Tuesday, September 2, 2014

September 1st: Beginnings and Endings

September 1st.  What a day.  It's the beginning of a new month, the beginning more or less of the academic year, and it marks the end of my mother's life.  This is the 9th year since her death.  She has officially been dead half as long as she was alive in my lifetime.  In another 10 years, she will have been dead as long as she was alive in my life.

I've written about this before including how much it generally sucks to have a parent die when you are not yet an adult.  I'm not sure it is necessary to cover that ground again.  I can say, however, nearly a decade of constant awareness of her absence has provided some important perspective in my life.  Though I would much rather be able to have her presence and thoughts in person as well as the experience of continuing to share parts of my life with her, I have learned and grown on account of her death.

It is unfortunate that the US typically does not deal well with death.  We can dole it out to others for "just" causes and "defense" but we cannot aid others in attempts to ease their suffering, we rarely discuss the topic of death openly often only seeing it attached to media representations that glorify the act but not the experience and process of those involved like some twisted fable.  We use euphemisms such as "pass away/on", "departed" or we just don't talk about it period.  All of these things combine to make death in a person's life a typically sad, upsetting situation which it is to an extent.  I suspect that due to this approach to death, though, so much positive experience is lost.  It also makes it difficult to grieve in a way that fits people's specific needs.

I was rushing to get back to my life when my mother died.  I was 5 hours into a 10 hour drive when I got the call that I needed to come back.  I was ordered back, really, by my grandmother.  Then it was a death vigil for about 4 days.  I would take my sisters out to do something instead of sit in the depressing hospital waiting for her to die only to get a call to say, "you should come now, it will be soon."  So, we would stop whatever we were doing, herd into my mother's room and stand and stare.  After awhile I would shuffle my sisters into the family lounge again to wait.  We stayed in the hospital 24/7 until the 4th night.  I looked at my father and my aunt and said very calmly, "I'm taking the girls to Amy's [my cousin who lived in the city with the hospital] to sleep, shower, and eat.  Do not call me unless she is dead.  I am not bringing them back here to wait more."  I said goodbye to my mother briefly even though she was in a coma at that point, collected my little sisters, and went on our way.  I was sleeping but heard the phone ring.  It was pitch black, but I sat up and put my shoes on.  I was tying the second lace as my cousin came upstairs and said, "Rita, she's gone."  I went to the room my sisters were sleeping in, they had heard the phone ring too.  When I opened the door, they both stared at me looking terrified of the news I was bringing.  I said , "I'm sorry."  We all cried, I hugged them.  My cousin drove us to the hospital.  We all gathered in her room to say goodbye once more.  It was about 3:40am.  I don't remember what happened after that other than most of the nursing staff coming in and giving their condolences, some of them cried too.

The next day my brother and I met with the funeral director to plan the funeral.  I wrote the obituary, we chose her urn, the musical selections, and the memorial pamphlet.  There were three vans of memorial flowers people had sent the day of her funeral.  The local flower shop was wiped out, and the owner donated what was left having also known my mother.  Over 200 people came to the funeral.  They broadcast it over the speakers outside because not everyone could fit in the chapel.

Three days after she died, I came back to my apartment after making the drive and within 24 hours I started my sophomore year.  Some of it I regret, some of it I do not.

Despite her absence, and the profound loss involved, I know I am a better person because of her and her death. I approach everyday knowing that she believed in me, loved me, and respected me as a person. I fight for my rights and the rights of others because of her, especially those who need the most empathy and compassion because they are discarded by others. I use my healthy skepticism to question authority and ask questions other people are afraid to ask- because of my mother. I am a strong person, and so are my siblings; thanks Mom. I stay open in my mind and heart to people who are different from me because my mother taught me how to respect and honor those differences while building friendships. And I know how to manage my own pain and struggles through her life and death. I know how to take care of myself too and persevere when life is uncooperative in helping me meet my goals.    

I sometimes wonder if she would be disappointed in me.  I'm not sure exactly what would be cause for disappointment in what I've done since she died, but I wonder anyway.  I think questioning myself about it keeps me on my path and prevents me from giving up.  I'm not even sure it would be about "making her proud."  It's more like not squandering the love and effort she put into raising me based on the brief time we had together.  She literally risked her life, safety, and long-term happiness to help ensure I would succeed in life.  I'm going to define that success.  And when I make it happen, I'll know who to thank in large part...but that will only be a new beginning.        

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