If you know me, or if you have lost someone dear, this blog contains triggers. Please read only if you feel able. And perhaps with a cup of black coffee. Mom would like that.
I was 17 the night my mother died. I didn’t find out until the next morning because I was out all night drinking. I had been to the hospital the evening prior and the visit left me shaken, rattled to the core of my being.
Cancer had consumed so much of my Mom that she was little more than an outline under the sheets. The cancer, which had begun in her left breast and moved on to her brain by way of her spine, hadn’t been satisfied to consume her body; it had also taken her mind. She no longer recognized any of us: not her daughters, her parents, her friends (occasionally, she still knew Dad). From somewhere deep within her soul came a keening — like a sound from a wounded animal. It contained no words but its meaning was clear.
Pain. To my responding soul, the sound encapsulated pain. A friend, who had come with me so I wouldn’t be alone, collapsed into a chair in the doorway and began to cry. I quickly left to try and do something, anything to make her feel better. And to stop the keening wail (the one I still hear in my mind almost every day). I came up to the nursing station feeling utter panic and sorrow beyond belief. But numb. My mind blocking it all up behind a wall. I can only guess I appeared to be a trashily dressed, half-drunk, disrespectful teenager. I have to assume that as nothing else explains the utter disdain with which I was treated.
Two nurses barely look up from their charting to dismiss my concern about Mom’s need for more pain medication, with a cool “We just gave her some 10 minutes ago.” Eyes back to the page. You are dismissed.
Stunned by their lack of concern (her moans could be heard clearly from where we stood barely 20 feet from her room), I didn’t say anything more. I didn’t ask if they were sure. When I returned to the room, I found my friend in the same spot: curled up weeping. Mom was still moaning in pain. I walk over to her and replace the thin blanket that had slipped off her skeletal body. Tears are flowing now.
“Mom, I’m sorry.”
“Mom, what do I do?”
“Mom, should I stay?”
At this last question, the first intelligible word came from her: “No.”
I fled the room with my friend.
I remember it was 7:30 am when I returned to the house. It was Wednesday but Dad hadn’t left for work yet, which was odd. No matter how late he stayed out drinking he was always at work by 7. He knew my patterns too and wasn’t really surprised at the hour of my arrival.
I don’t recall the words my Dad used, but it was along the lines of “Mom’s gone”. My mind leaped over to shore up the wall and offered an immediate task: “Has anyone told Doreen?”
Three farm wives succumbed to cancer that year. All three friends. All three close to 40, on one side or another. Mom would have been 43 on August 8 that year. The first to die in that terrible time was Elaine. I attended her funeral with my Mom who I brought with me from the hospital. I don’t know where Dad was that day and why he didn’t accompany us, but I can guess. He was drinking at the bar.
“I’m going out to tell her.” And that is what I did the morning I learned my mother had died: I sat and had coffee with a family I didn’t really know that well because I didn’t want Doreen to find out alone and on the phone.
The reason I was determined to prevent this occurs to me only just as I write this today. It’s so obvious I can’t believe I’ve never seen the parallel before.
The night my Mom died, while I was out drinking and Dad was passed out in bed from drinking, my younger sister took a 2 am phone call. From the very same nursing station I had approached six hours earlier. Without asking to whom they were speaking, the nurse informed her that “Ruth Squire” had just passed away.
It was 2 am.
The house was dark.
My sister was 11.