In November 2009, as I stood sobbing (not a pretty sight) outside my mother’s hospital room, a nurse ran towards me asking me if her patient was alright. I mustered a nod while more water than I ever thought was possible to pour out of my eyes, did. “She’s out of danger so why are you crying?” she asked. “Because I’ll never see her again.” I sensed it. I knew it. The next morning I was to head back to California where I lived and would leave her behind in the city where I was born, Asunción. My mother had Parkinson’s for probably 15 or 16 years. A month before, when I had arrived, she had gone into ICU due to complications of it. A disease that slowly, torturously shuts down your body but leaves you with a mind that knows what is happening, with no possibility to convey to others how you feel, not by voice, not by any movements, not even facial expressions. So very cruel.
Turned out they were prophetic words. My mother left me January 5 of 2010. Nothing would hurt as much as her passing. I doubt anything ever will.
My father, a week later went into ICU and died a month and a day after her.
10 years. A long time. I can almost hear some of what I have heard before expressed in a kind way when she died, but at the time just made me want to scream. She will always be with you. Yes, but how I long even now to hear her voice or even her breathing when later, with the progression of her disease, she lost the ability to talk. I knew that she suffered no more and I was grateful for that but, selfishly, how much I wanted her alive nonetheless. When I was severely depressed I was told to “snap out of it.” As impossible as that task felt, to be at peace with her parting seemed even more daunting.
Another consolation phrase which I related to but reacted strongly to when she died was “you now have a star above lighting any darkness you will encounter”. That turned out to be so. Every Dec. 24 I search for “our” star and just talk to her. And in death she has been with me as in life, subtly guiding me in some way or other. I was late to recognize her warnings. On quite a few Jan. 5ths I would get into an argument with someone, letting me know I should not give them my loyalty. I should have terminated those friendships but I’m a slow learner and only realized recently that it was her telling me to stay away. I did not always understand the messages but I knew she was there. A particular song playing in the most unexpected place and time. A unique bird-like sound I hear that connects both her and my dad to me in a special way.
A few years into her death I found myself still grieving. I called a dear friend, a grief counselor, to ask him if this was normal. He responded that there is no “normal” way to grieve and that there’s no deadline to get over someone’s death. We all deal with it in our own very personal way and in our own time. He wasn’t going to urge me to stop grieving. He wanted me to go through the process at my own pace. As long as we can function in daily life we shouldn’t beat ourselves up.
So I concentrated then and now, on being thankful that her suffering had ended, that I was loved in a way that no one will ever love me again. I inherited none of her best traits: her patience, which to this day is like no other I’ve encountered, her innate ability to serve as a mediator without either party realizing they were “mediated” (she was more diplomatic than my father, a career diplomat, ever was), her ability to -without effort- make everyone feel at home. She was soft and sweet in demeanor and in voice. She had fabulous cooking and baking skills (she made jams and jellies that were coveted by all) and so much more. She was the kindest person I have known. No one ever has said anything bad about her. She also had traits that I could have done without learning but managed to assimilate. She never spoke up for herself and that hurt her immensely later in life. Though I grew up being very much a rebel, assertiveness isn’t a trait I truly have, it requires a lot of effort from me. She was amazing in so many ways, yet she didn’t have much self-esteem. I come off very self-assured most of the time but my mom, doubting herself constantly, lives in me.
Anniversaries have always been celebratory for me. But in the past years there have been too many that meant departures of some kind, of endings. There have been beginnings for there can’t be them without endings, but the scale dips by the weight of the ones I should not remember. So this is the last year I commemorate the anniversary of my mother’s death or, in fact my dad’s. I will not start next year by remembering that she left me some years back on Jan. 5th and my dad on Feb. 6th. Instead I will live being thankful every day that she -and he- gave me life.
And even with the above resolution I have no doubt I will miss her forever.
And keeping my promise of ending my blogs with a song, here is not one or two but three! First an Oscar nominated song I’m Standing With You from “Breakthrough” sung by Chrissy Metz, then one from Katie Melua about a mother I Will Be There and finally a short one that has nothing to do with family ties but does about heartbreak, from Rhys, Maybe I Will Learn.