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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Misunderstood moments

I was driving away, and I never knew that it would be the last time I saw my Mom, healthy, and alive. There was nothing, no insight, no snippet of the pain that was about to become a turning point in my life. This is a tale of truth, as I saw it. Just a glance into a couple of days, years past. I am positive that my memory has penciled in a few cosmetic revisions of those moments. Grief does that, I think.

Jerry and I were separated at the time. He was gone, and I was trying to get on with living. For some reason, even though there was a car in the driveway, it was in disrepair, somehow similar to my life, back then. I asked my Mom if I could borrow her car to go grocery shopping and to the laundromat. Looking back, I wonder why I went to the laundromat, when I had a washer and dryer in the basement, but I know that was the purpose of the trip. I spent the day, with my Mom. We probably shopped, laughed, things we did on a regular basis. She was my best friend, and our bond was incredibly powerful. I dropped her off at her house and drove to mine. Then I did my laundry, and went home.

My house was in town, my Mothers in the country, about 20 miles from mine. I kept the car overnight. The next day I got a call from my Step Dad, Bob. He told me to meet him at the hospital, that they were taking my Mom by ambulance, and hung up. Zack and I rushed to the emergency room, beating my Mom there. She had a terrible headache. We waited, and eventually my Step Dad found us. He was in a state of panic, of course. He said she was baking an apple pie and everything was fine, and she was overwhelmed with pain. He knew it was an emergency and called 911.

After an initial examination, we were told we could be with Mom. She was awake, her body writhing in pain. I stood there, telling her not to go to sleep. "Mom, you have to stay awake. Stay awake, or you will not wake up again." A nurse muttered something to me about letting her do whatever she needed to do. Zack was there, with me. My Mom looked at him, at some point and said "I love you, buddy". I told her I loved her. The doctors and nurses took her to do some kind of medical test to determine the cause of the pain. We sat on these chairs, Bob, Zack, and me. We were quiet, all wrapped up in our own thoughts and prayers. Bob was convinced that she would be okay. I was convinced that this was the end. There was no discussion about it, because I hoped he was right.

My Mom was a smoker, a heavy smoker. two to three packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day. She hardly ever ate. She was thin and active, and didn't have time to eat, I guess. She had arthritis, and took aspirin, a lot of it. This combination was fatal. She had a brain bleed. There was no way to repair the damage. She would die. We called the family. My brothers traveled from New Hampshire. My Dad came down to the hospital. She was surrounded by all the people who loved her, and she died, slowly. It took about two days. They sedated her, but you could still see her writhing in pain. I remember that my brother Phil finally told her to just let go, that we would be okay. She did, we weren't.

Bob took her car, and we caught a ride home from a family friend. I probably slept, I can't remember. The next memory is that we went the funeral home to make arrangements for her funeral. We picked out a casket. We were asked questions, and helped with the obituary. Just ordinary questions, but overwhelming, too. Bob asked me to give a eulogy, as I had done it for both of my Grandparents. How could I say no. I said yes, and I still regret it. It pushed me over the edge, a little bit, having to stand up, when I didn't want to. Having to be strong when my world had just fallen to pieces. He asked my sister, Candy to do her hair for the funeral. Candy is my half sister, and she has a different Mom, but we share Fathers. She said yes, and asked me to come with her. I said yes, I would go with her, to the funeral home, after my Mom was embalmed, and be with her as she did her hair. Why did I do that? She was my Mom. I had no idea what I would be seeing, but that image has stayed with me. It is burned into my very soul. My Mom, on a slab, wrapped in a sheet, basically naked underneath, no makeup, dead.

Now this is the story I wanted to write, about the moments with my Sister at the funeral home. Bonding uncomfortable moments. Candy was there, because she gave her word, and I was there because she needed my support. So to lighten up the moment, after doing my Mom's hair, we went into the casket showroom and leaned in on the caskets to try out the different looks on us. We picked out our own caskets, and just had a moment together. We laughed, because that was the only thing there was to do. We bonded, my sister and I. We will always have that moment. That uncomfortable couple of hours that have the power to make me smile and cringe at the very same time. I saw my Mom dead on a slab. Her body was there, not her soul. She was gone, and it was very very real. My sister and I were alive, and found something to make us giggle.

A couple of days later, I stood up in front of a packed church, and gave a eulogy to my Mother. Not the words I wanted to say, but the words that would make my Step Father happy. I did it for him, not me. I walked out of that funeral, and into the depths of discomfort. I was only a phantom of the person I was a few days before. I had done, what I thought I needed to do, for others, and now I would pay for it. That is another story, entirely. So here it is, all true. I have a video tape of the funeral, that my cousin had done. She thought that someday I would want to see it. I don't. There is nothing there I need to see. I have memories of those days, those moments, that are not about the service itself, but of the sacrifice I made of my mental health. Sometimes I question my good intentions, to this day.

I did all that, and still my Step Father decided I was to blame for my Mother's death. I guess he had to blame someone, and I was the person he focused on. I remember that it broke a shaky relationship apart. He and I were never close, but after my Mom died, I think I reminded him of her, too much. I was blamed. I was hated.

When he died, I didn't even go to his funeral. I cut all ties with him, after a while. I didn't need that in my life. I have grown into a person who does not jump to please people at first impulse. I am still working on that, but I will not let anyone rob me of my own emotions. I am going to need them, for all of the good stuff in living, day to day. I think I can survive the moments, those misunderstood moments, with my authentic self in tact.