Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Good-bye



A conversation I had with my dad in April 2014, just a week after his 85th birthday…


Me: Do you ever wonder what we’re here for? What did you come to this earth to do? What is your purpose?

Dad: No, that’s never crossed my mind.

Me: It hasn’t? Really? I think about it all the time. I wonder what my purpose is. What am I here for? What lessons am I supposed to learn? So what do you think life is about?

Dad: We’re just here. We’re born. We die. That’s it.

Me: So, you don’t think you are here to learn something or to contribute or make a difference? What do you think happens after we die?

Dad: Nothing.

Me: Nothing? That’s it? We just die and there’s nothing else after? You don’t think that you meet God and see heaven?

Dad: No, not really.

Me: Well, when you die, you’re going to see, Dad…you will meet God and you will see heaven and you will say “Oh wow. Jackie was right.” Mark my words. (We both laughed.)

Dad: I really admire your positivity and your way of thinking. I don’t have that in me.

Me: It’s never too late to start, Dad.


*****


On Sunday, August 31, 1986 my mom was given 24 hours to live. I cried that day more than I had ever cried in my life. But on Monday, September 1, when the 24 hours expired, I selfishly felt happy although I knew she was suffering. She was in a coma-like state or maybe it was an actual coma or maybe she was just unconscious. She had her eyes closed and couldn’t speak. She didn’t respond to our requests to squeeze our hand if she could hear us. She was just a vegetable. It was disturbing to see her. In my journal I wrote “It was so pathetic to see her. It just wasn’t my mom.”


On Tuesday, September 2, we got a huge gift and a big surprise at visiting hour! My mom was awake and had started talking for the first time in four days. I was SO happy!!! My hope skyrocketed. I said prayers of thanks to God. I felt renewed and hopeful that maybe she wasn’t going to die after all. Maybe there was a chance of recovery, I thought! It angers me now to remember how we were limited to just 2 hours a day with my mom in that ridiculous ICU. For all we know, she was alert all day, all alone, with no one to talk to or to keep her company. It pains me; it breaks my heart when I imagine her looking around, waking up for the first time in four days, and not having had anyone at her side right away. I digress…


My dad, my brother, my sister, my cousin(s), my aunt(s), even my boyfriend Robbie…we all took turns going in to see my precious mami. And as each one of us walked out, we shed tears of joy at the miracle we were witnessing. I remember my brother and sister saying that when my mom saw them, she asked if she was dying because why else would they be there. They tried to fool her and said that they were just there to surprise her because they had heard she was in the hospital. Robbie told me that while he was in there, she had not only recognized him, but she had also told him to cut his hair! That made us all laugh. We knew THAT was my mom, for sure! 


The next day, Wednesday, September 3, Robbie was already at the hospital waiting for me. He had cut his hair short. It was an incredible act of kindness and love on his part and I so appreciated what he had done for my mom. My journal: “At visiting hour we went in with fear of finding mom back in a coma-like state – BUT luck was on our side and so was God and she was still conscious! My hopes got up even higher. Everyone told me not to get them so high though cuz maybe that was a last chance that God had given mom to say good-bye to all of us. Little by little that day, she got worse. She wasn’t all that aware of what was going on. She’d forget what we would tell her; and she’d have to think really hard to say things. She asked me a thousand times if she was going to die. That hurt me so much. Whenever I was with her, I snapped out of reality cuz I was constantly talking to her about things we were gonna do when she got out and all this other bullshit that my poor baby had to believe.” I remember telling her that the Lakers were waiting for her (she was a huge fan.) I remember telling her that she wasn’t going to die because she had to get back home to our dog, Shancy. I remember telling her that she wasn’t going to die because she still had to finish her job of raising me. I remember telling her so many lies.


On Thursday, September 4, my mom was still conscious and still talking, but wasn’t making any sense and she was very forgetful of what we were saying to her. As an adult, I realized that her organs were shutting down and the toxins were affecting her brain. I’m not a doctor. That’s just what I figure since the liver is the organ that flushes toxins out. Maybe I’m wrong. Who knows? I don’t really give a shit if I am. I was just happy that day that God was keeping my mom awake and alive for us. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t care if she was a vegetable or didn’t make sense or didn’t speak at all. I just wanted her alive and with me forever.


On Friday, September 5, my mom took a turn for the worse and went into a coma. My journal: “She looked terrible. She couldn’t talk or even nod her head. She was just a vegetable. Whenever visiting hour came, I dreaded it cuz I had to go in and suffer seeing mom like that. Life is so unfair. She NEVER did ANYTHING to deserve that kind of slow and painful death she got. Every time I came out of seeing her for that week and two days she was there, I would cry and feel terrible.”


On Saturday, September 6, when my dad and I arrived at the hospital the doctor came out to tell us that mom had had cardiac arrest that morning but that they had resuscitated her. I started to cry hearing the news. The doctor told us that he didn’t know how much damage had been done to the brain and that now it was just a matter of time. My journal: “At visiting hour when I went in to see her, I couldn’t believe it. She was so much worse. Day by day I noticed the gradual change in her and every time, she looked worse than she had the day before. When the second visiting hour came, I didn’t go in. I just couldn’t see her like that. At 12:30AM or somewhere around there, in other words, Sunday, September 7, my mother passed away.”


