Disclaimer: This story is about loss and may be triggering for some.
“There is something special in being able to write about what happened to you, to be able to go through it and replay all the memories you have of the moments that have shaped you so deeply and write them down; maybe because it takes away some of the power they have over you. You set them free and let them go for a bit, pretending its not just your story anymore, its something other people read and own for the moment they go through your sentences and read between the lines. It’s an intimate way of sharing that allows your wounds to publicly bleed again every time someone reads it, letting your past come to live again. It’s a raw way of remembering, of letting things come to life again.
This is not my story, it is the story of how my mom died, told from the perspective of her daughter, me. And it’s a special narration because there is no one else other than me who can tell this story, so I have made it my calling to tell others about it. I am the one who not only survived it, but also the one who was there to witness it as a bystander, a secondary character. But there came a time when I had to step into the narration and take on other roles, the ones my mom was about to give up, the ones that she was not able to take on anymore because she was dying. This is how I became, very much unwillingly but still out of love, a parent and caretaker to my mom, and to myself. Yes, there comes a time, for the majority of people later on in life, where you have to become what you need the most in order to survive.
As a teenager, I really hated myself and lacked any kind of respect for my own life or the life of others. Being in rage modus for years has been tough on my parents, rebelling and escaping every form of restriction or advice made me a very tough kid. This was also the time my mom got diagnosed with cancer for the first time, at the age of 45. I don’t remember much of that time other than her tears and loneliness. Cancer makes you feel lonely, places a dark aura around you and your life. For many years she underwent chemotherapies, radiation, surgeries – but she was tough and young. Just like me. Because she knew how hard life could get, she never made other people feel miserable, and I admired her for that. But sometimes, beneath her big, bold smile, you could see the pain she was hiding. Sometimes, if you looked closely enough, you could see the immensity of her fears which would keep her up at night. You could see her fighting for others was a way to stand up for herself too, because she felt no one really did, and her fight against cancer was the next one she’d have to tackle on her own. And I was just a kid, I didn’t know what it all meant, didn’t know how to be there.
Years went by, and eventually we connected again, I stopped being such a stranger to my family, and tried to find my way back to the old me. This was the time we would spend every day together, running errands, talking about life until late in the night, baking together and confessing secrets to each other. It felt like going home again, and having such a deep bond with her helped me understand the world that I once was trying to fight so hard.
Time passed and I was getting older, and thanks to my mom’s love and support, I moved to another country and started my first year of college. I was on my own, but never without her. She’d text me every day and call to see how I was doing, and she never missed an opportunity to come and visit me by train or car. She never cared about the distance, after all, I was her daughter. With tears in her eyes she let me move, because she wanted me to grow. She let me go because she loved me, but never left me alone.
My last year of college I won a scholarship and was able to finish my undergrad in the U.S., which has always been my dream. I remember us packing my bags, leaving my apartment empty. We packed all my stuff within a week, and drove back home from where I’d later take my plane to travel to the U.S. My mom knew she was sick, it was 2015 and by then she’d been in remission for some years now; her fight to be alive became even more desperate. ‘Why me?’ she used to say, ‘I’m too young to die.’ She often thought about dying and what it would mean for her and us, but these are thoughts you always push away because just imagining makes you feel sick. The truth is, there is no right age to die. Every death feels unfair. But I still didn’t know back then. This was the way it has always been, and we just went with the flow.
Things got worse when I came back in 2016. My mom suffered a stroke unexpectedly while hiking, and she had to be taken to the nearest hospital by helicopter. I didn’t know what it meant, but my stepdad kept telling me things were going to change and it might get harder for us and her. But how do you know what it even means, being 22 and very much alive?
I kept flying back home just to visit my mom, and without even noticing I found myself having meetings with oncologists and various doctors. I didn’t know what was going on, but I was sensing something was very wrong. I used to drive with my mom to her visits and therapies and sit next to her to talk and laugh about life, but now I was asked to follow a nurse through those old buildings and cold corridors of hospitals I grew so familiar with. I was asked to sit down and consult the oncologists because they would have to either tell my mom there was nothing else they could do, or keep pretending she was doing fine with her new therapy.
‘Here you see her organs, and this is her brain,’ they said, pointing their pencils on the black and white picture of my mom’s body in their old computers. ‘It’s full of cancer. It spread everywhere.’ I can still feel the cold sweat sticking on the palms of my hands, my heart rate going up and my face turning red. These were the signs I was under tremendous pressure, and by the time my ears were boiling, the first hot tears would push their way out of my eyes. But I didn’t want to cry, not like that. Not in front of someone who was being clear in such a cold and distanced way, as if he was talking about the most mundane thing in the world. I learned to have decency and contain myself, to stand tall even if I felt like breaking down. I never blew my composure. I sat there and listened, and after breathing all the agony out as fast as I could, I went back to sit next to my mom in the adjacent room. She wasn’t going to know yet. We weren’t done fighting.
