I haven’t been the same since she left. There is a hole in my heart I can’t seem to repair. She was always my touchstone, my North Star. The one I turned to for advice on all matters. She was far more intelligent than I, she was a born diplomat, she was articulate and refined.
She had Grace.
When she came home 3 years ago and told me that she had ALS, I was silently horrified. For I knew exactly what fate would lie ahead for my mom.
No cure. No treatment. Ascending paralysis beginning in each limb, until one day her esophagus would no longer work and her diaphragm would no longer move….. She would slowly starve and suffocate.
Even when you know the storm is coming you can just never fully prepare for its wrath.
Watching her lose more and more, over and over again and being helpless to stop it, became gut wrenching. At one point she asked a family member to shoot her, in a moment of despair. For she had just lost the ability to wipe her bottom on the toilet.
I never felt that she was never a burden to me, I would have sawed off both my right leg and arm to help her.
She left two months ago, and the time of death was called at 8:00 pm, yet it feels like the clock has stood still for me. That night is frozen, crystallized in my mind.
I watched her those last 2 days as her feet became mottled. Her breathing became more shallow and stopped frequently. That last day her fingertips and toes began to turn a bluish color and the nurse confirmed death was only hours away.
I had just finished reading Psalm 91 aloud to her. She took comfort in that particular Book. She could still hear us. This we had proved with a smile she gave when we asked her for a photo. When I read the last line of Psalm 91, she breathed her last.
I fell into her as if a child again. “Mommy! Oh Mommy! Don’t go! I love you!!” I pleaded, as I clung onto her and hugged her tightly.
We all sat with her while waiting until the funeral home came to get her. But the nurses came in to say they needed to “get her ready”. So I asked what that involved. They explained they would be washing her body.
So I volunteered my sister, I, and my aunt to do it. What on earth was I getting us into?
By this point, my mom did not look like herself anymore. Her skin tone had already changed to a light ashen yellow grayish color except for her extremities which continued to get more blue-purple by the minute. Her mouth was agape and would not close no matter how many times I tried to close it. My sister kept ordering me to shut it and I told her while half-laughing, “It just pops back open you fool!” Her hair began to look more like straw than hair, no matter how I brushed it. The way you might a doll’s hair.
People always say that the deceased just look like they are sleeping, but I am here to tell you she did not. She looked lifeless and she did not look like my mom any more. This was only 1 hour post-mortem. The nurse handed us some towels and explained that when we rolled her, we need to place a towel over her mouth in case some fluids leak out. And also that she may have lost control of bowel and bladder.
As I stood there gloved up ready to wash my beloved mom, I felt a bit scared. I thought , “I’m not as brave as I thought.” Mom was the brave one who had this disease kick the shit out of her for three years non-stop and never gave up.
Bearing that in mind, I did my best to just suck it up and remember that my mom deserved the best care, til the very end. With that thought in mind, I jumped right in.
I knew then, in that moment as I was washing her naked body that all that she was, had transcended this world. That indeed, she was gone. That I was cleaning the vehicle which had carried her soul for so many years. I was strangely aware that somehow she knew that, from wherever she was. She was proud of us for the respect and homage we paying her through what we were doing.
We redressed her in a lavender colored brand new night gown, her favorite color. We put her lotion on her feet and then slipped on her favorite soft wool socks. We all gave her one last kiss goodbye.
When the funeral home came with the stretcher and black body bag with that long metal zipper. I decided to leave and urged my little sister and aunt to do the same. Instinctively, I knew that I would never be able to get that image out of my head or theirs. So I took my little sister and my aunt by the hand and told them we had done all we could and that it was time to go. That was the longest corridor I have ever walked, away from that room. I told both of them we are going to get in the car and no one is going to turn around to look back.
No one did.
Still, I have to say I don’t have things all tidied up in some neat little bow. What is after this?
Oh I believe there is something. I believe in God. Where it this place you go? what it’s like, I wouldn’t pretend to know.
I know that I miss her terribly, I feel lost without her here. I talk to her but want so desperately for her to talk back. All I can do is hope that one day that will happen. That one day I can see her again.