On a wintery morning on Jan. 8, 2013, I watched my mother die in our living room.
It was not a peaceful death–her body was fighting until the last second for another breath of air. Her body shut down slowly, and by 11:06 a.m., everything was still. The nurse helped me pick out her “last outfit,” and I chose a black dress detailed with sheer red roses–one that she would wear to funerals. I’d never seen her naked before, and was shocked by how much her body had wasted away to the point where every bone that could be visible, was. We dressed her before her parents and brother arrived. Hours later, two men took her body away to be cremated. And that’s how that all went.
There is a before her death, where everything is filled with hope and fear. Then there is an after her death, where everything is based on how to survive and cope with another day. There is no inbetween.
In the weeks that followed, a few of us that stuck around had to find pictures of her, plan her memorial service, and figure out what to do since she did not leave a will. I told my university that I would be taking the semester off. I cancelled my internship, one that I had worked hard to get. I wrote her obituary, which ended up being terrible since there were so many conflicts on who her “survivors” were. I had never written a real obituary before, and I did not know which memories to share in the newspaper. The only good picture I could find of her was one were she was wearing her wig and was already sick. I submitted it anyways.
I lived alone in the house now, since my nephews were at school and my father lived in another house. My friends took off work and school to come live with me, even if just for a week. Church members brought me food. My mother’s parents and brother offered to have me stay with them, but I felt that if I left, I would never be able to come back.
After the memorial service, that part came true. My father announced he had taken the house, and if I did not get out, everything I owned would get dumped. The cops got involved. I ended up moving everything out in one day with the help of all the church members. A couple from church let me live with them. My relationship with family and boyfriend slowly started falling apart. I took classes at a community college and would cry on the way home. I stopped going to church because I could not handle people that knew my mother looking at me. I got depressed, and my body took over control without my consent. My skin dried up and my feet and fingers peeled back, bleeding and sensitive. I lost enough weight to dip below 100 pounds, encountered hair loss, my period stopped, and I started having crazy nightmares. I saw my mother in my sleep, and she would talk to me. I could feel her grab my hand. I would talk back to her and we would have conversations about how she was gone now. It was weird, and scary. So I stopped sleeping when I could help it.
That was five years ago. I’m much better now, but the healing process is taking a long time. Family and friends are the reasons I am still here. God is the reason I still have hope for life. Nowadays, I cry easily when I think of her. So I try not to think of her at all. Then I realize I’m forgetting her, and I freak out and cry some more. It is pretty terrible so I just fill my time with anything else. My relationship with my father is getting better, slowly. I am married to someone who never met my mother, but tries his best to understand what I’m going through. And ironically, part of my job is writing obituaries for a magazine.
They are very short with only the dates and survivors, but sometimes I will have to call a family member to get some missing information. Usually, it is the spouse of the person who died. One time a gentleman called me to submit his wife’s obit, and ended up breaking down for 40 minutes yelling, “they took her away from me!” and I had to sit through it all quietly. Another time a lady called for her husband’s obit and ended up telling me, through tears, about their 65 years of marriage.
A few obits are of very young people, and those are the saddest to write about. A couple weeks ago, I called a pastor to get some missing information and found out the family did not want to submit an obituary yet because their daughter committed suicide, and they are still grieving. I had to fight back the tears as I hung up and wrote “postpone” on the paperwork.
I am probably the worst person to deal with all of these people, yet here I am making phone calls to families who are going through something I can relate to on a very personal level. I rarely if ever say, “I’m sorry for your loss,” simply because I want to tell them something different from everyone else who is saying that to them. So I usually end the phone call by offering one more service, for free, out of my work time.
“If you need help writing an obituary for your local newspaper, let me know.”
Because maybe I can help them with one little thing while they are going through this. Maybe they do not know how to write an obituary and cannot pay the fee the funeral charges to write something cold up. And maybe my experience can help someone else during their healing process, even if it is just writing an obituary. ~