I lost my mom on Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 at 4:00am in the morning. My mom and I were so close that we could often feel when the other was in distress. Yet, this morning, I woke up at my own apartment, brushed my teeth, put on my makeup, grabbed a cup of coffee, and felt completely at peace, blissfully unaware that my mother had been dead already for two hours. The reality of it hasn’t necessarily sunken it yet. The first week is nothing but shock and a million thoughts – both good and bad – permeating your mind.
I laid my mother to rest yesterday, seeing her for the first time, and the only emotion I can say that really overtook me was a finalization that I finally had some closure; I was able to hug her one last time, tell her how pretty she looked, grab her hand, feeling how cold it was while remembering how warm her embrace used to be, kissing her forehead, and wiping away the fuzz ball that landed on her lips. I walked up to her casket shaking. I told the funeral director that she was claustrophobic, and the plaque I bought her for Christmas that said, “I love that you’re my mom” for $3.99 was rested near her head and I asked him to move it because I didn’t want the sharp edges to hurt her.
I cried over her body, and was greeted by neighbors, old teachers, old friends, and co-workers from jobs present and jobs past who hugged me and told me what a beautiful person my mother was. I hugged them back, not knowing some and angry that others I expected to see didn’t show up to pay their respects. My father requested a closed casket because he had watched her die. She had gotten up to use the bathroom, and then collapsed on the floorboards in my parents’ hallway. My father raced to her, watching her convulsing on the wooden floor she’d asked him to lay down, and just like that, she was gone. The paramedics tried reviving her for two hours and her pulse never came back – as I blissfully drank my coffee twenty miles away. He didn’t want to see her again. The last image ingrained in him was bad enough. The open casket was for me, for one hour, so I could look at her beautiful face again, so I could touch her, and tell her again how much I loved her. When it was time to close it, I felt a hole in my heart just explode and my fiancé grabbed me tighter until the funeral director came in to say it was done.
The priest said some words, all kind. And then I gave her a eulogy. I wrote it in thirty minutes yesterday morning. The words poured out, reminiscing about our shopping trips and the mornings we spent drinking coffee and all our laughter. I talked about how she was the kind of mom you could tell anything to, and that for twenty-six years, she was the greatest friend I’d ever known. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I sat down and the priest told us all that the family, meaning my dad and I, had some music we wanted to play. I wanted to give each song an introduction. The first was “Slipping Through My Fingers” a song from the movie version of Mamma Mia, which my mom and I had watched countless times, and the song I played on repeat at the docks in my hometown, where I cried, hunching myself over toward my knees, feeling life fleeting away and screaming out loud that I just wanted to die. I listened to Meryl Streep’s shitty voice sing about watching her daughter grow and having regret about all the plans they made, yet never got around to – something I realized I knew all too well with my mother.
Then my parents’ wedding song began to play, and I lost control of my emotions listening to the King of Rock and Roll sing “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” I thought back to the Sunday mornings when the oldies station would end their Elvis block with the live version and my mom would grab me and dance with me. I used to hate it, and I sat there yesterday, thinking not only about how I should have loved it every single time it happened, but also what had to be running through her mind when she danced to that as a newlywed; how happy she must have been and for a second, I felt a little comfort. I preceded to apologize to the priest for the third song being ‘Bat out of Hell’ by Meatloaf. My mother loved him – and rock and roll. She’d scream those high notes and feel the music come alive inside her. The song screeched and my fiancé and I just sat there, laughing, because I was actually playing ‘Bat out of Hell’ at my mother’s Catholic funeral. She would have loved it. The image of her bouncing around, screaming, and dancing completely out of tune, made my heart sing.
And then, I watched them wheel her over, watching as my brother, my fiancé, my uncle, nephew, and best friends’ husbands carry her. The wind was howling and when she died on Tuesday, all I kept fearing was that the snow we were scheduled for on Friday would happen, and then somehow either start or end as rain. All my life my mom told me that if it rained during someone’s funeral it meant that they didn’t want to die. I realize that’s total bullshit, and I’ve got to hand it to my mother, she made a plethora of funerals much worse for me than it really had to be. But there I was, alone in my childhood bedroom, talking out loud to my mother saying, “Listen, if you do anything for me, just let it be a nice, sunny day on Friday, okay?” I then preceded to ask her to turn a flashlight on to communicate with her because we were obsessed with ghost hunting shows to no avail, although if her spirit was beside me she probably cracked up laughing. It didn’t rain on Friday. And while we stood there, saying a final blessing, my head buried into my fiancé’s arms, my best friend across the way looked at me and pointed up at the sky behind me. I turned my head and saw that a patch of light started shining down, breaking the bleakness of the snow-filled clouds. I smiled, and rested a flower on her coffin, and then turned to wave goodbye before I saw the grounds workers work on lowering her into the ground. That wasn’t the last thing I wanted to see.
