June 9th, 2006, the day I got the call. That phone call changed my life forever.
My story begins the Saturday before, in my mother's hospice room. I was 26 years old. Alone, just me and my mom, I laid with her and cried, my cheek to her's. She was unconscious and had been for several days. Her body had done this before, enter a comatose state for a day or two until her levels stabilized. She would awaken and life would begin again. This time, this coma, was different than all the others. This was the end. We all knew it. It was only a matter of time, without food and water, before her heart would finally cease to beat and her lungs would take their last breath. It was the sad, heart wrenching reality of science. I think talking with God at this point was no longer a prayer of life, but rather swiftness in death.
That day would be the last time I saw my mother ever again. Lying with her, I knew this as fact. For what seemed like an eternity, my life had become my mother's life. My world revolved around her. I took a leave of absence from my job to devote my days to my mother. I canceled a trip to Sanibel Island when it looked like my mother was taking a turn for the worst. I backed out of plans and stopped making them all together. Cell phone always with me, even while I slept. I lived my life for her, to be there for every moment she had left. To spend as much time as I possibly could with her. To have no regrets.
And yet, that Saturday I finally started living again. My husband (at the time my boyfriend) and I had our annual trip to the Outerbanks of North Carolina planned for the next day. I needed this trip. He needed this trip. He had been a rock for me and my two older sisters during this horrible time in our life. He picked up the slack when we couldn't. And I'm sure, given the mental state I was in, he was my emotional punching bag. Though, as much as I needed this trip, I didn't know how I was ever going to go. To cancel would have been easier. Continue sitting by her side, waiting for her to die. It was all I knew at that point. The grief couselors advised me not to cancel. They wanted me to go, to live. They reminded me, sometimes sick people wait for loved ones to leave them before they pass. They assured me it was okay to go. I wasn't a bad daughter. I knew everything they said to be true. I knew, for me, I had to go. However, I had no idea how to go.
How do I walk out of the room knowing it would be the last? I couldn't. I talked with my mom, not knowing if she could hear me. I let her know I would keep us all together just as she had done. I told her I was happy in my relationship, that we were going to get married and have kids one day. I reassured her I would never stop loving her and she would never be forgotten, a worry of hers. And I told her it was okay to go. I begged her. As I cried the words, they sounded foolish. How does one go? How do you stop living? My mother had so much to live for, asking her to let go was a rediculous request. She didn't want to go, she wanted to be here with her daughters. She lived for us.
Sadly, the hours past. The sun had set, the room had grown dark. The wicked, scary end was coming. I felt the dread creeping into my lungs. I still hadn't figured out, in my heart, how do I physically walk out of the room knowing I will never see my mother again? How was I supposed to say goodbye? I was dying inside. I was too young to have to be so brave. She was too young. It hurt. It played on all my feelings of guilt. Was I wrong, should I have canceled the trip and been by my mother's side, letting her decide how it should end? I cried until it seemed I could cry no more. I kissed her, held her and couldn't let go. My heart wouldn't let my arms release her. On my time, I grew strong, knowing I had to. I whispered in her ear, "I love you, Mom," kissed her cheek, stood and walked out the door. I couldn't look back. It hurt me that I couldn't, but I knew it would make leaving so much harder if I did. As I shut the door to her room, the click of the latch triggered the release, tears fell silently from my swollen eyelids down my cheeks.
From that moment forward, I knew my life would never be the same. June 9th was merely a formality.
In our beach rental house, as I was prepping myself for a day lounging in the sun and watching the guys fish, my phone rang. Before I answered, I knew. It was the call I had been dreading. To hear the words from the grief counselors, "I'm so sorry. Your mom has passed away." The rest of the phone call, a blur of insignificant details. I hung up and went to them, my sister, her boyfriend, and my own. I don't remember a thing, but I'm certain I told them the life altering news. All I remember is holding my one sister, pained for my eldest sister who was not with us. And in that moment, I felt the most bizarre feeling. I wanted to be as far from my family as possible. Remove myself from the nightmare that had consumed us for so long. I had lived and breathed them for what seemed like a lifetime. I needed to get away, to escape everyone that reminded me of my mom. They no longer provided comfort.
I found myself, not at the beach where you would normally find me, but rather at the pool. I stood leaning against a railing, overlooking the pool, away from the hustle and bustle of the kids playing, and called my dearest friend from my childhood. A friend who wasn't involved with the situation that had consumed my life for months, a friend who knew me sometimes better than I knew myself. And I told my story. I found comfort in that phone call. Comfort that my sisters and my boyfriend could not provide. In that phone call, I felt peace. Not exactly peace with my mother dying, but instead, that I would have peace in my life again.