Goodbye Mom? I don’t write a lot of super personal stuff on Imperfectly Happy. It isn’t that I am not an open person, I just figure my life isn’t as interesting as the information I have to share. But today is different. Today is the 30th anniversary of my mom’s death. It has been one of the hardest I can remember; I am having trouble stopping the tears. And for whatever reason I feel compelled to write about that.
In 1985 I was a tall, confused, 13 year old with a few pimples. I was also the daughter of a woman who had been sick for 4 years. See my mom was dying of liver cirrhosis, only I didn’t really know that. I knew she was sick; but I didn’t know she was living on borrowed time.
My mom had been a drug addict for years. I hate saying that because from my perspective she wasn’t what most people would think of when they think heroine addict. She was a good mom, we were loved, clean, fed; but she had a secret side too. In 1981 she was 28 and she was cleaning her life up. She had a good job, we weren’t living with my grandmother and life seemed to be pretty normal. My mom had scoliosis and now she finally had insurance to pay for her back to be fixed. But that required a full body cast for months. So the doctors felt it was necessary to be sure there were no underlying issues that could pop up after surgery.
Sadly, being so young, I didn’t get the full details. But they did a biopsy of her liver during this full body check. Her liver was so damaged from years of drug abuse that is nearly gave out during the biopsy. She lived but things were never the same. She had so many toxins in her body from the damaged liver that at times she didn’t know what was going on, who people were…who my brother and I were. She even had to spend some time in a facility because my grandmother couldn’t care for her on her own.
One night I went to spend the night at a friend’s house. My mom was still loopy and confused. The next morning my mom was there to pick me up! She was driving, she was coherent…I was in shock. Apparently they had finally been able to get her to take some medicine that cleared most of the ammonia out out of her body and her mind cleared with it.
She was never able to get healthy enough to work again or live on her own. We spent the next 4 years living with my mom’s mom. I watched my mom lose so much weight. But she would still get her hair and nails done. She talked to me a lot during those years but never about being sick or dying. No one talked to us about that.
Her stomach would bloat so much that she often got asked if she was pregnant. I know this embarrassed her. It embarrassed me; stupid adolescent stuff to be embarrassed about.
The summer of 1985 she seemed to be getting worse…or better…sometimes it all jumbles together. But I think she must have known things were changing. We hadn’t spent much time, if any, with our dad in years. But that summer she decided that we need to spend a few weeks with him and his new wife. I didn’t want to go, my brother didn’t want to go…but off we went.
It wasn’t long after that we returned that things got much much worse. The day before she headed back to the hospital I remember her being so ill and weak that she couldn’t make it to the bathroom. She collapsed in the hall…it was shocking and scary for me. But still no one explained the entirety of the situation to me.
I only got to see her one more time after that. She was in the hospital. She kissed me.
The next day I was at a football practice with my jr high boyfriend when my uncle came to pick me up. It wasn’t until that moment that they told me my mom was dying. She wouldn’t last much longer. I remember putting my forehead against the window on the drive to the hospital and praying and thinking, “How is my mom dying? I’m only 13.”
They didn’t let us in her room. She died while my brother and I sat on benches in the hallway…
You can imagine all that she’s missed. I was 13, my brother 6. She’s missed birthdays, proms, graduations, weddings, deaths, births.
Today as I mourn her, I am 43 years old; she was 32 when she passed. I think of how much life, wisdom and possibilities she missed out on. But I also think about how much this woman touched my life in the mere 13 years that I had her. I wonder if she could ever know.
If you’ve made it this far, I’d like to challenge you. If you’re mom is still living, please call her, go see her today; and give her a little extra love for me.