Now, it’s up to you whether you believe in the paranormal. Hell, it’s up to you whether you even want to believe in an afterlife. Though being raised Catholic, I had always wanted proof that something happens after we die. The worst part about having faith is that there is no concrete evidence. It’s just something we believe, yet, in that moment, what I wanted wasn’t faith, it was evidence that my mom was okay.
Despite nearing my thirties, this week I felt like a six year old child again, begging and desperate for my mom to heal this raw wound of mine.
I hadn’t talked to any friends that week, even though they called, and left voicemail after voicemail. We all headed over to my aunt and uncle’s house for food, and I had gone upstairs with my cousin to fix my makeup when she told me she had seen my mom.
I asked her what had happened, and she said she saw my mom the day before, sitting at her parents’ dining room table, looking at my uncle while he worked on cleaning it. She said she was there to check in on her brother because it was his birthday. She wanted to see if he was okay. My cousin said to me, “she didn’t know I could see her.” I asked her what else had happened and she said, “I asked her why she was here and not with you.” And my cousin broke down crying, placing her hand on her chest and said, “I don’t know how to explain it, but she spoke to me here,” and pointed at her chest. “She just gave me the answers. I felt them.”
I asked her what my mom had said. And my cousin began to tell me, “I know Courtney’s been looking for me, but she’s not ready yet. When she’s ready, I’ll come.”
Now, for any skeptics, I would argue that a vague thing to say would be something along the lines of “Your mom is with you,” a line that can’t really be proven whatsoever. But, this was too specific. I hadn’t talked to my cousin all week. I didn’t share with her what I had done with the flashlight, nor how I begged my mom in hysterics to touch my hand, or to make the microwave beep, or to have the lightbulb flicker. My cousin didn’t know I begged for my mom to let me know she was there when I was crying at the docks, or how I prayed for a sign, and begged out loud nearly twenty times since she died on Tuesday. How would my cousin know to say, “I know she’s been looking for me?”
Despite your beliefs, and in case I end up reading some of your comments, please be sensitive – I found tremendous comfort in knowing that my mom has been around me. My mother told my cousin that. Teary-eyed, my cousin told me that my mother said that she’s been with me since it happened. Yesterday afternoon, while my fiancé and I were upstairs at my family’s house, laying coats down for the guests who had come over, he paused and asked me if he could ask me a question. The night before he had run to our apartment to get his suit, to feed the cat, and to take a shower because I’ll admit, grief does nothing for your hygiene routine. We had just found out that my mother was still able to pay for my wedding dress like she wanted to, and that we’d be able to pay for our wedding, and he was home alone, thinking out loud about that; how even in death my mom was still working her magic to take care of us. We had just moved in to our new apartment, and he opened the shower curtain and looked at the mirror where the word LOVE was written on the mirror. It wasn’t handwritten though. It was like the lines of clarity formed the word through the steam, while he was just talking to himself about our wedding. She had always promised me she’d be at my wedding, and I don’t know – we both took that as a sign she was keeping her promise.
I had watched my mom decline in health since being diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer six years ago. The past year has been the hardest as we watched her endure biopsy after biopsy, new medication, pain in her legs, feeling the worry about her cancer growing in her brain and how her life ended up being filled with the inability to walk on her own or unable to drive because the tumor pressed against her brain. It was devastating to see the woman who one year earlier was vibrant and full of life ask me to help her sit down, or need assistance to go to the bathroom. She pushed through though. She helped me move. She arranged my kitchen. She was full of life, and vigor up until the very end, and even through our final conversation Monday night, I hung up with her, feeling anchored that she was in my life and I loved her for it.
None of us expected her to have a heart attack the morning after.
I don’t know what’s to come in the next few weeks, months, or even years. I hear people telling me it will get easier, and others telling me I’m still in shock and am not grieving because I’m feeling comforted by the notion that my mom would never leave me, and also that she told me months prior she would never want her death to devastate me to the point where I can’t move on.
I feel conflicted by wanting to be okay – to skip the part where I’m angry, or resentful that she left, or that God had taken her.
I want to make peace with her passing because somehow, I know she’s okay, and I know she would never leave me, and while I desperately miss her and am too in shock to even look at the newspaper where we have her obituary, that we all grieve in different ways and maybe for me, I will actually be okay, because that’s what my mother would desperately want for me.