I learned of my mom’s passing as I laid in bed at my dad’s apartment. My sister and I had shared a bed during her stay in Buenos Aires. She got up around 8:30am; went to the kitchen; I heard muffled talking; then I heard my sister scream. That was how I heard the news that my mom died. Surprisingly, I cried, but not much. It was as though in the previous days, I had run out of tears. Suddenly, that day, our routine of going to the hospital had ended and it felt so weird. My mom was gone. I couldn’t fathom what was happening in my life. I was in shock. She really died. She was really gone. She was never coming back. Although she had told me so many times that she feared dying and although she had passed on the fear to me, I didn’t really actually think she would die and leave me! I also remember feeling a bit of relief that day. It was over. She wasn’t suffering anymore and neither was I because I no longer had to see her that way. I no longer had to go through the agony of seeing her deteriorate and die a slow death.


I went through the day like a zombie. I got up, showered, got dressed, ate breakfast, went to my aunt’s house, saw my boyfriend, had lunch, and then went to the wake. Yes, you read that right. The funeral was the same day she died. How fucking messed up is that? But that’s how they do it in Argentina and I’m sure in many other countries. There isn’t embalming. There isn’t fancy, meaningful funeral planning with eulogies and songs and sentimental photo collages like we have here. The day before I had seen my mom in a hospital bed. Now here I was, the day she died, seeing a coffin. I couldn’t believe my mom was in there. My MOTHER was in a COFFIN! I started sobbing uncontrollably with my sister. She started screaming. I hugged the coffin tight and just cried and cried. I wanted to hug my mami, not a coffin. I wanted to give her a big kiss. I wanted to nuzzle my face in her neck and just cuddle with her. I wanted to tell her how much I loved her; how much I needed her; not to leave me. I tried consoling my sister (who is 16 ½ years older than me) but I couldn’t because I was inconsolable myself. Someone, I don’t know who, took me away from the coffin. I could hear my sister screaming “GET MAMI OUT OF THERE!!” She was acting like a little girl. My brother shook her really hard and my poor sister started to calm down little by little. About half an hour later, I attempted going back into the room where my mom’s coffin was. I continued to sob. I just couldn’t believe my mom was in there. I wanted to see her with my own eyes, but my dad refused. He said he didn’t want me to remember her that way. The casket was closed and that was that. I think I tried opening it but people grabbed and pulled me away. 


The wake lasted almost a full 24 hours. That’s how it’s done there. Loved ones gather and stay the night, paying their respects. Some people stayed the entire 24 hours. Others just stopped by. A priest showed up at some point and spoke. I don’t remember what he said. It was all nonsense to me anyway. I didn’t care how much anyone reassured me that she was finally resting; she’s in a better place; she’s not suffering; she’s with God; she’s your own personal angel; blah, blah, blah. It’s all bullshit when you’re grieving. That’s the crap that makes me insane and makes me want to sock people in the nose. All I wanted was to get my mom back. (Word of advice – don’t ever say any of those stupid clichés to anyone who is grieving. You’re better off just staying quiet and not saying a single word. Trust me. I speak from experiencing more than one loss.) 


On Thursday, September 11, when we got to the airport, it was the most surreal feeling. Thirteen weeks earlier, I had been at that exact airport, excited and happy to be in a country I loved so much and with the most important person in my life – my mom. This all seemed like a big nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from. It felt wrong to be leaving. The story didn’t seem right. This wasn’t the ending I had expected. When my dad announced “OK. C’mon, it’s time to go.” I lost it. I just broke down and cried so hard. I held on tight to my family and my boyfriend. I didn’t want to say good-bye. I got on the escalator going up and looked back at my loved ones. As everyone cried, we all waved one last good-bye.


When we boarded our plane back to California, I realized it was my first time ever on airplane with my brother and sister. It was the first time all of us, including my dad, were on a plane together. I was sad my mom didn’t get to experience our one and only family trip on a plane.


 *****


In the last six months, I’ve wondered what my mom’s purpose was. What was she here for? What lessons did she learn? What did she see as she floated above her body? And I’ve always wondered, what did she feel when she died? My mom died all alone in that horrible ICU. No one was by her side at her time of death. My brother and my cousin were at the hospital that night and one of them saw the nurses giving her CPR through a window. That has always been such a sad visual for me. I hate the thought that she died alone. My prayer is that as she floated above her body; as she was welcomed into heaven; and as she saw the face of God, that she also felt the great impact she made on all those around her, especially me. My prayer is that she knew that although she may have had a greater purpose in life, to me her purpose was to be my mother and to teach me as much as she could about life in our short but meaningful 16 years together. My prayer is that she felt how much I loved, adored, and cherished her.

1981 or 82 - If you've been to my house, you've seen this photo.
It's been up since 1995 when I moved into my own place.
I love it so much because I think our love and happiness
shines through.

1980 - One of my favorite photos of my mom

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