I lost my mom four years ago today. She died in my arms at about 4 p.m., on this couch we’re sitting on.
Worn out from fighting leukemia, barely able to move, she said her head hurt. The hospice nurse asked if she wanted some morphine. I thank God for that nurse every time I think of her. I don’t even know her name, but she held us up through the worst moment of our lives. I wish her eternal blessings and all the crowns in Heaven. (And also a raise.)
Mom just went quiet and still. I wrapped my arms around her and her head was resting on my shoulder.
She was so quiet and still.
I squeezed her hand. It was the only time, ever, that I squeezed her and she didn’t squeeze back.
Lord, could that woman hug.
The nurse calmly and respectfully kept checking her pulse, and heartbeat. Finally, she told us quietly, “She’s gone.”
That was the moment everything died.
I was glad she was out of her miserable pain … but my momma was gone.
How do you live without your momma?
She was already flying to meet Jesus, and I was cradling her body on that couch. I rested my head on her poor little bald one, covered with a cap. My tears poured, one by one, on her head, but she didn’t feel them. I hugged her and hugged her. No one would ever love me like that again.
I wanted to summon some beautiful way to say goodbye. “It’s okay, Mumsy,” I whispered. “You go. We’ll be okay.” Then, because my voice was choked with grief, I played a wistful song I know she liked.
I can’t listen to it any more, because it takes me back to that couch.
I didn’t realize how noisy it would get. My poor stepfather called several family members to say Mom had left us. The (EMT? Coroner? Funeral home? I still don’t know) showed up to collect her. And this — THIS — I will always remember.
“You should all go into a back hallway,” some man said, as they prepared to load Mom’s shell onto a gurney to take away. “You don’t want to see this.”
We obeyed, like stunned sheep. We congregated, our heads together and silent, while we heard the slight rustlings and squeaking of the gurney trundling out the door. And she would never be in that house again.
Thinking about that phrase today, though, I get so mad. “You don’t want to see this”? You know what, buddy? I didn’t want to see ANY of it. I didn’t want to see ports in her neck and tubes invading her body. I didn’t want to see her so weak that my stepfather had to lift her body off the couch. I didn’t want to see her, heartbroken and weary, drop her head to the table while she and my sister tried to talk to insurance companies on the phone, even as she knew she was dying.
But I did. I saw it all, and I lived through it. And whichever of my friends loses their mom next, I will know exactly what they’re feeling, and they can scream their lungs out while I just sit there and cry with them, because that is the only good that comes from a tragedy. You can help someone else through it, if it doesn’t break you.
Four days later, at my mom’s visitation, the doors were open from 3-8 p.m. The sea of people weaving through did not stop once in five hours. Not ONCE. There was never a break in the line of people who loved her, or us. My lieutenant and his wife came. Friends who only slightly knew me, and didn’t even believe in God, came. My Work Wife brought me a huge cookie with “Cancer Sucks!” written in lurid pink icing.
That was the kind of send-off she deserved. I was pleased. Even though, during the private family hour, I looked at her in the coffin once, and recoiled so violently that I stayed away the rest of the time. She looked terrible, in my opinion. I won’t lie about that.
It is the same reason I’ve only been to her grave a handful of times in four years. The graveyard is too sad. My imagination is too vivid. I can’t sit by that incised marble and not envision the coffin, six feet down, with her skeleton inside, until Jesus raises her up on the last day.
Instead, I visit her in my everyday life. I go to the beach every year and sit right by the waves, and I swear to God she sits by my side. Sometimes I laugh just like her, and I hear her in myself. I love-squeeze my sister’s arm like my mom used to. I try to model her boundless heart and generosity. If I think it’s something Mom would do, I do it. I can’t wait to get to Heaven and see her again. I know that, upon meeting Jesus, she received that “Well done, good and faithful servant,” that I long for.
When I’m tempted toward anger that she was taken so soon, I remember to be thankful every day that I got her for my mother. She told me every day that she loved me. She was so generous and loving and sweet. She was THE Mom. If you didn’t know her, I feel kinda sorry for you.
I know she’s on a beach in Heaven, eating chocolate, probably with 12 dogs. She said she’d save a spot for all of us. So you keep my beach chair free, Mumsy.
I love you so much. Thank you for being my mother. God, you did a great job.
I’ll see you soon.