Sunday, March 20, 2011

Motherless part 2: On how she died

This is a hard one to write but it's been nagging me for a while. I need to get it off my chest, and maybe make some sense of what happened. It's important to note that this was over 20 years ago and it's being retold from the perspective of a not-fully-formed 14 year old brain.
Here's what I remember:

In October of 1988 my mom collapsed at work. She worked as a nurse so they immediately sent her for a CAT scan just to make sure everything was alright. They found a tumor. They suspect she had a stroke and that's why she fell. I remember being terrified when I found out. I didn't know what to think. She came home right away. Gosh, I have a big blank in my memory from that point until she had brain surgery.

January '89 my mom had the brain surgery. It was right before I went back to school after the Christmas break. What was that Christmas like? Maybe my lurking sister can help me out :)

My mom was in the hospital for maybe a week. I remember being nervous going to see her. She had her head in a bandage but otherwise seemed like herself. It was a relief. She came home and I got to see the scar. It was large, like a big question mark on the side of her head, above her ear. She had no hair. They had shaved her entire head.She had an indent where they had removed part of her skull (but they couldn't put back after). It still makes me shudder to think about it. I remember my uncle gave her two cotton turbans for her head. One blue and one pink. Colours she didn't normally wear. She was a red head and thought that she could only wear rusts, browns and oranges.

In February she started radiation therapy. I remember going with her to the hospital on a day off from school. They put giant X's on her head to mark where to uh...zap her. I thought the X's were funny. Like someone had doodled on her head. She did that for about a week. Her stubble that had grown in started to fall out. Everywhere. We would find her hair in everything. She seemed weak. She was at home all day. Not back at work. She got two wigs. One curly and one straight. I liked the straight one better, even though her natural hair was thick and wavy.

She was having seizures still. Small ones though. She would stop talking and zone out, but then snap out of it a minute later. My mom seemed tired and had a lot of headaches. Something of her personality changed. I can't quite put my finger on it. She didn't laugh as much (understandably!). Her laugh was such a big part of her. My aunt recently told my sister and I this story about my mom laughing. Mom, auntie Lynn and Gail (who was briefly an aunt) went to a funeral. They had been laughing about something on the way there. My mom laughed so hard she peed herself. Typical mom *shaking my head and chuckling to myself*. The other two had to sandwich my mom everywhere they went to hide the wet.

At the beginning of December she started to lose her balance all the time. She went back into the hospital. I still had no clue that this tumor was cancer. I only found out later, much later. When I was an adult. I know she was already in the hospital on the 6th of December. I know that because of the panic I felt when I heard there was a gunman in the area near the hospital. There was a shooting. It turned out to be at the Universite de Montreal. Fourteen women were killed. You can read about the massacre here. It has nothing to do with my mother, but I find it hard to separate the two events.

At some point, the bit of information that I did get was that her tumor had returned. There were five of them. In a different place on her brain. Not where they removed the tumor.

Her friend Linda took me to see her on December 19th. My dad's birthday. We went to Baskin and Robbins beforehand and snuck (sneaked?) ice cream into the hospital. Pralines and Cream. My mom was all bruised on her arms from being manhandled from the orderlies. She was paralysed from the waist down. She told me she was being moved to the hospital where she worked. Linda was also a nurse there. She said she and all of my mom's friends would take good care of her. This sounded like a good idea. I thought I'd be able to visit her more often since her work was a lot closer to our house. My dad told us we had a meeting with a psychologist on the friday. It was a tuesday. My mom's speech was slurred. She didn't seem like herself at all. I remember being reluctant to kiss her goodbye. This part still eats away at me, even though I didn't know. Didn't know she was dying. Didn't know this would be the last time I would see her.

On the Thursday, December 21st, she died. We were in the basement watching TV. The Cosby show. I was eating Fruit Loops out of the box. My dad answered the phone. He got off the phone and he told us. My sister let out a horrible stunted noise. Like a yelp. I felt like a lead weight had dropped into my chest where my heart had been. I was in shock. My aunt and uncle came by and told us what her last moments were like. She was waiting for the ambulance to be transferred to her hospital. It never came. My aunt later told me the staff knew it wasn't long for her, so the ambulance wasn't ordered. I guess it gave her something to look forward to. She was laughing about the ice cream when she died. Laughing.

What I now know:
We think that it was my grandmother's idea not to tell my sister and I that my mom was dying. My dad went along with it. We have no clue if my mom knew about it. My sister was 20 and I was 14. Not infants. Not too young that we didn't understand death. We were cheated. Of all the goodbyes and closure. It was like she was in a car accident. It felt very sudden to me. My aunt and uncle told us that they were there with her everyday for weeks at the end. They thought my sister and I were acting strange but they thought it was shock. They had no clue that we didn't know she was dying.

To further prevent closure, my dad went with my grandparents to the lake where they used to have a cottage. They scattered my mom's ashes there. I found out when I got home from school and noticed the ashes were missing. Cheated. Again.
Nineteen years later we got a bit of closure. My aunt and uncle took us to the lake, to where my mom's ashes were. They were in town for my grandmother's funeral. My mom's mom. She died at the ripe old age of 91. My mother was 46 when she died. They think her ashes were scattered overlooking the lake, at the base of the tree that she spent childhood summers. She would sit and read at that tree. My grandparents sold the house when she was a teenager.

Mom's resting place. Pretty isn't it?

The only photo I have of my mom and me.
Wow it's like looking at Alex with a Holly Hobbie housecoat on.