I’ve been away from my blog and your stories for a few weeks now. I’ve been taking a break from some of the heaviness of both as I execute my mom’s last wishes and tie up loose ends for her.
My mom, Evelyn, passed on August 21, 2019, at the age of 101. At first, she wasn’t ready. She kept asking when she could leave the ICU and go back to her room in her assisted living facility. “This is the pits,” she said. “I want to go home.”
Two of my daughters, my brother and sister-in-law, and I took turns staying with her. We’d seen her pull herself out of tight places before. We didn’t know if she would do it again. As the week in the hospital dragged on, it became apparent that this struggle might be the last struggle. On the day before she died, I was alone with her for a while. It was difficult for her to talk but she turned to me and said, “I’m okay. Are you okay?” This caught me off guard. I managed to reply, “I’m okay, too. We’re both okay.” That was our last exchange.
Later my mom asked my brother, “What did I do wrong?” Mom was religious about taking her pills every day at the exact right time. We think she thought she might live forever if she just followed “the rules.” My brother said, “Mom, you didn’t do anything wrong.” Then she asked, “When is the funeral?”
Once Mom understood that her life was coming to an end, she made up her mind — as she always did — to go with the flow. She fell asleep for the last time the next day.
I miss my mom but I have to say that my grief for her is different from my grief for my son. Five years since Pat’s passing, sadness pulses in my veins. It lurks in my bones. I think of him every day. Many times every day. Actually, I grieve for him on two levels. I grieve that he’s gone. I grieve for the life that he didn’t get to have due to his mental illness. I grieved for him when he was here. I grieve for him now that his life is over. Other moms and dads tell me the same thing. Somehow, we lose one person twice. I don’t think this pain will abate. It sears my soul.
Death is a natural part of life. My mom’s death seemed natural. She lived a long, not easy, full life. She was my parent and parents are supposed to die first. My son’s death seemed unnatural. He was too young. He tried so hard. He didn’t want to die. One of the last things he said was “Help get me out of here. I have a car waiting around the back. This hospital is killing people.” Pat was delusional but I wonder if he wasn’t onto something. Even in psychosis, he always had an eerie ability to identify the elephant in the room. The next morning, a doctor at the hospital who’d refused to talk to me about my son, called. He said, “I’m sorry. Your son died fifteen minutes ago.”
My mom’s passing is making me emotional again. Losing a child twice to serious mental illness is so damn hard. I’m in tears as I write but soon I’ll get back to my blog and your stories. Our stories must be told. We must tell our stories over and over. Until someone listens.
Meanwhile, I consider my mom’s last words to me. When it’s my turn to leave this life, I hope I’ll have the generosity to show concern for others. I hope I’ll have the grace to say, “I’m okay. Are you okay?”