My mom and I loved the show Gilmore Girls. Well, I loved it and eventually she got sucked into watching it with me. In the show, there is a character, Luke, who has a “dark day” every year. It marked the day his dad died. He was cold to those who cared about him and would isolate himself. I never understood how one day could effect someone so much. Sure, losing a parent would be hard, but I did not understand the weight of the day you lost them. That is, until I had my own dark day, the anniversary of my mom’s death on June 29, 2015.
The whole month of June is pretty difficult actually, especially this week. June 21, 2015 was the Sunday my mom didn’t recognize me momentarily, thinking I was her nurse. June 22, 2015 was the day I camped out on the floor of my mom’s bedroom because she couldn’t be left alone for a moment. That evening was when we called the home health nurse and rushed to the emergency room because we couldn’t provide for her needs at home. In that car ride, we pulled away from our house and I had a sinking feeling we might not walk back in together. That evening, the ER doctors pumped her full of fluids and chose to admit her. The nurses made sure we had a cot so we could be by her side and they showed me where the really good coffee could be found. That Tuesday was when they gave us 48 hours to prepare for what came next if she didn’t show improvement. June 24 was the Wednesday I held her hand all day and wished I could bottle up her sweet squeezes when words failed her. That Thursday was the day they gathered us in that awful room to be informed there was nothing else to do and it was time to come to a family decision about what came next. Worst family meeting ever. That Friday we filled her hospital room with so much love and laughter.
That Saturday was the day the doctors unhooked her from so many of the things keeping her body going and switched to only the things that would make her comfortable. The transport team came to take her to the hospice home. I held her hand all the way to the elevator, where my dad would continue on with her. As the doors closed, she looked at me and gave me the biggest smile, and it was in that moment I knew she was at peace, glad to be leaving the hospital, and that although she was unable to give us her opinion verbally, we had made the right decision for her. I then walked back in to her hospital room to gather our stuff where, pardon my French, I lost my shit. I had cried plenty in the past three months, But for the first time since her diagnosis three months ago, I knew that this was the end. We were no longer fighting. We were accepting the inevitable. This acceptance involved me sobbing, screaming, and collapsing on the floor. The nurses who checked on me, but then allowed me to have my moment were saints. We got situated in the hospice home. I cannot say enough good things about hospice. The staff did just as good of a job of taking care of my mom as they did taking care of my family. Saturday was filled with a steady stream of visitors. My mom was visibly more comfortable and at peace than at the hospital.
By Sunday afternoon, June 28, visitors had come and gone. I vividly remember this sense of peace that I hadn’t felt before as my mom, dad, brother, and myself soaked up the stillness and the opportunity to be just us for a moment. In hospice, they talk in terms of weeks to months, months to days, and days to hours. When we first arrived, they talked to us in terms of months to days. Sunday they talked to us in terms of days to hours. I had a moment with my mom where I told her that I never wanted to say goodbye, but when she was ready, I was ready. She had filled my life with so much love and light that I would find a way to be fine. My brother and I made plans for what time we would arrive to in the morning, said goodnight to my mom and my dad.
In the very early hours of Monday, June 29, my phone rang. As soon as I saw that it was my dad, I knew. I woke my brother up and he knew what this wake up call meant. He drove us to the hospice home. We went home, tried to get a little sleep, and then spent the rest of the day making arrangements. While we were looking at headstones, my dad looked at one and said, “Well this one is nice, but we’d have to change the name on it.” I laughed. And I still laugh thinking about it. And I remember feeling relieved to know that I would laugh again.
Is it hard to write this out and relive so many of the moments of what is referred to as “hell week?” Absolutely. But I have found that it is harder to try to suppress the memories. I also have this fear of forgetting it all. As awful as so many of those feelings were, it was also one more week where my mom was by my side. As time passes, I fear forgetting pieces of her. Although I want the memories of her life to shine more brightly in my mind than her death, it is important to keep them all near. I also find it strangely therapeutic to walk through the last week of her life.
June 29th now carries the weight of reminding me that I have made another journey around the sun without her by my side. The day where life with my mom ended and life without her began. There are other days that are tough, sure. March 13 was the day she was diagnosed. Mother’s Day. Her birthday. None carry the weight so great as June 29th, though.
I don’t remember lots about the 1st anniversary of her death. We had gathered as a family a few days prior to be a part of the dedication of a memory garden that she helped make possible. The day of, I think I stayed in bed and slept a lot in an attempt to avoid feeling much of anything. On the suggestion of a dear friend though, I did eat ice cream for breakfast, which was one of her favorites. I invited family and friends to do the same in remembrance of how sweet her life was. My heart was mended by all of the pictures I received of everyone enjoying their ice cream breakfast. Last year, I was in Belgium on June 29th. I actually contemplated not going on my European adventure because I knew how hard the 29th would be for me. Instead, I embraced the life my mom would want me to live. I enjoyed some ice cream for breakfast. I pushed the thoughts out of my brain for as long as I could through the day. After suppressing my feelings all day, I found myself sobbing on the floor of a hostel bathroom that evening. The thought of wasting a whole day being sad, especially when I know just how precious each day is, seemed ridiculous, but I am learning that you’ve got to feel the feels when you’ve got them though.
Life without my mom is often sad and a bit lonely. But the fact that I lived a life with her in it, exist in world where she existed, will always be one of the greatest blessings of my life. Three years without her feels like an eternity and also the blink of an eye. Her death has taught me a lot and shaped who I am today, but not nearly as much as her life did. I don’t know what tomorrow will have in store for me, but I do know I’ll start my day off with some ice cream, live in a way that would make her proud, and embrace all of the good, the bad, and the ugly emotions that come on my dark day, knowing that the light that was my mom will guide me through it.