I woke up with a headache this morning.
I know why.
The anticipation of this day, every year, just as it has been for the past 19, especially so close to my birthday.
The memories, the feelings, and the weeks that led to this day and the weeks that followed.
This year was better. Much better than it ever has been, but it’s still there.
It always will be…
Monday, July 6, 1992
Ages ago, but it still seems as if it was yesterday.
We were living outside of Chicago on a campus where my husband was doing an internship for graduate school and Mr. 365 was working in the clinic that day.
I, having given birth to our daughter, just 3 months earlier, was still trying to catch up on some much needed sleep. I decided to take advantage of her afternoon nap and fell asleep next to her in our bed.
Something woke me up. It wasn’t a noise, wasn’t a touch, just something and something I couldn’t pinpoint.
I sat straight up in bed after being asleep for about an hour and a half or so, baby still asleep beside me, wide awake, and not even the least bit tired.
Weird. Why am I up?
I just sit there in bed.
The phone rings.
“Mrs. -, this is Dr. -, from the Lahey Clinic. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your mother has just passed away.”
Oh. My. God.
It wasn’t like I didn’t know it was going to happen, it had been expected.
“Was she alone when she died?”
What kind of question is that?! Of course she was alone. Who would have been with her?
“No, the nurses were with her.” I know he told me what I wanted to hear. What else would a doctor say to a grieving child unless he had absolutely no compassion?
We talked a little longer about arrangements that needed to be made and I hung up the phone.
It’s over. Her suffering. Her pain. Her life. At only 47 years of age.
She had struggled for such a very long time having been diagnosed with breast cancer at 32. Throughout the course of 15 years, she’d had a left mastectomy, lymph nodes removed, multiple chemo. and radiation treatments, eventually a right mastectomy and more lymph nodes.
Yet, she had witnessed so many milestones we never thought she would: I graduated high school, was married and knowing that my mother’s time was limited, my husband and I made a conscious decision to have a baby so that hopefully, my mother would be able to see her only grandchild.
Finally it had spread to her lungs, and bones transforming her into a bitter and angry woman. Not the mother I knew, but I understood the disease and its’ effects at the end coupled with the many years of anger and resentment she’d harboured.
She had spent over a month at Lahey, going in at the beginning of June because she’d had fluid in her lungs. Mr. 365 and I decided in the middle of June that I should fly back to Rhode Island with the baby, knowing that her prognosis wasn’t good and so that I could make arrangements for Hospice (a home health care program for the terminally ill in their last phase(s) of their disease) when she returned from the hospital.
The two weeks I was there were extremely tedious – commuting an hour and a half to Massachusetts to the hospital, spending the day with a woman who was becoming a stranger because of the cancer and the medications she was on, driving an hour to spend the night at my sister-in-law’s, returning to the hospital the next morning, spending the day and returning to mom’s house back in Rhode Island. Understandably, I became extremely overwhelmed. Nursing an almost three month old, driving hours each day, only being able to communicate with my husband via phone and watching my mother and best friend deteriorate was almost impossible to bear. I had to escape. I knew she was close to the end. I had seen it with my grandfather, her father, back in the early 80’s when he passed away from prostate cancer. At times, she was incoherent, would sleep on and off throughout the day, and wasn’t able to focus or hold her attention on anything for very long.
And I was impatient.
How dare I?
Your mother is in pain, you are her only child, she may be in her final days and you need to get away?!
Her only immediate family member other than myself, was her younger sister who lives in Albany, NY. My parents had gone through an extremely bitter divorce which had been finalized a year or so earlier, and I hadn’t been on speaking terms with my father for quite some time. My aunt had been out from Albany a couple of times to see mom since she’d entered the hospital and I knew she’d be arriving the following day, so that gave me a little comfort. But with a young family of her own, my aunt’s time with my mother was limited.
I felt guilty about wanting to leave, but I knew for the sake of my sanity I had to do it. I knew I was on the verge of a mental breakdown and one of the people I’d usually go to in a situation like this was in no condition to listen never mind comprehend it.
My rock, my confidante, my mother was deteriorating before my eyes and I couldn’t bear it.
Wednesday, July 1
“Mom, I need to go home to go see K-, and be a family again. I need to bring the baby back and I want to go home for my birthday, but I’ll be back next week and we can figure out when you’ll be coming home.” All this said with a lump in my throat, fearing her reaction.
“Ok.” She could say little else due to her condition. She offered to pay for the flight, told me she loved me and that she’d see me when I came back.
I left her hospital room, carrying the baby in the car seat and looked back to see her sitting in her bed staring blankly at the tv.
You have to go.
But, I don’t want to go.
Lynne, …you need to go.
Walking to the car, the discussion continued in my head. What if,…what will,…I don’t want her to be alone when she dies,… will she make it til I get back?
Upon sitting in the driver’s seat, the sobs ensued – a combination of guilt leaving her by herself in a place she hadn’t wanted to be, and a sense of relief knowing I would be free from my own pain and suffering for at least a few days to enjoy being a family again.
Friday, July 3
My aunt called, telling me my mother wanted to wish me a Happy Birthday. I hadn’t spoken to her since I’d left.
“Thanks, mom. I love you.”
There was a pause. A long pause. She was unable to say anything else and barely even able to say that. She was just too tired, just done.
“Give the phone to auntie.”
Monday, July 6
The phone rings…
Had she died with me there by myself holding a baby, I know I would have lost it – alone in a hospital, hours away from any friends and relatives. It would have been way too much for me to go through.
Looking back after many years of reflection, I know that the choice I made to go was the right one; for myself, my daughter, and for my mother. She needed to be alone, and didn’t want me there. She had been a private person, keeping many things to herself and this was just another one of those things she didn’t want to share and couldn’t, knowing how it might have impacted me.
It still pains me that I wasn’t there, but I know I wasn’t supposed to be.
Each year, the pain eases, but on occasion it will catch me by surprise.
This song, Homesick, by Mercy Me says it best…
And you will always be with me…
I know this is lengthy, so I appreciate you taking the time to read. It means a lot that I’m able to share it with you.
It doesn’t feel right for me to post a recipe with this, so I’ll do it separately and post it later.
I love you all.
Thanks again for listening.
I appreciate and am grateful that you might want to comment, but I just needed to write and remember mom
BIG baking hugs…