I miss you, Mom.
I fell into a seat in the ICU waiting room, where my family had taken residence for the past fourteen hours. I had just said goodbye to my mother. I broke down.
We had been waiting anxiously all day for my brother to arrive. He left Philadelphia in the early hours of the morning and drove straight through. The doctors had orders not to resuscitate my mother if her heart stopped again. I didn't think she'd hang on long enough for Randy to get there. She did.
The previous day, she had a successful surgery to remove a lump in her breast. Her doctor reassured us that this was not the kind of breast cancer that kills people. After the outpatient surgery, we went home and sat around the dining room table, happy but tired. She talked with Sally mostly — I was too exhausted for conversation. But Mom was happy, and for the first time in weeks, she wasn't scared. The road ahead looked good, with a beach vacation weeks away.
Twenty-four hours later, tears were streaming down my face, running down my arms and onto the floor of the ICU waiting room. I could barely breathe.
I had spent the day at the hospital trying to be the strong one. Making phone calls to family and friends. Giving Randy updates as he drove. Checking on Dad. Telling my children what was going on. Walking them in to tell Grandma goodbye one last time. Making more phone calls to give updates. There was never good news.
Staying busy was my mechanism to avoid my own grief, and to not face the absolute despair of the thought — the certainty — that my mother was going to die, and there wasn't anything I could do about it.
In truth she was already gone. The belief is that she had a stroke the previous night while resting on the couch. She never knew. She didn't suffer.
I was standing in the kitchen of my parents' house watching the chaos unfold before me. Paramedics working frantically. Police and firemen arriving. Dad trying to secure the cats. I called my sister — get to Springfield, fast. I called my brother in Philly and kept him on the phone most of the time. I can't imagine how isolated and helpless he felt on the other end of the line. I looked out through the window at the night, which was illuminated by many red and blue flashing lights.
All I could think to do in the chaos was to take pictures. A paramedic was speaking with my dad, asking the basics about Mom - name, age, birthday. He wrote these down on his latex glove, which caught my attention. Having spent most of my professional career in making technology-based tools to digitize information, I quickly realized there's sometimes simply no tool quite as trusty as a pen and a hand.
This is the only blog I've ever written that my mom won't read. It was hard to find the motivation to even start it. She didn't comment on every blog I wrote, but she read them all. And she always let me know if I had any glaring grammatical issues. Which I frequently did.
She was my editor. Not just for writing, but for life.
I found the above photo when looking for material for a slideshow my family put together after her death. I had never seen it, and I don't know the story behind it. But that's my mom on the left, studying a roll of negatives. Of the hundreds of photos we found, this might be my favorite. And I can't even really understand why, but I love it.
Exactly one month ago, to the minute of me writing this sentence, is when she left us. I still have a hard time believing it really happened. I still catch myself getting excited about something I want to share with her, only for a split second before realizing the truth. I still am avoiding my grief by staying busy. I'll get to that someday.
There's so much I want to say about my mom, but basically, today, I just want to say that I miss you, Mom. And I love you.