It has been 5 years since my mother last graced our world. She was a tough woman, outspoken, opinionated, and I try to live up to her legacy. She did not just leave her writing behind. She left behind a circle of the most loyal wonderful friends one could ever hope to have. These friends became her family, calling themselves “Team Cathy” and took turns ensuring she was never left alone at her chemo appointments, or that someone was always home with her. My “shifts” were on the weekends home from college and while at the time it was difficult to watch her suffer–99% of the time I saw her deal with everything gracefully.
Sure, like most humans enduring a lot, we had our squabbles. The cranberry juice did not have enough ice. The hot water bottle was not hot enough. She would doze in the middle of conversations and I learned to realize it was the pain medication. She worried too much about me–that I felt guilty for her constant worry about my safety when my roommate issues or conflicts with friends were really not that big of a deal. I wish I could have had more perspective back then–and to have had more ideal final words with her. I think the last full conversation I had with her was about my social behavior. She was worried, like always, and I was on the driveway waiting for my friend’s family to give me a ride back to San Diego. I never really said goodbye–or at least I thought I never truly did but it has taken me five years to realize there is no perfect way to say goodbye and there is no perfect way to be.
I remember that the conversation I had with my mother was about me. She was worried that I was too weird or something. Too eccentric. A couple of her friends had expressed their concerns and it has taken me five years that in her own way she was concerned. She was concerned that I wouldn’t be accepted. Or have closure. Or do many things without her. The fact is–I regret not doing enough to relieve her of those concerns. I think that is why she held on for so long. She held on out of love for me, her only daughter. She tried her best to be here as long as possible until Nature said otherwise. And I realize now with this magical thing called Perspective that I hope to gain more of, as Life goes on–that the world is a hard place and if you find real friends, you hold on. One should spend less time apologizing for their transgressions and more time growing. As cliche as it sounds–everything is too damn short.
She was worried because I threw myself into looking after her the best I could at the time–and into my classes. Some classmates later told me that I “talked too much.” I burned myself in a paper that I actually enjoyed writing. But it was a distractive coping mechanism. I tried to do everything. Take on too much. Anything–anything, just not to feel the pain. Trust me, it wasn’t drugs or alcohol–though that did help sometimes. It was the never-ending search for something new or exotic. Until now, when I have stabilized myself to be content with what I have.
I dabbled in journalism. Marketing. PR. Internships. Databasing. I am still dabbling but at least I’ve gotten myself staying in one place for two years. It’s called grad school.
Certain things remain constant, at least for now. Family–same old, same old. My grandparents are still alive. My grandfather still is healthy and in one piece. Linda the dog, at 16, is still loving and annoying the beans out of him. She has her customized rug-beds, salmon-jerky treats and regular check-ups and grooming schedule. I think she is a veterinarian’s dream patient: she visits the place weekly not because she is sick though she is elderly but because she is loved.
And she is loved because she was my mother’s dog. My grandfather takes care of his late daughter’s dog because that is one of the few connections he has to her. Would my mother take the dog to the vet so many times? I don’t know. But I know that grief is a funny thing. I over-trimmed some carnations (or was it geraniums?) on the porch and my grandfather was livid. They were “Mother’s” and he had lovingly watered them every day for years. And I just hacked one of the few living reminders. They did grow back but it was more painful metaphorically.
His friends overzealously hacked everything apart in the backyard. All the rose bushes my mother had so loved. It was painful but in a way, necessary. He wanted to start afresh and start over. Fill in the pond, and recreate his own garden. We replanted tomatoes, roses, some vegetable gardens and the lovely couple downstairs nurture a successful herb garden. In a way–our garden is reminiscent of life. You need to do dramatic things to start over. Sometimes you have to move far away to gain what one calls “closure.”
Here are some previously written notes about my mother:
March 18, 2007
On the Train
My earliest memory of my mother is sitting on her lap and having her coax me to sing along with her when she would read books to me. One of the books was called “Dannio.” Another time, she would bathe me and wash my hair, singing, “Wash that man right out of your hair!” or “Daisy, Daise…give me your answer true…I’m half crazy over the likes of you, It won’t be a stylish marriage, upon a horse or carriage but you’ll look sweet upon a seat of a bicycle built for two.” I remember my favorite nursery rhyme was “Oranges and Lemons, say the bell of St. Clemens..”
My mother chose to stay at home and write free-lance instead of pursuing other goals or ambitions, mainly because she wanted the best for me and wanted to be there for me as much as possible. She pulled me out of my elementary school when my life was in danger, and listened to me when I came home crying because of bullies, stress, or fights with friends. She would let me sleep in her bed when there was a frightening spider in my room, and killed many harmless arachnids to calm me down. She taught me the difference between right and wrong, what was ethical and unethical. 17+ years passed before I came to appreciate her for her selflessness. In short, was she a great mom. My words fall short of what I really have to say about her.
It was 2:30pm and I was only awake for 90 minutes, getting into the bad habit of sleeping in too often. My plans were to go to Geisel Library and study all day…well not really as study as much as outline, work on a paper, and hang out with a friend the moment I got bored. My second weekend in San Diego this quarter and I have to come home. I got a call from a friend of my mother’s telling me that I should take the soonest train because my mom was in “distress.” My mother was in agony for the past several months. Unlimited pain patches, fentanyl lollipops, pain pumps, surgeries, hospitalizations, and lung drainings only marginally improved the quality of her life. I think in these past few months, her highlight was having her closest friends visit her, and eating delicious chocolate chip cookies and milk shakes from nearby bakery Town and Country.
I only recently came to peace with God about the likelihood my mother will die soon. At first, I was angry, then in denial for a few years, then skeptical about everything. But when I look at the statistics about her sickness, non small cell lung cancer, she was more than lucky. She was blessed. Dana Reeves, the late widow of Christopher Reeves, died within 6 months of her diagnosis. 85%+ die within the first year of diagnosis. Each following year has diminishing statistics. My mom has been alive for almost 5 years now. I would consider that more than a miracle: a blessing. I was very fragile between those vulnerable years: 13-18. My mother was not just my parent. She was my confidante, my home, and one of the few people I would trust when it came to life, judgment, among other things.