It was a chilly Saturday morning 13 years ago today my mom died.
My mom didn’t have an easy life. She had manic depression, and had OCD, and most of my childhood was spent with a mother who was either crying or sad, and usually obsessing over keeping everything spotlessly clean. She would clean tile floors with a toothbrush. She scrubbed the kitchen backsplash so furiously that she took the tile glaze right off it. She insisted on everything being immaculate and dirt was banned from our home.
Through my eyes as a child, this meant no childish simple pleasures for me. Jumping in puddles after a rain? nope! Playing in the sandbox? Big no! Mud pies? forget it. If my white shoes got dirty, I would be punished. It was hard being a kid, wanting to fit in, but just standing on the sidelines while everyone else had fun.
It wasn’t until I was a young adult that I realized how hard my mom had it. Mental illness was something we never discussed back then. It was hidden behind closed doors and lots of pills. Mom’s anti-depression pills gave her a bit of relief, letting her cope with her demons, and in her last few years on earth, gave her an almost normal life. She was a fantastic grandmother to my two sets of twins. She adored them, spoiled them rotten. She was everything I wished she would have been when I was young.
Then it happened. She began having a pain in her back, between her shoulder blades, and it wouldn’t go away. Her doctor ignored her plea for help for three years, telling my mom it was just stress, and probably just “all in her head”. Finally after nagging her doctor one too many times, she was sent for some tests.
The cat scan showed a tumor wrapped around her spine, 5 inches long. The surgeon said this type of tumor was benign 99% of the time. Just before Thanksgiving, she had the delicate surgery. Our worse nightmare came true – it was cancer, and even though he removed it, it had spread to her lungs, her brain, her kidneys, her liver.
She began slipping in and out of consciousness over the next couple of weeks. My home became the ICU waiting room. I slept on that leather couch and spent my days sitting by my mom’s bedside as the doctors prepared us for the end. Thanksgiving day, I brought my older children to visit her in ICU. She had been unconscious for a few days. When she heard her beloved granddaughter’s voices, she woke up. “My angels are here, Grannie’s little angels are here!” She chatted with them for about 15 minutes, then slipped back into her dreams. That was the last time she ever spoke, the last time she ever was conscious again.
We had stopped all life support the Thursday before she died. She was already gone, but her body hadn’t caught up with her spirit yet. I held her hand, shed tears in the waiting room, then came back to her room and held her hand again. That was my routine for three days. I was oblivious to life going on around me, except that a little pigeon sat outside on the window sill. It was there morning, noon, and night. I think if the window could have opened, it would have perched on my mom’s bed.
The sun was shining through the hospital window as her body finally gave up the long hard fight, as she took her very last breath. The pigeon that had stayed on her windowsill for the past few days seemed to know. Within a few moments of her last breath, it finally flew away. I like to think that maybe this innocuous little bird was perhaps a guardian to help her soul find it’s new destination, and that maybe, wherever she is, she is happy and smiling.