Preface: I started this post almost a month ago, and before that it was being written in my head until I managed to get to typing. I wanted to get the blog ball rolling again but I knew I had to get this out before I could continue. I think it started out well organized, but it quickly turned into a free-flow of thoughts and memories. I kept it in draft state for a bit longer, thinking I should edit it or shorten it, but I think it’s probably best to leave it as it is. I rarely like to change my writings when it comes to emotions and feelings because it just totally ruins the effect. So if you can make it through this jumbled mess, bravo, because even when I go back and read it I get a little lost… but the right idea is still there. Cheers.
I’d really meant to stick to my word and keep the writing and blogging constant. On the airplane, when we experience severe turbulence, the captain usually comes on the PA saying, “Cabin crew take your seats.” And we basically just strap in and sit there, stare at the floor, stare at sleeping passengers, or singing songs in our head until it’s over. We sit in our jumpseat, and we can’t do anything. Time stops until the turbulence stops.
On March 8 at almost 11:30AM time stopped. I watched a countdown on the heart rate monitor drop dramatically – 106… 84… 56… 38… 10… 0. We’d been sitting in the ICU for almost 24 hours. Some of my family left and returned, I slept in a chair next to my mom’s bed, holding her hand. And when my back couldn’t survive the chair any longer, I laid on the cold hospital floor, waking up every 30 minutes to see if she was still breathing. For most of that 24 hours, she was sedated; her only signs of life other than her heart rate was her heavy breathing, assisted with an oxygen mask.
My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in July of 2011. It came as a complete shock – my mom only smoked for a short stint in college, and led a very healthy life. My dad, on the other hand, was a smoker for 20 years. He ironically died of colon cancer in 2003. I’d called her just as I was getting ready for a long trip to Melbourne, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand. I hadn’t spoken to her in a few days. Sometimes I forget to call, only because when I think to call it’s too early or too late with the time zones and days and trips go by without a phone call.
“I have cancer,” she said. I was speechless for a few moments. “Don’t quit,” came her next line quickly. I contemplated calling in sick for the flight, but I decided that sitting in my apartment was just going to torment me. I went to work, and while in the hotel I researched lung cancer. Most patients don’t even get diagnosed until stage 4 – and only 10% live past the average lifespan, which is 8 months. Positive factors include being female, being healthy, and being young. All of which I thought would help my mom. If she survived, she could live for up to 5 years. What was 5 years, anyway? It wasn’t 10, it wasn’t 20. It wasn’t be at my wedding, it wasn’t meet my grandchildren, it wasn’t be there for the rest of my major life events… but it was hope. I would take 5 years. I would take 9 months. Or 10.
I went through my options with my manager, who advised me not to think emotionally and that staying with the job was the best option for me. And it truly was. When my dad died in 2003 from colon cancer, it was during winter break. I’d gone for my first year at a university 2 hours from my hometown. I was living on campus but coming home every weekend. He was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer my senior year of high school. We’d learned after his death that his doctors gave him 6 months – and he beat that by 6 more months. When he died, I quit uni and stayed home. Tried to get a job and enrolled in the local college. But since that, I felt like things just fell apart. I wasn’t on the same track I’d originally had – I’d gone in and out of school for years, and even to this day I still don’t have a degree. But I had finally felt like I’d gotten back on some sort of track when I got my current job and moved to Dubai – I had some sort of stability and it opened more doors for me.
Many of my friends told me that I needed to quit. That I needed to go home and be with my ma. And of course, it was my very first thought. But after I gained a clear head, I realized that I couldn’t do that. That if I did that, I would be back where I was when my dad died, only worse. Being 27, having no degree or promising job experience (most of my jobs have been in customer service and waiting tables) and with the downward economy, I’d be stuck in a rut. And I couldn’t rely on my mom anymore as I’d done many times in the past. Being the youngest, I made many mistakes and knew that my mom would always bail me out. I knew that it was really time to grow up and get my shit together. I tried to explain this to everyone – but no one really understands it; I mean, who at 27 has already lost one parent, and is soon going to lose another? I wasn’t anywhere I wanted to be by this time – I’d spent too much time fucking around in my life, trying to figure out what to do and where to go. To be fair, I still don’t have it all figured out but I knew that staying at my current job would definitely be more beneficial to my future. Back home, I was waiting tables and trying to finish school, something that I had absolutely no interest in.
I had a holiday in Greece planned in August, and I immediately canceled it. Even the manager at the hotel in Mykonos sympathized; his father had died of cancer a few years back. He sent me prayers and I went home to see my ma. I sat with her during her second round of chemo – I’d never gone to chemotherapy with my dad. I felt terrible because my dad had my mom with him at all times. My ma… well, all her children were grown and had their own lives. This is what primarily made me feel guilty about not quitting – because I could have been able to give her my time and live on some low paying waitressing job. But I knew I had to be logical and think about my life after she passes, because her death was more evident than ever now.
