One year since my mom’s death

Hawaii Sunset

I haven’t known what to write about this day, all I knew is that I had to write. A year ago, my mom died. There are a lot of different directions I could take, like how this last year was spent (half planning, half traveling, all grieving). My sister wrote a beautiful blog post that is a stunning tribute to my mom, my whole family cried when we read it (find it here).

I could revisit what happened a year ago today, and the final days of my mom’s life (because whether you admit it or not, that’s probably what is secretly most interesting to people, the gory details of death – something our culture is fascinated about but keeps largely behind closed doors). I could open those doors for you, although revisiting this time is very painful. It is a time I have been haunted by, and in the past would have given anything to forget, at least so I could fall asleep at night.

But with blogging, I have also found some peace, a certain element of letting go. Much like my pain associated with my first motherless Mother’s Day, once I blogged about it, acknowledged my pain and bitterness, once I exposed the wounds for the world to see, it no longer held as much power over me. Like a weight lifted off my chest. So maybe I’ll give this a shot. My mom’s death. June 15, 2016. From my account.

I want to tell you I tried – I tried and failed to write the blog as I intended. Because in order to tell you what happened on June 15, you need to know what happened in the early morning of June 13. How my dad and I woke up our family friends with a call to come say their goodbyes to my mom in the hospital, thinking she only had hours left to live. But her heart and her will to live would not surrender so easily. We would wait, and wait, and wait.

You would need to know what happened on June 12, the last time my mom was conscious. You would need to know she insisted that the doctor remove her catheter that was just placed the night before because it was uncomfortable and she believed if she didn’t keep getting up to go to the bathroom, then how was she going to get better? The intention of staying active with the difficult and painful task of using the bathroom was another act of not giving up. How it broke our hearts that she believed she was still going to get better when her body had other plans.

How she told her friends that we needed to tip the nurse in her room who brought her another pillow or whatever it was because she was losing her sense of clarity but was still hospitable (maybe she thought he was a delivery guy or bell hop). How my dad, brother, and I (and my sister via Whatsapp from Paraguay) had to make unbearable decisions about the oxygen tubes and antibiotics and machines that were prolonging my mom’s time on earth while she was no longer conscious.

And you would need to know what happened on June 11, the last time I got to talk to my mom when she was truly coherent, that night in the hospital with my brother and dad. How I couldn’t think of what to say to possibly sum up everything she meant to me. How I could only manage to thank her for putting up with me as an awful baby and stubborn child and apologize, to which she responded that it was okay, my brother and sister had been easier (ha!). How the night nurse entered the room, her voice booming loudly “look! She’s a good patient, look at her smile!” to which my mom only smiled brighter, beaming. How my mom did her best to smile at every hospital worker who was taking care of her throughout the night and day, thanking them and apologizing after she vomited, which was frequent and out of her control. How the heartbreaking image of her big beautiful smile, with lines of dark green vomit spilling from the corners of her mouth, will never leave me.

You would need to know what happened earlier that day, the last time she would leave our home, put on a stretcher by two young male EMTs, taken in an ambulance that I rode in the back with her in, her long legs covered by her pink picture collage blanket, full of family photos, exposing a green pair of socks that I bought her for Mother’s Day. How the ER team thought she was in for a standard procedure – to reinsert her g-tube that had somehow come out (the gastro tube that drained bile from her intestines through a tube into a bag, that I would regularly drain into a large plastic cup and dump into the toilet to dispose of).

How they transferred her from a small room to where only I was allowed, to a giant one after realizing her situation was grave. A huge team of ER workers ran around her like in a scene out of Grey’s Anatomy. When they finally let my dad and brother come in, we held hands, stood back, and watched, as tears stung the back of our eyes, fearing the scene that was unfolding before us.

And you need to know what happened during the three months prior to that, and how many times (at least three) I got dressed in a hurry contemplating what should I wear when my mom dies. How I wanted to be comfortable but also not look like a complete slob. So many times so that on the day my mom actually died, I didn’t think it was going to be the day she died, I thought we would continue to wait, so I didn’t give it as much thought.

I would hold myself together in the company of others, accustomed to being strong for and in front of my mom as her primary caregiver. Strong for her, strong for our family, strong for our friends. Knowledgeable for the doctors and nurses. Knowledgeable about the medications and morphine, that I would administer around the clock, at first by mouth and then intravenously (with a needle through the port in her chest) in her final weeks. For someone who is sheepish with just the mention of medical procedures, this was a big leap for me.

If I told you all these things in detail like I planned to when I started writing the draft for this blog, which is long and unfinished, it wouldn’t be a blog, it would be a book. So if you’re still at all interested you’ll just have to wait for the day it becomes one. As I can still hear my mom say “write that book girl!”

So as I sit on a train back in Spain, a country very close to my heart – the only country in Europe my mom ever made it to (while visiting me with my sister when I studied abroad), I will let this blog be enough, just as it is.


4 thoughts on “One year since my mom’s death

  1. Krista, what a heart wrenching and beautiful account of your mother’s last days. I witnessed your grace, strength, and loving care throughout your mother’s illness. Your ability to step up to all the challenging situations you faced was beautiful to behold. You were the glue (like mother like daughter!). I will never forget how you cared for Nancy. The memories are etched into my brain. How proud I am of the woman you are today! You have truly touched us all and you have set a great example of how to care for a family member with dignity and respect. Your mother is definitely smiling from Heaven. Love you .

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  2. You have your Mom’s memory when it comes to details and an incredible gift of writing. I often wish I could forget her last 3 years. Even though there were some exceptionally great memories during that time, I’ll never forget the day we were told she had stage 4 cancer. Life was never the same. I hope sharing the painful side helps bring some comfort and healing. I pray for peace.

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  3. It’s difficult being the sister/daughter accompanying a mother to cross over. It is a lonely and frightening place and at the same time an honorable and peaceful place few get to experience. What you provided to your lovely mother and to your family is remarkable. Your sacrifice allowed your mom to get through her illness with grace and leave this earth with the dignity she so needed. She was and remains a lovely lady. I think of her often and smile or laugh each time. She clearly is so proud of you.

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  4. What a beautiful post that brings tears to my eyes. Sending a virtual hug. I lost my Dad 27 years ago and my Mom 4 years ago. I wasn’t blogging at the time but I do hold the memories of both of their last days not only in my heart but in the detailed entries in my journals. It is hard to explain to others without telling them more. Just like you did in your post. I’m sure your Mom is very proud of you.

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