I remember her perfectly, her scent, the feeling of her freckled skin, the way it felt to sit on her lap, her voice calling my name, her famous cookies taken out of the oven too early so they were doughy delicious, everything. When you’re twenty and were just accepted to your dream art school, you don’t expect the worst to gently slip into your life.
She had complained of some pain in her hip so she went to the hospital refusing to leave until a reason was given. It was a sunny day when I came to the hospital to see her and talk about my news of being accepted into the school I never thought I would get into. I went to the room I had thought she was in, but was told she had moved to an entire other floor. Knowing this was the “cancer floor” I didn’t think much of it, I just wanted to find her. Finally I found her room, kissed her beautiful face, and she wanted me to tell her all about my acceptance. I rambled on and on about me moving out of state and all of the possibilities that would come. After my selfish naive ramble, my mother looks at me and says, “Baby, I can’t lie to you, I have cancer.” Twenty years young and selfish I thought, how could this be? Why now? What about my dream school? We cried together, and she told me she wanted me to still go and fulfill my dreams as an art educator.
I went to my studio apartment that day, still with my selfish thoughts, thinking she would pull through and all would work out in the end. I don’t remember when it hit me, even a few days later she even said that she was going to refuse chemo this time, because it was just too painful to endure, and this was God’s will.
As the days continued she started losing more and more weight. Those beginning days still didn’t seem to sink in, me coming to hospital to see her, and then retreating back to my studio of hopeful “what-ifs”. Then one day was all too clear, it was getting bad, she started going unconscious for periods of time, couldn’t use the bathroom on her own, and the cancer was slowly creeping in every inch of her forty-eight year young body. I’ll never forget the day the doctor called us out into the hallway and said, “Your mother is dying, and she is dying quickly.” Those words are branded in my memory, and the way my knees gave out falling into the hallway floor, and everything after was just a blur. Was I really a month shy of twenty-one years young and I am losing the most important person in my life?
I remember when they moved her to the fourth floor, the hospice floor, where everyone knows whoever is on that floor, their days are coming to an end. I hate that place, and am still haunted by the visuals daily. The only positive factor was that family could stay there twenty-four hours a day, and that is exactly what we did. My sister and I would go days without showering, simply because we were afraid to leave. The hospital gave us books about “grieving” and I wondered, who in the hell wants to read that? My mother is dying; I don’t want to read anything. I knew nothing of what was happening in the outside world, I didn’t care about texts, calls, friends, school, anything, it was like everything was moving except the space we were in.
I remember her frail body lying there. We would comb her hair and pull it back with her favorite hair clip, use scented lotions after my aunts bathed her, play her favorite music, but there was no verbal communication. A couple times she would open her eyes and I would selfishly run to her to see if maybe, just maybe, she would remember me, her baby.
I wouldn’t wish this on my greatest enemy if I had one. No child should smell their mother’s dying breath, but I wanted to lay with her, and now that smell of the cancer eating her insides has been burned into my nasal cavities. No child should see their mother’s bones protruding, or hear her loud moaning as the doctors tried to reposition her so she wouldn’t get bedsores. They told us the last sense that goes when someone is dying is their hearing, so I sang her the same lullabies she sang to us as babies. I wouldn’t wish this for anyone, ever. Those two weeks were the longest painful two weeks of my entire life.
I remember the morning of August 1st, 2007 as if it was yesterday. I was half asleep in the hospital room chair, my older sister on the chair closest to my mother. My sister reached over to me and gently, calmly, and quietly whispered my name and says, “I think mom just passed, but when you look at her, remember that’s not mom anymore, that is just her shell.” It was that moment I realized the power of energy and how we are so far from this outer shell that houses this energy daily. With my heart racing, I stood up and looked at my mother’s lifeless shell, and because of this profound statement from my sister…I was looking, but knew it wasn’t really her. I didn’t even cry even though I wanted to so badly, but when I looked at her sick body, I was so happy she left it.
I still left twenty-five days later and started art school in Chicago, and a few days after that celebrated my twenty-first birthday. I know it’s what she wanted, and dammit from that day forward, I made it my mission that no one would ever look at me and feel sorry for me. I’ll be honest and say, I have no idea how I got to where I am today. I have no idea how I accomplished what I have in these last six years. There isn’t a time when I hear good news I don’t reach for my phone to call her. But I knew the only way I could carry on her light was to go and try my best to do revolutionary acts and change the world just like I always talked about with her.
See, I would give up every single thing I have to hear her say my name, to smell her skin, to hear her laugh, to have her tell me she is proud of me, hell I would give up everything just to have an argument with her. I have no idea how I am going to get through the rest of my life without her, and every day there is a struggle and there is also an opportunity. I believe we selfishly want to be with someone and so badly want to be able to physically reach out and touch them, but in all reality, I know I am closest to her than anyone can be. I am her DNA, she flows through my blood and every molecule of my being, and on top of this phenomenal understanding, her energy guides and moves me in ways I cannot even describe through any drawings or words. I am reminded daily through songs, people, strangers, scents, the sky, places, spaces, dreams, that she, without a sliver of a doubt, is here. Her energy is so powerful that I can’t go a day without reflecting on my own energy, continuously striving to be better than I was the day before.
So please, do me a favor. When you find yourself annoyed because your mother has called you five times today, or you’re too busy doing nothing and haven’t spoken to her in days, shut up, and just call your mother and tell her you love her…for me.