My mom died 10 years ago this September. Cancer. The fucking bastard cancer, I don’t even wanna capitalize it.
I’m a momma’s boy, like just about every other man on this planet, and I’d had many nightmares throughout my life about her dying. In the year leading up to it, knowing she likely wouldn’t see another Christmas (her favorite holiday, and also her birthday), I was beside myself with grief if I thought about it too long. She even asked me to make her memorial video for her service. While that was easily the hardest video editing job I’ve ever had to do, when she saw it she cried with a smile – “It’s perfect, Mitchell. Thank you so much, my wonderful son”, and kissed me on my head. At that point in her diminishing state, she was bald, frail, skinny to the bone, and barely conscious for more than about a few hours a day – and rarely more than about 45 minutes at a time. She had an oxygen tank with a really long tube to aid her in breathing. It was a bad scene. This woman who was always so full of boundless energy, whose laugh was infectious and loud as hell, was now struggling to even make a coherent thought sometimes.
On the last day I visited her at her home in Colorado, the hospice nurse pulled my sister and I aside and said “she needs to know that it’s okay to go”. I’ll never understand that. People can choose when they die, just by “letting go”. And our job on this day was to let her know that we loved her and that it was “okay to go”. God, just thinking about that how that conversation went still wells me up with tears.
The hardest part, however, was saying goodbye. I wasn’t there when she died – I think my sister was – but when it was time for me to leave for the airport, she wanted a big hug. I leaned over (she was 5’3″ at her healthiest, and now hunched to a little over 5 feet), and almost picked her up. That’s normally what I would’ve done. I loved picking my mom up off the floor in a hug, and she’d laugh-scream “oh! put me down Mitchell!” and I’d sometimes swing her around. I couldn’t do that now because it likely would’ve actually hurt her. So I just hugged as hard as I could. And then I let go, and stood back up. She grabbed me, “NO. NO, Mitchell. I need more”. I think I held her in my arms for about 3 minutes, before her husband said “I’m sorry, we’re gonna be late”, and off I went. It didn’t quite hit me until I was home : that was the last time I’d ever see, or touch, or hear, or hug my mother. She held on until just after midnight on her husband (Chuck)’s birthday a few days later. She’d wanted to enjoy the cake she baked for him, with him.
I got the call from Chuck a few minutes after she passed. Just seeing his name come up on my phone, I knew. My girlfriend at the time was with me. She knew too. She ran off for emergency Bouschka (my cat) presence, which was appreciated. I hung up the phone, not really feeling anything. Then I looked up at the wall in front of me, where I had my mom’s Livestrong number from the marathon we did together a few months prior. That’s when it hit me. That’s when I broke. I’m still broken. As my dad would later say to me “there’s some things you’ll never get over. This is one of those things”.
Okay, that’s the sad part. This post is also tagged “happy stories”.
For months afterwards, well into the following year, I would have these recurring dreams about her. I’d be in a mall, or a parking lot, or a store, and I’d see her. And there’d always be a crowd around, like it was just an incredibly busy area all of a sudden. I’d push through the crowd trying to reach her, but never got there in time – she’d just up and disappear before I could. I didn’t even know if she saw me, or even knew I was there. Sometimes I’d wake up sweating, and then crying, saying to no one who would listen “I just want to talk to her again”. We had such great talks over the years, and I really needed her voice in my life.
Then, one night, it happened. I saw her in an outdoor courtyard. I was, for some reason, up on the second floor looking down. She was just sitting on the walls of a water fountain – like those big circular water fountains you see in courtyards – and I shouted “MOM! Stay there!” and she looked up and smiled “Mitchell! Come on down!”. In my memory, I practically floated to her. We hugged like old times, I picked her up and everything. Her hair was back, she was healthy, she was smiling, she was dressed in a casual shirt-and-jeans. She said “sit, sit, let’s talk”. Everyone else suddenly disappeared. It was just my mother and I sitting on the wall of a fountain, surrounded by a paved courtyard as far as the eye could see in any direction.
I remember not wanting to directly reference that she was dead. It felt weird. I had so many questions, so many things to tell her, but I didn’t know where to start. She asked me how I’d been. I told her about the breakup, about living alone now, about work. She was happy for me, glad I was still making websites and doing comedy. I said “what about you? How have you been? Uhh… like, what’s uhh… what’s heaven like?”.
She laughed, in that “ohh you poor, confused person” kind of way.
Mom : There’s no heaven, or, as far as I know, hell. it’s not like that. I take walks and I’ve walked past rooms where Hitler and Mussolini are chuckling it up over drinks, I’ve seen some of the nastiest people you could imagine just playing a round of golf.
Me : Wait. So… you lived a great, and kind life, and HITLER gets to enjoy it too?
Mom : Ohhh Mitchell. It doesn’t matter. You know how I spent last week? I took art classes with Pablo Picasso. Sometimes, I go to see an actual original Shakespeare play1. I’ve MET SHAKESPEARE, MITCHELL. I met him. We’ve had wine together! Ohhh the wine is so good. And the conversation. Socrates will talk your ear off!
Me : Okay, that’s awesome. God, you must love it.
Mom : I do!
Me : I’m still hung up on this Hitler thing.
Mom : Mitchell… I don’t spend time comparing what I have with what others have. That’s no way to live. You can’t do that. You simply cannot do that, you’ll go mad. They have their dumb little area where they scream and curse and I’m sewing dresses for a character in a Shakespeare play, or going to see some of my favorite musical artists – Janis Joplin is a riot! Life, even the afterlife, is about you and what you are doing with it. To hell with who got what and how, all you can do is worry about you, and try to make life wonderful for yourself and those you care about. That’s how I raised you.
I woke up shortly thereafter. I felt like I’d really had a conversation with my mother. I cried. I contemplated. But I felt alive. I felt… good, for a change. My spiritual friends are certain we met on some distant ethereal plane. That we really spoke, our souls had a conversation, that kind of thing.
I think my mind was ready to heal, and cooked up a particularly insane story that would calm me. I don’t know anything beyond this : that dream was an important step in my healing. And the best one I’ve ever had. What it means? I truly don’t care.
I love you, mom. And I miss you everyday.
it bears mentioning that my mom participated in (along with select students in the drama class she taught) the Utah Shakespeare Festival for years and even won some kind of medals for it most of the time. She was huge on Shakespeare. ↩