I remember when the first month had passed. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard your laugh or felt one of your loving hugs in thirty days. Unfathomable. Today marks ten years. The dreaded decade mark I can’t believe is here, a decade since our last mother-daughter moment. It seems impossible that I have moved on without the foundation you created. In the time since you were ripped away, I carved a new foundation and learned new ways to thrive.
The earthquake your death caused forever changed the landscape of my life, but for every beautiful memory and life lesson you gave me, I am surrounded by plants and flowers of every shape and color. You are everywhere. In honor of you, I continue to live. I continue to find new adventures and live in the now. But I will always miss you.
For June 22nd 2018 I am sharing an excerpt from my memoir. The most difficult chapter I had to write.
A deafening silence called me from sleep. So familiar were the sounds of her labored breathing, restless movements and the oxygen concentrator, pumping out air for her to breathe in. All were silenced except for the now-useless oxygen. I lay frozen on the couch, listening for any sound, looking around for any slight movement until I locked eyes on my friend. She too, had been woken by the stillness. Her startled look mimicked my own as we eased into sitting.
I called out to her “Mom . . . ?”
There was no answer or reaction.
Understanding the silence came quickly as I looked over at her still frame; acceptance did not. Tiffanie looked pained; having gone through the same hell three years earlier with her father, she knew the turbulent journey I was about to embark on.
I walked over and sat beside my mother, seeing the silence up close. My friend sat beside me as I tried to gather a clear thought. Clarity was out of my grasp.
“She’s finally at peace now.” Tiffanie spoke soft words of comfort. Mom looked so different to me. She had been through a war, deserving of the peace my friend spoke of. We sat and stared at death and thought of how it alters a person. Alters the person it has silenced, but also the person who is a witness to it. As a witness, you feel the painful sting of how fleeting life is. Like a soft breeze in the night, Death floated through the room, passing Tiffanie and myself, stopping for just a moment to collect her last breath, then drifted on to still another.
“Think of her happy and healthy again. Not like this. In heaven, I bet she’ll be welcomed with open arms from your dad.” She looked at me with a smile.
I wanted to picture her healthy. I wanted to imagine her anything other than what she was right then. I wondered how long this image of her would haunt my nightmares.
I tried a half-hearted smile, but the muscles in my face wouldn’t cooperate. Feeling sick to my stomach, I had to focus on not vomiting. The wave of nausea came on so suddenly I felt dizzy. I tried to drink in my friend’s soothing words. Focus on anything positive, when I felt lost. Desperate to grab a hold of her soul and pull her back from God, though fully knowing, it would be a losing tug of war game with Him.
“I like to think now that she’s in heaven, at some point she’ll find my dad. I can see them having a good time together. They’ll probably talk about how proud they are of us.” Tiffanie said reaching over to hold my hand. “They are our guardian angels now.” Then she graciously walked outside at three a.m. to give me some privacy.
I was thankful to not be alone when the quiet came. I sat next to Mom’s bedside and tried to tell myself, the silence I long feared had arrived. I told myself she was dead, and I needed to take in my last private moment with her. I had enough wits about me to know that all too soon I would have to move on to making preparations and thinking about important details that I could care less about at that time. I tried to feel the loss, to cry that her life had ended, but I didn’t. I felt numb looking at her lying there.
The disease had physically changed her appearance to the point I didn’t feel like I was saying goodbye to my mom. It was as if two days earlier, Ellen left and was replaced with a bloated, slightly disfigured representation of her. It was hard not to disassociate her with death. I decided to hold her hand one more time. Her hands were the last piece of her that felt familiar and comforting. So instead of looking to her face to say one last goodbye, I clung to her hand. I felt the warmth still lingering in her body, reminding me that only minutes earlier, I still had a mother.
Clinging to that warmth, I tried to burn the memory of the touch and look of her hand into my mind. I memorized the two freckles on the back of her hand and the little wrinkles that were soft to the touch. Remembering how she would use her long fingernails to gently scratch my forearm up and down or rub my head in a comforting manner.
Those hands had taught me so many necessities of life such as cooking or how to give a real hug. Not one of those close-fisted, I don’t want to get too close kind of hugs, but a real embrace. I thought of how I would miss those hugs that let me know I was loved.
I tried to focus on her hand, and not her chest that no longer rose and fell. I guess it’s morbid curiosity that you feel the need to look and then when you do you wish you hadn’t. Her stillness was odd because she became so restless in her final hours, but then again even in that short span of time I had to remind myself- she was gone.
The time had come to admit the silence had won. I had said my goodbyes to her hours earlier and had held onto her hand for my last loving embrace — the final act of our mother and daughter bond. I stood up to leave and never turned back. It was the last time I ever saw her.
As I climbed the stairs, it felt as if I had donned cinder blocks instead of slippers. My mind becoming hazy as I knelt on our bed and woke my husband to tell him she was gone.
Exhaustion set in and I passed out.
[The single white rose my aunts brought to her memorial. They did the same for my Father’s funeral]