The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

I’ve made a habit of challenge and struggle in my life. I’m always choosing the impossible goal; reaching for something that has never been done before, the untried and untested. Living outside the lines of convention, I’ve fallen many times. Yet, these struggles have led me to the magnificent edges of what is new and rising and exciting.

Losing my mother was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I didn’t expect it be so bad. I told myself I was ready. Caring for her 24/7 for the past 9 years and for years before that following a stroke, I anticipated freedom. In theory, it was finally my mothers’ time.

I wasn’t prepared for the flood of grief that overwhelmed me. Or even for the explosion of love that was everywhere in the days before her death. She was a sleeping siren, calling us to her bed as she perched on a wire between worlds. We shared stories of her and admitted how much we loved one another; something most in our extended family had never done. My mother was a love drug, a force of nature, an impossibility. I thought she was immortal.

But at 7:37pm on August 3rd, she proved me wrong. Death is an unaccompanied minor, wreaking havoc on adults in denial of its existence until it pulls at our coattails and says, you’re next. My mother was afraid of death. And that made it harder for me to accept it too, so I fought beside her to keep her alive for as long as I could.

When my mother checked into the hospital that last time, to our surprise and concern, a family of vultures were nesting outside the window of her room. We all recognized that this was not a good sign. The day before she died, I had a dream a vulture turned into a beautifully colored hummingbird and flew away. In the end, she passed peacefully and gently, soaring off the wire like she knew all along where she was heading.

I loved my mother very much. We were birds of a feather and nothing alike. We had a karmic bond that filled and challenged us both. My entire life I was here to serve her, to protect her, to allow the child within to emerge and play and be silly and difficult and still loved. Often, I resisted this role. I now feel privileged by it.

Coming back to her house one night, days before she died, I was overwhelmed with an awareness that she would never again walk through the door of a home where everything reeked of her. So still were the walls, furniture, a long-used wheelchair, the little throw that kept her warm, and her beloved Revlon lipstick. To her, everything was made better with lipstick.

She’s gone and I know others out there have lost someone equally magical and singular in their lives. And that the same love I feel for my mother, and my brothers and cousins resides in them for someone else. That’s the beauty of love. There’s enough for everyone. My mother triggered a landslide in all of us as we held each other and cried and reminded ourselves how important that love is and why we come together as a family, regardless of our differences.

We forget all this for less important reasons in life. I have now begun to re-write my life as I dismantle hers. Who will I become because of her death? I learned more about so many things in 9 years of being my mother’s caregiver than through any other experience, job, person in my life. I am in touch with myself as never before and plan on honoring this experience by being fully present with all my quirks and distinctions. I am nothing if not my mother’s daughter.

There is a truth that only death illuminates. It is the truth of who we are and of our sadly temporary existence on this planet, too often filled with fear and judgement and petty grievances. What my mother’s life and death has taught me is that nothing and no one can ever define or change me if I stand honestly in my identity and live from my heart. It is cliché’ but true. In the end, nothing matters but love. Why must we wait till the end to remember this?

Bye, Mom.

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