation, and a lot of crying in isolation.

My mom died on a Monday morning. September 4, 1995 – Labor Day – exactly two weeks after my 16th birthday. I never really thought it would happen. I never really thought it could happen. I never thought that summer would be my last opportunity to talk to her about . . . everything.

The world has changed a lot in the last 18 years. I’ve changed a lot in the last 18 years. I’m sure my mom would not be the same person she was . . . Would the now-her like the now-me? Would she think I’m a good mom? Am I the person she thought I’d become?

I know it’s all pointless, all this wondering and guessing. I know all I’m doing is making myself crazy . . . but sometimes it’s all I can do in the wee hours of the morning. It’s 4:30am and I can’t help but wrap myself in these unanswerable questions. I’m overwhelmed with desire to not just remember her as she was but to know her as she would be now.

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12 responses to this post.

  1. This just sucks. I wonder if I’ll feel like that in 18 years, maybe even earlier than that. Even though thinking about it is futile, you cannot not think about it. Who would you be if this hadn’t happened to you, who would she be now? What kind of life would both of you lead? You’ll never get answers but you’re still continue to ask the questions!

    Reply

    • You’re right . . . you can’t not think about it. Though I will say that those thoughts are not as frequent as they used to be. Usually, I focus on the happy things . . . telling my daughter funny stories . . . . smiling looking through old pictures. But I think it’s important that we allow ourselves to feel that sadness, that despair when it comes.

      Reply

  2. Dayle, this is such a beautiful tribute and record of that dark time in your life. I am so sorry you had to experience so much pain at such a young age. I will tell you, as someone who is probably your mother’s age, if she were still here… that she would be extremely proud of the woman you have become. Your heart is full of grace and justice. Your daughter is wise beyond her years and a shining example of your good mothering.
    I know that your mom would be very proud of you Dayle.
    Susie

    Reply

  3. Dayle you made me cry and my day is just beginning.

    I’m sorry for the pain and loss of your mom, but when you write about her it really is beautiful. 🙂

    Reply

  4. Thankyou for expressing these things.
    Sometimes I think I am such a different person from the child of 15years ago that my mother wouldn’t even recognise me but then I think she would not only know but recognise the path that brought me here.
    I believe that the sharpness of loss forces us to allow our relationship with our (deceased) parents and understanding of them to grow in ways that would not be possible if they were here and sometimes that can be beautiful
    Hold on to the memories even the dark ones, they make you strong and compassionate. Pass them to your daughter while you can
    xxx
    Good Luck

    Reply

    • Thank you, Byghan!

      “I believe that the sharpness of loss forces us to allow our relationship with our (deceased) parents and understanding of them to grow in ways that would not be possible if they were here and sometimes that can be beautiful”

      I’ve never thought about it that way, but it’s true . . . . thank you for offering that perspective.

      Reply

  5. I’ll never be able to relate with what you went through, but you’re such a brave and strong person for making it through and ending up the woman you are now! I think your mom would be very proud of you AND Abby!

    Reply

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