The weeks between the end of January and the beginning of May are some of the more emotional ones for me for the past three years. In 2014 I lost my Dad, received word that my job of nine years was relocating, and then my Mom passed away the week my job closed. Dad passed alone in his nursing home room in his bed while waiting for his morning hot chocolate. Mom was unconscious and on a morphine drip in hospital hospice for 12 hours surrounded my family and her closest friends. Prior to this Dad had been ill in one way or another most of my young and adult life, Mom was six years with Ovarian Cancer. Even as they left this world for whatever is next, the one aspect of my losses that kept me together was the closure we had in the months and years before.
As much as people think I’m an optimist, deep down I’m more realist than that. In both cases, I understood sooner and more deeply than my only and oldest sibling at which points our folks were not going to bounce back this time. There was comfort in my instincts telling me Dad wouldn’t last til the Spring and that Mom wouldn’t see Summer. It helped me be prepared, not only for losing them, but for helping my sister and others face their grief.
Closure for me came in the form of my father seeing me as the capable, grown woman I’d become. The one he had kept at an emotional arms length for so long had come to his rescue when the nursing home endangered his life. Even though I had always been there for him, it was only when he became truly scared that he requested me to get involved. When he waffled at first, I simply called him out on the the truth of the matter.
“Dad, you’re back peddling on me coming there to help you.”
“I…I’m scared. I’m too frail to leave here but these people nearly killed me.”
The fact that this was the truth and not his MO of an exaggerated story fueled my loyalty for him.
“I know Dad. Look, you’ve called the family dog off the porch and now you sound like you want her back in her spot and on her leash. You tell me right now if I go for their jugular or if I sit here and let it be.”
There was a bit of a pause, and then, with a renewed strength in his gravely voice, Dad rendered his decision.
“Come here and do your thing.”
And I did. The story of that day and the few that followed is for another day. But this was a cross roads for our relationship. It led us to a final and mere three months of closeness like we hadn’t known since I was in pigtails following behind him picking out the rocks as he roto tilled the garden. Those last months led to conversations and laughter and truths that needed to be shared.
When the news came that my father had passed, there was an overwhelming sense of peace and relief. Peace knowing that while he was alone when he passed, he and I had nothing but goodness between us when he left. Relief in the knowledge that he had lived for so long in pain and now he was no longer dwelling there.
Mom and I had a closer relationship for longer but she had underlying mental health issues which caused some tumult for us over the years. In the end, even as she worried about my soul while her’s prepared to meet her Maker, I hoped that my reassurances that even without a job now, and with my bad history with men, that I would be better than OK and she needn’t worry about me. I’d read that it was important to let people know it was OK for them to go and so I did.
The night before she passed was the last time we’d speak but neither of us knew that for sure. After a few weeks of emotional tumult, Mom had accepted her latest reality. The Ovarian Cancer that had already spread to her brain two years prior had now taken over her brain even more along with all of her organs, and lymph nodes. What had been diagnosed as shingles was actually the cancer eating through her body to the outside. The human body is equally amazing as it is horrifying and my mom’s illness was proof of that for me.
During that last conversation with her, I read her eyes when her lips couldn’t form the words. This was it. She had reached the end. I remember two things from that night: the sad look in her tired eyes, and how incredibly soft her hands felt inside mine. Mom always had rough skin but even more so with the cancer and the treatments. To feel her hands like silk in mine was a tactile memory bound to her final waking moments with me.
Mom underwent 12 hours of hospital hospice on a morphine drip before she took her last breath. The three of us, my aunt, my sister and me, sat vigil, catching our breath whenever Mom’s became more staggered. The spaces between her breathing became wider until that final exhale with no inhale to follow.
We waited. I don’t know how long, but we waited to see if this was a false final moment as we had seen happen earlier that day. Seconds ticked away until we concluded that she had in fact left us.
My sister ran for the nurses to confirm what we already knew. Time of death was called. I wailed with no shame as I buried my face in the blankets that covered my now deceased mother’s side. It was gut wrenching.
Once I gathered myself and we set about the signing of the paperwork for her release to the mortuary, I stood in silence observing the shell in bed, the vessel that once was my mother. It was abundantly clear to me that her essence was gone. She had left us and all we had now were memories and the human form that once housed her spirit. It was a sobering experience to be present when that disconnect occurred, when her soul was released into the Cosmos. It was sobering but also a privilege.
In losing my folks and so close together, I feel fortunate to have worked on helping us end our time here together on good terms. I believe they are with me every day, in lessons they taught me and in my mannerisms. to know they are always here and we had nothing left to say simply makes my journey on this side of things a bit more peaceful. I miss them in ways I can’t express. My husband sees me sobbing, he knows the weight that this grief brings to my bones. But overall, the missing them is having had great love for them and also I feel bad for myself for not having them here for me in person anymore.
I have closure with them. Now, I need closure about them within myself.