It was a bright October morning when I awoke to the call that I had known with certainty would come, ever since her diagnosis six months prior: my mom had died. She had a history of high blood pressure and had suffered several strokes. In April, on her 72nd birthday, she laid in a hospital bed too incapacitated from her most recent stroke to absorb the magnitude of the Stage IV ovarian cancer diagnosis that had just been communicated by the doctor. We brought her back to the comfort of her home, where she spent time with family and her beloved cats, as she lived the last half year of her life in Hospice care.
It was not an easy period, but in those months I was fortunate to be able to travel from California to Illinois to spend as much time with her as I could. I typically brought at least one of my kids with me; there was nothing like seeing her 18 month-old grandson or 3 year-old granddaughter to lift my mom’s spirits. She may not have remembered much in those last months, but she always knew how to make the kids laugh and feel loved. My heart ached with joy and pain, seeing them together.
I spent a lot of time in those days reflecting on the circular nature of our existence. One day, as I helped my mom with a shower, she looked up at me with some mix of gratitude, love, and regret: “It seems like it wasn’t so long ago that I was the one washing your hair in the tub and helping you brush your teeth. Look at us now.” I’ll always be grateful for the time I had with her during those months and for the conversations we had, knowing that our time together was drawing to a close.
My mom had been so sick for so long that her time in Hospice and the relative tranquility of her death felt like something of a gift at the time. It was not until several months after she had died, that I started to really feel the pangs of loss.
Yes, I missed her – sometimes, terribly. I scoured my videos and listened over and over to her laugh and the way she called me “Lo” and mispronounced words with her faded Filipino accent. But it was the mundane moments with my kids that really drove the loss home for me. It was the heart-bursting sweet moments, and the terrible frustrations of dealing with two young toddlers. I thought a lot about how she was a stay-at-home mom to three kids under four, the last of whom had cerebral palsy. I marveled at the countless hours she spent cooking, cleaning, driving us to our activities, lovingly planning get-togethers and birthday parties and entertainment. Keeping us safe, but letting us explore the world. How did she do it? She didn’t live long enough for me to gain the perspective of motherhood and relate to her experiences through those new eyes. There is so much I wish I could have asked, so much more I wish I could have said.
It’s hard to know that she won’t see her grandchildren grow older, and that they won’t likely remember even meeting her as they do. I’ve taken to heart the advice passed on to me by a friend who also lost a parent when her kids were young:
Someday, the memories that seem so painful to recall today will bring you comfort and fill your heart with joy. Your job as a mom is to repeat all the really happy ones to your kids, over and over, so they grow up feeling like those stories are their own.
I will try my best. 29Love you, Mom, always.
Editor’s note: This post originally published on October 18, 2017.