Saturday, May 3, 2008

Seven Years

When I was 25, in April of that year, I had surgery on my sinuses for recurrent infections and congestion. I was living an apartment in the Boston area with my friend JK (it amazes me that she is still my friend -- I was a *terrible* roommate) and my mom came up to be with me before and after the operation; my dad would follow on the day of, taking the train up from NY. My mom and I went to dinner at a local pizza place, carefully watching the time so I wouldn't eat after the specified hour. It was a nice evening. She shared my bed with me that night, and we left early the next day to head to the hospital, BI, in Boston.

We had to be there at some ungodly hour. Of course, there were delays, and we sat for, easily, a half an hour or more. I noticed that she was scratching her arm; I pulled her sleeve up and she had a big patch of hives. She was worried about the surgery. She hadn't expressed her anxiety to me, and it hadn't really occurred to me that something could go seriously wrong. "Ma, are you anxious about this?" I don't even remember her response, if it was dismissive or sheepish. I think I got called to get prepped, and then into the OR.

I woke up feeling queasy, but with my mom at my side. I woke around 1pm, but the didn't release me until 7pm or so, because I was so nauseous. She drove my family's huge Chev.rolet Ca.price down the narrow, fast moving lanes of Storrow Drive, with me still horizontal because I was still queasy. Despite the queasy, I could see her white knuckling it as we headed west out of town.

My dad was out with JK, took her to dinner (at the same local pizza place) while they waited for us to return. I was still pretty out of it when they returned home, and was soon asleep. Had to go back in the next day, a Saturday, so the doctor could check on me and take out the packing. My parents said that they could hear me yell as the doctor yanked the packing, but that was the worst pain I suffered from the operation. I was nauseous all weekend. My mom and JK took turns shaking the diet coke for me, and the ginger ale, too, so they would be nice and flat. Crackers for my stomach.

My last memory of that weekend, is my mom sitting on the side of my bed Sunday afternoon. I was still queasy, and my mom was holding my hand or brushing the hair from my face as I was laying on my stomach in bed. Petting me somehow. From the living room, my dad called to her, "Sharon? Sharon, it's time, we have to get going." It was a a four-hour drive back home. She didn't want to go. She looked at me, looked at my dad as he approached my bedroom door to say good bye, but didn't anything. She held on to me, and hesitated. "Sharon? We gotta go." She kissed me and told me they would call to check on me when they got home. JK reassured her that she had plenty of diet coke for me, and was well practiced in the shaking. My dad said his goodbyes and they left.

It just occurred to me that 5 years later, the roles would be reversed. One of the most painful memories of my mother's illness. It was a weekend in April, and JK drove me down and stayed with me at my parents' house. That weekend, my mother was released from a world renown cancer center in NYC, with the head of gynecological oncology telling my dad that there was nothing more that they could do for her. She came home with a wheelchair and an oxygen tank. Very tired, very quiet. A and I fought a lot and it was overall a very difficult weekend.

Sunday afternoon, we had to head back. I went in and sat with my mom on her and my father's bed, and held her hand. We talked for a little bit. JK came in and kissed her good bye. Mom had given her some forsythia cuttings, I think. I told her I had to get going. And she just kept holding my hand. She didn't say anything, just looked at our hands, and kept holding on. I told her again, that I had to go. I kissed her a bunch of times, and we said good bye. And I had to physically take my hand out of hers.

JK and I started crying by the time we got to the end of my street. It wasn't until later, weeks later, that I realized she wanted to ask me not to go. It pains me that I couldn't understand. That it was to hard to even conceptualize.

A couple of weekends later, we brought in hospice. They came in on a Monday; it took longer than anticipated to make everything official -- I was going to head back up to Boston afterward. It annoyed me that the nurse spoke so loudly to my mother, like she wasn't all there, like she couldn't hear or understand. She could. She did.

The nurse, or whoever it was, told us that she likely would not last long. Had she considered a DNR (Do Not Resucitate) order. We hadn't talked about that, as a family yet. Mom asked me when my brother would be home, she wanted us all to talk about this. I asked her if she wanted me to stay this week. She said yes.

It was her last week. Mom died at 9:15 am on Friday, May 4, 2001. We were all gathered around her. I had stayed in her room all night (we took turns looking after her) and her breathing had become very noisy, what we'd later learn was the death rattle. It was a sound I thought I'd never forget, though I think I've blocked it now.

