“It’s 3:30 a.m. on the day my mom died 10 years ago. Yes, double-digit death anniversary — the first of many for years to come. I’m filled with mixed emotions as daylight is looming closer and closer. Our minds, wonderful and mysterious, can make us forget the lyrics of our favorite song but can keep memories of a traumatic day so vividly at the forefront of the mind.
For many years, I’d focus on the timeline of that day in 2010. I would go on most of the day recounting things, hour by hour, staring at the clock as if remembering would somehow bring her back. The early morning call from my dad to get to the hospital and recalling the underlying panic in his words. Arriving at the hospital and remembering the exact outfits my brother and I were wearing. I remember seeing him in his business clothes and thinking, ‘He’s so adult’ as I arrived, disheveled, in an oversized hoodie and jeans, ‘so college.’ I remember feeling so proud of him for those 30 seconds before our world came tumbling down. The exact bathroom stall I used, the exact table I ate lunch in the hospital cafeteria. I even remember what I ate for lunch (pizza, obviously). I remember walking around the hospital gift shop and hearing ‘Code Blue’ on the speakers and feeling a ping in my heart for whoever was facing that. Little did I know, eight hours later, I’d be hearing it for my own mom.
I often thought about the exact moment I saw my mom in the ICU that morning. Her eyes were big with shock seeing me prance into her room. She immediately grabbed my hand and wrote ‘I (heart) U’ with her finger in the palm of my hand. She had tubes down her throat and couldn’t speak but I could sense her worry — she was so upset my dad called me and that I was there versus at college studying for the final exams of my senior year. She kept writing ‘I am OK’ on a notepad, thinking I’d turn around and go back to school. When I reflect on that now, I can’t help but think even in the dire, life-altering moment she faced in the ICU, somehow a mother’s love and concern are solely focused on her child. How selfless of an act is that?
I’d often end the anniversary day alone, curled up in the fetal position on a couch or bed remembering the last moments — the ‘Code Blue’ loud and intrusive on the speaker merely two minutes after I blew my last kiss to her as visitation hours ended. I remember the moments that followed because it felt just like in the movies. Nurses and doctors, all rushing with crash carts past me to get to her. I’m sad she was alone at that moment, but I think this was another selfless act of my mother. She held on for a few minutes longer so I could be spared from that final scene. My last visual memory of her alive is sitting up, waving goodbye because she was doing ‘better’ and I can’t help but think that was her plan all along.
Over the last 10 years, I have circled the five stages of grief more times than I can count. I have drunk away my sorrows. I have partied my pants off to forget that gnawing feeling deep inside. I’ve thrown stuff. I’ve sprained ankles kicking very solid objects from frustration. I’ve second-guessed all the diagnoses and wondered, ‘What if we did this differently.’ I’ve scrutinized her autopsy results with a fine-tooth comb. I have laid on the cold bathroom floor, crippled with emotional pain, contemplating ending it all just to see her again. I have run races in her memory. I’ve donated to more organizations than I can count in her memory. I have released balloons and notes in her memory. No two years have been the same and the grief has never been linear. There is no road map. Some were darker days while others were sweet, sweet memories.
This year, I’m feeling a new set of emotion. I lost her 10 days before I graduated from college. My whole life was ahead of me. I was still a kid in the grand scheme of things, not knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up or where I’d land. I wasn’t established. The world was supposed to be my oyster, as they say, but I had to face it with a void in my heart. She never got to see me graduate college or see me start my career. She never got to console me after my first big heartbreak or see my first rowhome. She wasn’t there to nag me for keeping it so cluttered or to help me decorate it. She hasn’t been here to tell me ‘everything is going to be okay when I’m having a bad day. She was the only person who could say those words and I actually believed it deep in my bones. Nothing is more powerful than when a mom says it. The hardest thing now is she isn’t here to see me finally be happy. I’ve met a wonderful man, I’ve been a powerhouse in my career, I have friends she’d love, I’m a proud aunt to two kiddos I can’t get enough of. She doesn’t get to be here for this, and it makes these moments so bittersweet to me. It makes me sad and jealous of my friends who have their moms around. This is what she lived for — seeing her children flourish into successful, happy adults. So today it’s different. I won’t go hour by hour meticulously thinking about this day in 2010. I’ll try my best to enjoy the happiness that I’ve created all around me.
So, this one’s for those who have survived the big waves of grief sitting in that tiny boat in the middle of the ocean, barely staying alive, holding on for dear life. The waves still come but they are smaller and smaller, year after year. The difference now in our double-digit year count is that we can navigate our tiny boat over the waves to find the sunnier, happier place just past the horizon.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Veronica W. 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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