December came and I knew it was our last Christmas together. Things gain a special meaning when you know it will be the last time. My mom started forgetting about things, she wasn’t able to walk on her own and whenever we tried to go for a walk, I always ended up holding her and giving her the drops that would stop her body from shaking. We never went far, but she always wanted to try. Most of the days she would just lay in her bed and watch some tv series, so I did too.
Every time I flew back home, there were new series to watch. I started flying back home every week, because in my heart I felt I had to be there. And gradually, she started being more absent. If one week the tv kept running, the next she was sleeping. My mom slept for three days straight, and didn’t even notice I was gone to work in another country. And when I ran out of money I travelled by coaches, hopping on one after my nightshift so that I would be there for breakfast the next day. But my mom didn’t wake up for breakfast, she kept sleeping. So I laid there next to her and cried myself to sleep until she needed to go to the toilet, and I had to learn to hold her up and carry her to the bathroom because she couldn’t walk anymore and when she was done, I’d carry her back to her bed.
Until one day she fell to the floor while I was waiting outside, and I had to use all the energy I had to try and lift her up but I couldn’t do it. We laid there on the floor and cried. I used to tell her, ‘Don’t worry, I’m working out, I’m strong enough!’ But she knew she was losing her fight, and I did, too. Nevertheless, she never wanted me to take care of her, but she started noticing things weren’t looking good and she wasn’t going to make it. So I started going to the toilet with her, and when I wasn’t able to carry her, we used the wheelchair we called her Ferrari. Cruising through the apartment catching the last rays of sunshine. And she cried days and night, sometimes yelling, ‘I don’t want to die,’ shaking in pain because the metastasis was destroying her from the inside.
I was lost. My stomach burned uninterruptedly, and I was tired. But I could’ve never given up on her. Not now. Never. If it was hard for me, then how must she have felt? This time it wasn’t about me.
Months later she was bedridden. I was still flying back and forth, sometimes even for just one day. Everything became one big blur; birthdays, weekends. I didn’t know what time it was, for her sickness was dictating so much of our lives. She’d wake up in the middle of the night wanting breakfast, complaining about how uncomfortable her new bed was and how rude these nurses were. She didn’t know where she was. In May, she finally got her morphine; a nurse would stop by every day and discuss the situation with me and my stepdad. Again, I’d sit at my own kitchen table listening to words that seemed to be so unreal. Yet we were in it. Right in it. And it only got worse.
Because she couldn’t stand up anymore, it became harder to wash her, so we bought sponges and tried dry shampoos, lukewarm water, and new techniques to best wash her teeth. This was the time I learned to change diapers and wash my own mother, the one who was always ashamed of depending on other people. This was the time I stopped asking but started doing, because I wanted to learn how to be helpful for her, how to alleviate the pain.
This is how it went for months, and I slept on a mattress next to her just in case she needed anything. She used to look at me with her dilated pupils, her body pumped with drugs, and I couldn’t help but feel mad at this world that was going on while we were living in a different time, a different world. For us the world stopped turning and everything revolved around her and her dying process, but I never saw it that way, I just thought if I’d just make her breakfast at 3 a.m., learn how to wash her hair or her body, maybe I’d be able to save her.
It was July 15th, 2017. A hot day in Italy, one that people spent outside tanning, playing tennis, and jumping into pools. I can still hear the laughter of kids playing together at the poolside next to our apartment. But for us the day went differently, we all sat in my room, next to my mother, hearing her breathe heavily. She had stopped eating for days, and everything we tried to give her she’d puke it out right away. The nurses said it was a matter of days, so there we sat, waiting for that day.
My stepdad and grandma walked in and out of the room, each time checking on her, in case anything changed for her. We would notice the slightest changes in the way she was breathing and moving, every hour heavier, every hour a bit less. My grandma smoked all the cigarettes she had left, and kept on her sunglasses because she didn’t want to meet your eyes. She sat outside and watched the sunrise, while the ventilator kept running.
My mom was breathing very irregularly, maybe once a minute. I was there counting the seconds, hoping she’d take one more breath. But then, while I was caressing her cold face, I placed my other hand on her heart and felt it; one last beat, and then nothing. Her strong, big heart just stopped beating. I saw her eyes turning backwards, turning white. She was cold. She was gone.
One day before she left, she promised she’d pick me up when it would be my turn.
Until then I’ll wait.
See you soon, mom.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Olivia Macher of Germany, Munich. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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