November 11, 2013

“It isn’t every day you speak to someone who came back from the dead.”

Yesterday morning, I got some unexpected news from my cousin: my mother died.

At least, she had been told that in a phone conversation she had with our uncle (my mother’s older brother).

To say I was floored is probably the understatement of my life. For several years, my mother struggled with complications from diabetes. She had been in and out of the hospital a lot in the past five years, so I always knew there was a possibility that she could die.

Worst still, the last time we spoke was over two months ago. In what was a pretty routine pattern for us, we got into an argument over something I cannot even recall, and the conversation ended with her hanging up on me.

Usually, after these episodes, she would call again in a month or so. When two months passed and there was still no word from her, I thought that perhaps she just needed more time. Given her penchant for changing various phone plans—in fact, before our argument, she mentioned she was switching yet again—I did not even have her current number. However, I wasn’t too worried.

Our record for not speaking was close to a year, so two months did not raise any alarms.

Therefore, getting the news was kind of akin to walking into an elevator and falling down the shaft.

Hearing that she had passed away left me feeling hurt, shocked and saddened to the core. It also turned everything I thought I knew about death and how I would handle it completely on its head.

As I have shared numerous times, my father is dying of cancer. It’s been a slow process. However, I thought the experience taught me all I needed to know about losing a parent. Call it ego or naivety, but I thought I was completely prepared for the day I found myself without him. Likewise, I believed that I knew exactly how I would feel when my mother passed.

Simply put, I was wrong. Dead wrong.

The first thing I felt was an incredible amount of sadness—not for me but for what might have been.

I felt sad that I had not called more. I wished that I had tried more or been a more forgiving person. I realized, too, that for all her faults, my mother had tried her best. That’s something I could not see until after she was gone.

However, like so many other things in my life, the story takes a strange, unexpected twist.

After letting the “news” sink in for a few hours, I started to wonder why my stepfather of over 20 years, whom I tended to get along with, had not called me with that news. An internet search for an obituary proved fruitless, as did a search of various databases.

Finally, at the urging of a friend, I called the local police and asked if they could stop by the house. An hour later, the phone rang.

It was my mother who was not only very much alive but ironically, in better health than we last spoke. (So much better in fact that she even returned to work part-time.)

In a nutshell, she had recently had a falling out with her brother who in turn, told several people she was dead. If he meant dead in the emotional sense and not the physical, then  he did not bother to clarify that.

Despite being rightfully angry at him, my mother was nonetheless touched by my genuine concern. After speaking for more than an hour, she ended the call in her usual wry humor saying, “It isn’t every day you speak to someone who came back from the dead.”

While I appreciated the humor of that, she was right: few people will ever get the opportunity I got.

Granted, my mother was never actually in danger of dying and the news of her “death” was due to a on-going family feud, but during those eight hours I thought she was gone, she was really dead to me.

While I do not believe that this odd episode will heal all the wounds between us and lead to a perfect mother-daughter relationship, it is a chance to work on and improve the relationship we have.

We have the time.

It also made me reflect on my father: the news of my mother being alive has not changed the fact that my father is still dying and soon, I will be grieving for him. It also made me aware that when he finally does go, I should be prepared for anything, emotionally speaking.

I have no way of knowing how I will feel when he finally leaves the earth, though I suspect that if it is anything like this recent situation with my mother, I will probably feel more loss than I ever thought possible.

Lastly, I am slowly learning what it really means when someone says, “Life is too short to hold grudges forever.” I know I still have a lot of work to do on that one, but I feel it may be closer to me than it was even 48 hours ago.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Wikimedia Commons.}

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