When my mother was passing away, I spent most of the time I had left with her keeping her alive.
I spent little to no time entertaining the idea of simply “letting go,” and for that I will always feel regret.
One day, my mother called and left a message on my phone that I had hoped I would never get.
“Julia, I got some news at the doctor today; it’s bad. I need you. Call me please.”
My mother went into the emergency room after coughing up blood, and came out with a chest X-ray in hand and a large grade-four tumor in her lung—a tumor the size of a small baseball.
Later, we would learn that the cancer had already spread—multiple small tumors peppered throughout her brain.
Stage four metastatic cancer. The worst of its kind. My mother knew she was dying before we even learned this.
As a concerned daughter caring for her only parent, I went into caregiver mode. I immediately dropped my job and my apartment, and moved back to my hometown.
I settled in to fight the good fight, to work with what the cards had revealed. I was not accepting that my mother was dying. I micromanaged her doctors visits, her medications, her diet, her sleep schedule—all in an effort to keep my mother alive as long as possible.
I left no time to grieve, to spend quality time with my mother, to have those heart-to-heart conversations, or even to take care of myself; and by the time I realized any of that was necessary, her brain tumors had progressed to the point that she hardly knew what was going on around her. Holding a serious conversation was next to impossible.
It was heartbreaking. These few months flew by quicker than I could have ever imagined.
No one could tell me when she would pass, or what that would look like. Doctors are always so vague in these situations—no absolutes.
The day would come so much sooner than anyone had ever estimated; even hospice was surprised. That day has forever marred my memory. The pain and shock of watching my mother leave this plane was beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
I was alone that morning—for all of that time surrounding her illness and death—but that day I was more alone than I ever was, and ever would be.
This was it. She was gone.
Life came quickly into a sharp focus, and the reality of life and its fragility was thrust upon me. I would forever be changed. Death was my mother’s last earthly decision—and a powerful one. She knew what she wanted, always, even in death.
When my mom was first diagnosed, she told me explicitly that when, or if, she lost the ability to walk or get out of bed, she was ready to go. Well she held true to that. The morning after my mother lost the ability to use her legs, she slipped into a state of unconsciousness and the next morning she passed away.
Dawn left this earth like a dying star. Fast, and with a release of energy so great I could feel it in the room for days after.
She is around me in a way I could not have imagined now; her presence is abstract in nature, but it is there.
Who knows? It could be more than abstract; I don’t pretend to know. I do know that I have a better relationship with my mother now than I did when she was alive, and with that I am content.
I remember her advice and words of encouragement when I need them most. The places I go that remind me of her are now forever marked with her spirit.
The older I get, the more I speak like her, look like her, and act like her in my own way. For the first time in my adult life, I am okay with that.
If hindsight is 20/20, I would go back and try harder to accept the inevitable, and to help my mother ease into her passing, instead of fighting so hard and hanging on to her life with my last breath. Sometimes, the selfish thing is to fight for someone who just needs to rest—who just needs to drift off into the ether.
Committing to a selfless act like this is one of the hardest things to ask of anyone. It is something I am still learning to understand and accept.
My anxiety, PTSD, and trauma surrounding her death and illness have left me with neurosis; it still surfaces four years later.
The want and compulsion to fiercely protect the ones I love to the bitter end and preserve their lives is something I must relinquish control of. For a long time, I let that inclination override my better judgment and cloud my perspective. I was, and sometimes still am, overbearing and bossy—an anxious mess paranoid that someone else will just drop dead.
I have to learn to let go of the control and understand that I can’t prevent bad things from happening.
Life and death are inevitable. We are just born—it happens to us. We don’t get to say when and how. Death, on the other hand, is not so black and white.
I pray if you ever have to experience loss like mine, that you can find the peace and mental fortitude within yourself to react selflessly and understand that sometimes the fight is not worth the pain of either you or your loved one, that maybe the beautiful thing about death is that it is beautiful—a big lucid dream that never ends, and a brilliant exchange and release of energy.
Like a dying star.
If you cannot be selfless, forgive yourself. We are all human. Grief is an amorphous thing, and everyone deals with it differently.
Be patient, be kind, be sad, but be strong when you can.
Life is a beautiful thing, and so is death if you let it.