(Disclaimer: this was written post-consumption of three glasses of Bota box's redvolution, whilst in the air from BNA to DAL last night...)
Four years ago to the day, I was on a flight home to Nashville after sitting at my mom's bedside for a week and a half, watching her die. She was hardly recognizable anymore, face stony and expressionless, her lower legs amputated two and a half years prior, her sunken body cocooned in a twisted web of wires and tubes. After ten days of slow, but steady deterioration, I finally and reluctantly reasoned that no one knew exactly how much longer she'd struggle to remain on earth, but that those days and hours were dwindling. After resolving that our family planned only for an eventual private service, I made as much peace with my decision to trudge back to the life I'd begun building for myself, even going so far as to forgive myself with the excuse that she'd want me to move on with my life and not dwell. Ironically, she was stubborn even in death, clinging to life for nearly two weeks after entering hospice until eventually passing away early on the morning of Christmas Eve.
Our relationship was at best, complicated--nothing at all like those I witnessed my friends sharing with their moms. For decades, I was so internally angry at the MS that robbed me of having a mom, and masked it with one more straight A report card, one more home run, another feeble accomplishment all in the name of trying to control what I could never control. My futile attempts at making her smile could never heal her tormented, ailing body, but it honestly took more than 20 years (and a pinch of therapy) for me to truly absorb that.
In her absence, I am heartbroken still. Saddened for her colorful life that was crushed by a disease that was so horrific to watch unfold, I can truly never fathom what it'd be like to attempt fighting everyday firsthand, for over half your lifetime. But mostly, I am broken for the woman I never knew, and the relationship I never had. Missing what never was sometimes hurts most of all.
I often hear stories from her classmates and others who knew her as a kid--they tell me about how much of a spitfire she was: sharp-tongued and always laughing the loudest, adorable and endlessly sassy--akin to a Molly Ringwald in the same small town she and I both grew up in. I caught glimpses of that version of her as I was growing up, but never to the degree of which I hear strangers describe her. And yet, as distant as we always seemed to be, the tiniest shreds of her are undeniably woven within me: I'm an incessant gum popper and the habit unfailingly reminds me of riding in the passenger seat, next to her when she was still driving--the aroma of Extra wintermint wafting throughout the car. When I clear my throat, it sounds so much like her, it truly stops me in my tracks. If the sound wasn't emanating from my own throat, I'd look over my shoulder and expect to see her sitting there.
She's the one to blame for my insatiable taste for Mexican food, shameless love of 80s movies, and habit for turning the music up just a little bit more. Like her, I'm always the one laughing the loudest--a trait I really love. While there was an abundance of disconnect, in her own way, she fostered in me a desire to not settle--to always want more, laugh harder, live fuller, hope for a better day.
I don't have that heinous disease preventing me from living, like she always did. I strive to feel it all, to love so fiercely, to leave absolutely nothing unanswered.
I'll miss her forever, but with each passing year, the familiar ache is tempered ever so slightly, and in its place is growing a warmth and pleasure of knowing with utter certainty that she's so proud of who I've grown up to be, who I keep growing into everyday.
I love you, Mom. We miss you.