My mom died the Sunday before Mother’s Day.
It was sudden and unexpected, even though she’d been in the hospital for extreme high blood pressure just a few days before.
She’d always had high blood pressure, and I remember her taking medicine for it since I was a little kid.
The last time I talked to her was on the phone, from her hospital bed.
I lived four hours away and wanted to find out if things were serious enough for me to make the drive to see her. She told me she was feeling better, that they had adjusted her medication and were monitoring her. She was happy that they were planning to send her home soon and told me there was nothing to be worried about.
I decided not to make the drive. Four days later, she was dead.
She was young, only 49 years old. And though we had a rocky relationship, I was devastated.
Desperate to find something to blame, I went to the hospital demanding answers. I wanted to know why they discharged her so soon. I wanted to know how it was possible that only four days after they sent her home, she had a massive heart attack that killed her.
I thought they must have missed something or were negligent in some way. It wasn’t a state-of-the-art hospital, only a small regional medical center located in a Podunk Texas town that had abysmal reviews, so it had to be their fault. Right?
As angry as I was with the hospital, all I really needed to hear was what happened. I needed to hear the whole story, what her last moments were. I needed to know about her last minutes of life.
When I got there, they refused to speak to me even though I was her firstborn child and her next of kin. In my grief, I took it as a sign that they were hiding something. I assumed they didn’t want to get sued, which was why they were zipping their lips.
Later that day, one of the doctors who tried to save my mom finally called me. She apologized for how I was treated and asked me if I wanted to come back to learn what happened. Trembling in a cold and sterile room while waiting for the doctor to come talk to us, I fought back tears as I came to terms that this was the place where my mom likely took her last breath.
Turns out, my mom took her last breath in her own bathroom, while she was vomiting over the toilet, sick from the side effects of an opioid pill she had taken for fun. Given her lifelong heart problems (she was born with a murmur) as well as decades-old alcoholism and lack of physical self-care, her heart simply wasn’t strong enough to survive the attack. They had worked on her for over an hour, trying to restart her heart, but it was a losing battle. She never had a chance.
That was 11 years and one week ago, and Mother’s Day has never been the same.
For the first couple of years after her death, I hated this holiday.
It was a reminder of how much I’d lost and all I would miss in the future. I could never call my mom and ask how to cook a dish or vent to her when I got in a fight with my step-kid. I couldn’t call to tell her all about my new triathlon hobby or how scared I was during my young husband’s open-heart surgery.
The day reminded me, painfully, of how I would never have another moment with her, ever again. I would never touch her, never get a hug or a kiss, ever again. It was a reminder that all the pictures I have of and with her, were it. There would never be another memory shared between us, good or bad.
But, as the years went by, Mother’s Days got easier. I felt less resentful and bitter over my unfair lot in life. I do believe that time heals.
My little sister and I started a tradition of scattering rose petals for significant days, like mom’s birthday, death day, and Mother’s Day. We weren’t always able to celebrate together, living in different cities, but we tried to take the time to remember our mom by a body of water—throwing petals in the wind and watching them get carried away by the current of the river, gulf, or bay.
We would also pour a can of beer in the water, as weird as it sounds. It was an offering that we knew our mom would like. After her death, we forgave her for her addiction and let go of all the pain it caused us.
Today, the holiday is still hard, although not so much related to my mom. It’s more about my own loss of motherhood, but that’s a different story for another time. Maybe for next Mother’s Day?
This year I’m doing something a bit different, something all for me. There will be no petals scattered, there will be no sorrow for all the—coulda’ woulda’ shoulda’ beens. This year, I’m getting back to nature with a wildflower hike, all by myself. I believe that new experiences breed new perspective, and I am ready to move on from the pain of the past and unrealized future.
I’m ready to turn this sad day into a day of joy. I’m done crying over the loss. And I can’t wait to see the wildflowers that I know my mom would love to see, too. I’ve been feeling her presence quite a bit lately, so I know she’ll be there with me.
I love you, momma. Happy Mother’s Day!
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