I watched her from the doorway, helpless to relieve her misery or grant her a moment of peace.
"Should I go to the Civil Air Patrol meeting, mom?"
"Yeah, just because I’m dying doesn't mean everyone else should stop living their lives…. besides, I could live another five years."
I smiled at her and got my things. I left the house in the cold darkness of night. I don’t remember any stars. As I walked out the door, I knew it would be the last time I saw my mom.
In the meeting, I sat among many others. There was a lecturer who had long ago finished his opening points, yet the horizon of the end was too far ahead to see. A strange sensation moved through me, a palpable shift in my body that still, now, defies words with its opaqueness. I stood and went to the women's restroom. It was pitch black inside the small tiled room and as my eyes adjusted to the light, I leaned into the slick, cool wall. I slowly slid down, my shirt rising slightly with the downward movement until I met the floor. I drew my knees up to my chest and I buried my head in my hands. My eyes stung. I had the overwhelming desire to cry, my body felt the surge of stored emotion and the impulse to let it flow outwards with salty tears and waves of sadness, but I could not. I stayed on the edge, on the sharp, thin space between calmness and utter meltdown. It was painful, it was uncomfortable, it was unlike anything I had felt before. I knew, at that moment, as I sat alone in the dark, that my mom was dying.
There is a memory, a distinct vision that sticks out among the blurred clouds of early childhood. I was one year old, a giggling baby in my mother’s lap. I was on her knees and she held my little body firmly around the chest as she bounced me up and down. We were at the small airport across the street from our house and I giggled happily, excited by the motion.
One time she came to me like a mother cat for her lost kitten. I was very young and had been sleeping on the couch when I woke up very disoriented. For a moment, I wasn’t sure where I was and in my innocence and bewilderment, I started to cry in small whimpering gasps and my mother came, patient and loving to cradle me in her arms.
I remember the first time I thought of her death. I was about four and my mother was running the bath water. I suddenly thought of her dying, of her subsequent absence, of how much I would miss her. I started to cry. She turned to me and asked me what was wrong. "I don’t want you to die." She chuckled softly, "I am not going to die! Not anytime soon, I hope! Don't worry about that!" She hugged me and gave me a kiss and put me in the warm tub.
We used to go on family vacations. I remember helping my mom pack all of the items from her carefully written checklist. We went around the US, to places like Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Washington D.C. and Chincoteague Island, Maryland. We took our last vacation when I was fourteen and a half. Mom didn't feel too good, on the trip, she got tired easily. I noticed her stomach was getting large and distended. Soon after, mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
"I lived a happy life, what the hell, if I die, I die."
Before my mother got sick, we would sit at the card table in my room and do small craft projects and 5,000 piece puzzles. We spent countless hours talking and listening to music and enjoying each other’s company while we worked together. She was a creative woman. She made Christmas my favorite holiday with her sweet pies and cookies and unique savory dishes. In the winter months, she brought our house to life with unique lovingly-made decorations and the hand painted ornaments she hung from our tree.
As time passed, she got sicker and sicker. She lost her hair and a lot of weight. I would lay with her in her bed and she would confide in me. "I hope I die tonight when I’m asleep. This isn't living!"
We lay in her bed talking, just like we once did at the card table over a puzzle. She told me about the recurrent dreams she had about flying. I flew in my dreams too. She said she always tried to fly over the woods but got caught in the treetops. She really wanted to see what was on the other side. I had the same problem, I got caught in the treetops too. She made me promise that I’d make it over the treetops one day.
"I lived a happy life, what the hell, if I die, I die."
There I was, alone in the dark bathroom, my head in my hands… I cried. It was a cry of frustration, a cry of helplessness. But then, as the tears had just began to roll down my cheeks, I felt a warm calmness come over me. I felt a golden light enveloping me.
"Mom just died." I said to myself. I felt warm and safe. I felt comfortable. "She's better now." I said in relief. I stood up and went back to the meeting and told them I had to leave. I drove home. I parked the car in the garage and my dad came to meet me outside. He was crying. "Your mother passed away while you were gone," he said as he hugged me. "I know," I responded. He told me he didn't want me to be shocked when I went into the house and didn't see her. I walked into the kitchen and saw all of my sisters sitting at the table, crying uncontrollably. I watched them all in anguish. It was like watching a movie with recognizable characters, characters I had known since birth. They all played their role and I watched them in surreal objectivity. I couldn't cry. I knew my mom was OK now. I felt….I knew that she wasn't in pain any more. A little while before, as I sat in the bathroom, she had shared the feeling with me, she had shared her experience, her journey onwards and I couldn't be sad for her.
For three days after her death, she came to me in dreams and shared what she thought I should know about death.I kept my promise to her, I made it over the treetops in my dreams. Now I know what’s on the other side. I have a feeling she knows what’s over those treetops too.