After my mother was gone, A suggested we share happy memories of Mom, to shake some of the pain of what we'd experienced. I couldn't think of anything of the top of my head, but others did. Then my sister and brother (and his girlfriend) and C and I took the dog and went to a local park by a lake and ate bagels. It was a gorgeous day, one she would have liked to spend working on her garden.

The last thing my mom ate was a few spoonfuls of a McDo.nald's sundae (hot fudge, no nuts) -- she suddenly had an appetite and my dad was so excited he got 6 of them (some with hot fudge, some just plain) in hopes that she'd continue to want to eat. It was a treat that we sometimes got as kids -- my mom *loved* ice cream, and surprisingly, enjoyed this too. Occasionally, on the spur of the moment, we would go through the drive-thru for sundaes.

I have a lot of memories of my mom -- lots of happy ones: my college graduation, the evening that C asked for their blessing on our engagement ("On one condition: you call us Sharon and Bob.") Once when we were kids, my brother and father were out of town on some kind of camping trip, and she took A and me to Fri.endly's to have ice cream for dinner.

Below is a picture JK took a few years ago of a flower in my mother's garden, a Rose of Sharon. I hope you enjoy it. And if you happen to have some ice cream today, if you happen to think of it, send up a spoonful for her.

Love you, Mamelah.


luna said...

I was just going to send you a little note to say I was thinking of you tonight, and then, this is true, I was headed to my freezer for a tiny bowl of ice cream.

your story is beautiful and so very sad. I'm so glad you could spend those last days and hours by her side with your family. I know how hard this day is for you. I've got a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat as I tell you I am thinking of you and your family. my little bowl of mint chip goes up to your mom. and also my wishes for peace and healing to your sister. and a hug to you. ~luna

Carrie said...

What a beautiful post. Thinking of you today. Xx

Newt said...

What a beautiful story, and gosh, what an extraordinary mother. I'm crying.

Ice cream it is.

Busted said...

Such an amazing post. Your mom sounds like she was a truly beautiful person. And, not to copy luna or anything, last night, on the way home from the suburbs, we went through a drivethru and got a sundae (something we never do), before even having read this.

I'm thinking of you this whole week and month. I know it will be a difficult one for you, lots of unhappy days/reminders.

Mrs. Spit said...

Mr. Spit and I have developed a bit of a tradition of getting marble slab ice cream on Sunday's. We'll toast your mother with it tonight.

Thaks for sharing a bit of her life and her story. I like that I get to help others remember their loved ones, just a bit.

c. said...

Oh, STE, this is so beautiful. I am in tears.

I do plan on having ice cream today and I now have every intention of thinking of her when I do.

Thinking of you, especially today.

G$ said...

I am in tears too, this is such a lovely tribute to your mom.

Thinking of you and her today. I will have some ice cream in her honor.

CLC said...

That was a beautiful post about your Mother. I am crying now so can barely type! I will have some ice cream in her honor. Thinking of you and your family today.

Julia said...

The story and the picture, both beautiful.
Sadly, no ice cream for me today. But I will think of you and your mom.

Amy said...

That is a beautiful post, I am sorry, I missed out on having ice cream for your Mom. I will however everytime, I go to McD.onal.ds to get my $1 cone, think of your Mom. Everytime I eat ice cream for that matter.

Thank you for sharing this with us. Many hugs to you!

k@lakly said...

What a beautiful tribute to your Mamelah. I loved the flower too, makes me think of that Hawaiian version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow...i'll be thinking of you and your mom today.

jaykay said...

Still can't believe it's seven years. I did indeed enjoy a plentiful serving of ice cream yesterday and toasted to your mom. Also hoped to take some pics of the blooming forsythia (from the pieces she gave me), but it was pouring buckets here. I guess she was visiting. :)

nb: STE was my *best* roommate. We always had far more laughs and good times than not.

Lori said...

I saw your comment on Glow in the Woods and had to come visit. I am always drawn to other mothers of twins... well, those mothers like me whose twins are no longer here.

And then I see this... I'm so sorry. This took my breath away for more than one reason. My Dad died three years ago on May 4th.

Tash said...

beautiful post. As hard as it was for everyone, I'm so glad you were there with her, for both of you. I did have ice cream, and I did think of her, wanted you to know. This is a rough time of year for so many, for so many reasons. Thinking of you all.

Cliff Evans said...

You know that May 4th is also the anniversary of the Kent State shootings? The fun just never ends.

On the other hand, that milkshake was delicious and the day was gorgeous. I think your mother would have approved.

Brierley + Clover said...

An absolutely beautiful post. x