I spent every day of my two week holiday with my mom. I saw her hair thinning from the radiation. She asked me to take her to the barber to shave her head, but I was being selfish. I couldn’t see her without hair; it would only make this whole situation that much more real. But her mood was deteriorating as quickly as her hair was falling out. I brought her to the nearest barber, and to force a smile on my face and hold back tears while I watched that clipper run across her head was one of the hardest moments of my life. My mom smiled back at me, and said she felt so much better. I bought her a few scarves and later I bought her a human hair wig.
I visited again in October, but sadly had to skip yet another Christmas. My next visit home was in late February. She’d had a seizure on Valentine’s day. I wanted to go home early, but I waited it out and went home as scheduled. My mom was in bad shape – the last time I’d seen her, she was still doing seemingly well. She had finished her first rounds of chemo and the mass was shrinking. But I found out in January, it was growing again and she was going back in for more rigorous chemotherapy sessions. After the seizure, she had experienced a silent heart attack – it all was just coming on so fast. I was in complete shock – it seemed as if her health had been deteriorating so quickly, but because it had been months that passed since my last visit, it just appeared this way to me.
That first week home was a whirlwind – I spent time at home alone with my dog Lulu, and time visiting her in the various hospitals and rehab centers she was constantly moved to. It was deja vu – I’d done this already 9 years ago. In my heart, I knew exactly what was coming. When the doctor informed us that she wouldn’t make it through the night the afternoon she died, we immediately headed out to the hospital.
I walked in while she was still conscious – although she wasn’t completely coherent and couldn’t speak anyway wearing an oxygen mask, she reached her hand up and touched my cheek. I always promised myself I wouldn’t cry in front of her. I kept a smile on my face, told her I love you, and stepped out to shed a few tears before going back in. My whole family was there, and a few friends came and went. None of us wanted her to leave this life alone.
Guilt immediately overwhelmed me. When my dad was sick, my mom was constantly by his side – at home when she wasn’t working and every day he was in the hospital. But my mom didn’t have that constant companionship – friends and family visited all the time, but I knew I could have quit my job and spent time taking care of her. It’s a decision I only kind of regret, because the logical side of me says it wasn’t what was the best option for my future, and that’s what I knew I had to focus on this time. I couldn’t stop my life when my mom’s did, like I had done with my dad. I was determined to make sure my mom wouldn’t be alone when it was time to go.
I slept terribly that night. I couldn’t sleep easily knowing that she could pass while I was dozing. When I did fall asleep, I woke almost every 30 minutes it seemed just to look up to see if she was breathing. When the time came at 11:30am, I held her hand and spoke into her ear, because they say the hearing is the last thing that goes. I told her repeatedly how sorry I was and how much I loved her, and how I hoped she was proud of me. Everyone in the room turned back and forth between the heart rate monitor and my mom’s heaving chest, as her breaths slowed along with her heartbeat. And in a matter of seconds, she was gone.
People speak about their stories of lost loved ones all the time, and how they couldn’t bare to see them in this final state, and how they regret not going into the hospital room when they had the chance. While I wouldn’t have had it any other way, those final moments haunt you – they are almost so significant and massive that they seem to block out all those other good memories you used to have. Even to this day, when I think about my dad, the first picture that pops into my head is of him lying in his hospital bed. But I know that if I wasn’t there till her dying breath, I would lay in my own hospital bed however many years later, with this regret laying on my shoulders. I knew I couldn’t ever do that to my mom, or to myself. It’s a sacrifice to those good memories you take because you know you just have to.
I told myself several times, I don’t know what I will do without my mom. Even at 28, I still need her more than ever. A fellow cabin crew friend said something amazing to me about losing her mother. She told me her mother was her compass, and that when she lost her mother, she lost her sense of direction. This hit directly home with me, because without her, I’m running around in circles. I know that eventually I will find my way but for the time being I’m just trying to get by. I’m just trying to find my way. Sometimes I feel like my job gives me a direction… to get on a plane every couple of days and letting it lead me somewhere in the world is my makeshift compass. At least until I can build a completely new one.
As for me in my current state, I get by. Sometimes I feel the need to keep the bass flowing through my body to keep my heart beating. Sometimes I want to spill to complete strangers and requesting no reply. Sometimes getting away to some random city in the world is a distraction. I think about all the sacrifices she made in her life to better her childrens’ and I only try to hope I can be even close to the amazing mother she was to my children.I still have those ridiculous moments where I think of something… “How do I wash this rug?” and I almost reach for the phone to call her and then realize that it’s a lost cause. I think of all those things I will never get to share with her – I used to talk to her all the time about what I would want in my wedding. How I want my children to be. Where I want to live. What I am going to do with my life. And at 28 she should have been able to experience some of these things in my life, but my paths took a bit of a different turn. I know she always supported it, but in the back of my mom I knew she had these wishes for me.
I wrote a eulogy for her memorial service, and put together a slideshow of pictures throughout her life, and here I’ll share a few of my favorites. If you made it through this long and winding entry, pick up the phone or make a stop to your mother’s house and tell her you love her, you appreciate her, and don’t ever let yourself forget that.