’My mom is away on business,’ I’d say, as I undressed her and threw her into the shower.’: Daughter loses mom to addiction, rheumatoid arthritis, ‘I want to make her proud’

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“‘You do not know how much you love your daughter till she rubs your a*s with Bengay,’ were my mothers last words to me before I kissed her goodbye for what I didn’t know at the time would be our last moments together.

My mom came from a troubled household (don’t we all really?) and her mother before her was an amazing provider. My mother or I never lacked meals, housing, or clothing, however my grandmother wasn’t the best giver of love or affection. I remember my mother telling me as a young adult she had to force herself to hug me and compliment me (which she did often) because it was not taught to her and she wanted to be a better mother. This of course to not discredit my grandmother, one of the hardest working women I know. I mean she essentially raised me.

She raised me because my mother had a drug addiction she couldn’t shake for the life of her, but don’t worry this isn’t a story of an overdosing addict, well not really. My mother like most women experienced hurts, life shaking hurts and dealt with them through the magical escape of opiums. So I spent a good deal of my childhood on the rollercoaster of any child of an addict, multiple promises of recovery, multiple broken promises, multiple trips to ‘New York’ commonly known as jail. Growing up I would tell childhood friends my mom was away on business in New York when they would ask why my mom wasn’t present at birthday after birthday. I remember caring for my mother during moments of binging, shielding her from my grandmother as I undressed her and threw her in the shower so she wouldn’t know my mom was high again, locking her in the bathroom to protect her from herself.

mom and daughter in the 1980s smiling for posed picture
Courtesy of Jena Gonzales

Sounds pretty dreary I know, but she actually recovered after multiple trips to ‘New York’, time on the farm and prayer from her father, the most faithful man on the planet. I go my mom back, well I got her for the first time, really. I was about 13 or so when my mom got things right. I saw my mother become the type of mom I had only dreamed of before. She was my best friend and over the years we grew closer than any two could be.

mom and daughter smiling for picture
Courtesy of Jena Gonzales

I still felt had to protect her but in such a different way. My parents went back and forth for years dating on and off after their divorce my junior year and if I’m honest, my father wasn’t too kind to my mom in those years. As any child of divorce or neglect I formed my own bad coping skills, got married early and divorced myself. After my marriage I was diagnosed with depression and PTSD as my ex was military but that’s an entirely different story…

My mother and I embraced the world together. All the ups and downs, every success and every let down. It didn’t matter because I had her, the mom I had prayed for as a child alone in my room. I fought to overcome my depression for her, she had been through enough and I seen how heartbreaking it was for her to see me go through hurts similar to her own. And I got to a really good place, I was the happiest I had ever been.

mom and daughter smiling for picture on deck
Courtesy of Jena Gonzales

My mother had developed rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure and a string of non deadly ailments over the years and flare ups were common but this, this was different. My mom was the strongest woman I knew and she was in pain and couldn’t sleep so we took her to a clinic doctor and he gave her medicine to dull it. He told her she needed an MRI to really know what was going on and we could get one at the ER. The ER told us it has to be scheduled with the doctor and all the while my mom endured higher and higher dosages of medicine. I remember very clearly joking to the doctor saying, ‘If you gave her elephant tranquilizers right now she’d take them.’ She was in a wheelchair because she couldn’t stand and we tried to make light of it all, she was so good at that.

mom passed out in chair in hospital
Courtesy of Jena Gonzales

We spent the last few days of her life together, I took her to my apartment so she could rest without others asking her for anything. My mother was the glue to my family. She held me, my three brothers, my dad and wheel chair bound grandmother together, keeping us cared for the only way she knew how. I wanted her to just be so I drew her a bath, helped her climb in, dried her off and we watched movies together. She picked movies like Bridget Jones so she could see her beloved Patrick Dempsey and 8 mile, yes the Eminem rap battle movie, I am sure you’re getting a better idea of my mom by now. I made her coffee and we sat together like we always did in the morning and chatted.

Later I took her home, gave her medicine, rubbed her legs (and yes her butt with Bengay) and kissed her goodbye, though I didn’t know it was goodbye at the time. I told her I loved her and she told me and that was the last time I saw my mother alive. She went in her sleep. I had tried calling the next day but was told she was resting. I could feel our connection fading before it did and though I was reassured she was ok, my heart had already broken.

The morning it happened I had called again to hear her voice and my brother told me she was asleep. I asked him to have her call me when she got up. The next call I got was from my brother saying ‘I don’t think mom is breathing, I fell asleep and I don’t think she’s breathing.’ I called 911 and my dad and rushed to my childhood home. When I got there my mother was on the hardwood floor of the living room and medics were pumping her chest, all I could do was pray but I knew, I had known. The medics went about their procedures and then I heard one say, ‘That’s it, call it.’ I had to tell my 2 younger brothers what just happened and all I could say was ‘Mommy’s gone.’ I called friends and family and they all rushed to see her before the funeral home removed her from our home. A friend and I dressed her as I did not want our loved ones to see her the way I did. I sang to her one last time, the song she had always sang to me, ‘You are my sunshine my only sunshine, please don’t take my sunshine away.’

That was about a year ago now and as much as I miss her I am glad she is at peace. We never really did find out what actually took her life. But I know that I had a mother that most little girls would kill for. I used to be upset that I only got her for 20 years but I got 20 years of the absolute purest love from a mother, my mom fought through hell and back to be my mom she got clean for me, she fought her past for me, she gave her life for me.

Since then I knew I had a choice, I could choose to fall back into my depression, I could use her death as a crutch, or I could use it to make her proud. My mom cared for us even after she was gone and had made preparation for us. I used what she gave me to go back to school to help woman heal, find their purpose and to live, truly live. I do one on one coaching with women and through Instagram at NYA_wellness which stands for Not Your Average because our stories are anything but average and so is our healing.”

Mom and daughter, made up and smiling in car
Courtesy of Jena Gonzales

This story was written by Jena Gonzales.  You can follow her on Instagram here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more amazing stories about strong women and their moms here:

‘Raising kids without my mother is much, much harder than I thought.’: Woman details parenthood after loss of mother, ‘It’s like driving without a GPS’

5 Stages Of Grief: How To Love After Loss

‘I received a text from my mother: ‘Can you come home after work please, I want to talk to you about the results of my CT scan.’ I raced home. My heart sank.’

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