How Do You Say Goodbye?

6 Sep

“Chrissie, it’s Carol….should I answer it?” Hubs asked, somewhat bewildered, as he held out his cell phone towards me.

Carol…..my mother. Why would she be calling Hubs cell while we were on vacation?  We were relaxing on the  beach in Ocean City Md, enjoy the sun and sand for our last day of vacation. What was so important that couldn’t wait until we got home?

“Hello.”  I said impatiently.

“Hi.”  She sounded reluctant. “I’m afraid I have some bad news. I had a CAT scan of the abdomen and it looks like I have  malignant tumors on my liver. I am waiting to hear from the MAYO clinic but things are not looking good. ”

I was standing on the beach, wind in my hair and sun in my eyes, but in an instant all that eclipsed and everything went dark.  Our relationship has been distant for the last several years and I had no idea she was not feeling well, never the less,  going for testing. I sat down, feeling sick.  My mind immediately flashed back to a recurring dream I’ve had in the past 6 months in which my deceased father comes to me and tells me to bury the hatchet, let her live her life and don’t take her abandonment personally. Our once close relationship shifted after my father passed away in 2005. After a year or so of mourning,  she lost interest in the family and morphed into someone I did not recognize. With no apologies or regrets, she sold the house, discarded boxes of  treasured family mementos, and announced she was moving to FLA with her new boyfriend.  She never looked back, and at no time seemed to miss any of us. Her telephone calls were distracted, her visits to us are brief and obligatory. All of that cut deep into my heart over the years, I’ve missed her terribly, walking around like a jilted daughter. And now I was hearing that her time was growing short. My head started spinning. I ask her about 3,000 questions, all of what you would expect: Are they certain its malignant? Do you have any symptoms? What stage? Etc. She is vague. She makes it extremely clear that her boyfriend  is her medical proxy and she has no intention of traveling back up to the NY/NJ area for treatment or a 2nd opinion. Basically, the 4 of her children have no say in her medical care, should she be unable to make decisions herself. That feels like yet another rejection added to the devastating news like some sort of decrepid cherry on top of a macabre sundae.

My mind is reeling. My mother and I were so different in so many ways, I remember as a child often questioning her if I was in fact adopted. I was never ‘my mother’s daughter’ so to speak, and I know she failed to understand me as much as I failed to grasp the things that were important to her. Yet we shared a sense of humor, and a history rich in experience and emotion.  Some good years,  some bad.  She stayed with me after the birth of all three of my natural-born children, She held my hand when I needed it, and stood by me regardless of what I did. Many times through the years we clung to each other for support.  As I matured, our roles would reverse, and sometimes it was I who comforted her. She was my mother, and she used to be my best friend. I’ve missed her so much over the past several years, and I’d let that hurt form into a nerve so raw that I found it easier to avoid her rather than to relate to her on her limited terms. And now she was telling me those chances will never come again.

As the call ended we exchanged affections, despite the traffic jam erupting inside my mind.  I managed to bind it at the seams of my heart with a shallow thread, so I could choke out the words assuring her I will pray for her healing, and that I love her.  I hang up the phone just as my youngest child runs up the sand dune, tugging at me. She wants to play with me near the water’s edge. Robotically I walk with her as she tugs me towards the surf.  I pass people along the way and smile sheepishly. I know I look normal but inside my head is flooded with static like that of a white noise machine running like non stop background clatter. My little girl and I sit and dig. The day is breezy, and a soft ocean wind is blowing my daughter’s  strawberry blonde curls back far enough for me to see her cheekbones. The same Eastern European high cheekbones passed down to four generations that I know of.  From my grandmother to my mother, from my mother to myself, and now from me to her, the youngest member of our family. At 2 1/2 I know she will never remember my mother, and that thought provokes yet another emotional spasm I struggle to stifle in front of my sweet girl.   It feels as if my heart is leaking and pouring out into the sand, mixing with the salt water of the tides.  I think to ask my mother to write each of her grandchildren a note to remember her by, but I choke as I imagine myself saying those words out loud.  What hurts equally is that I am not sure she would do it, even if I asked.

Snapping me back to the moment, My little one  suddenly giggles and squirms with delight as the crisp ocean water hits her feet. She reaches over and hugs me, a wet, sandy hug so raw and visceral that if she wasnt grinning, I’d think she was reading my mind.  I contemplate the complex relationship of mothers and daughters as I watch the surf  rise and recede. Like the years I’ve spent being my mother’s child, some waves are jarring and choppy,  knocking me to my feet, disorienting me as I struggled to regain my footing.  Other waves (and years) are calm and serene offering a cool comfort while I tried to navigate the hot sand of the world around me. The breakers crash and rise, reminding me of the forty-five years of being her daughter. Some years we struggled and some were effortless.  Anger and heartache, elation and celebration, she saw me through it all.  Her rejection stung like no other, but her tender maternal care made me the kind and loving person that I am. At that moment I realized that everything I know about love was taught to me by my mother. And the love that I feel for her, despite the last few years, is as fierce and abysmal as the ocean.

I’ll miss her for the rest of my life.

Photo credit: Justina Anastasi August 2011  Ocean City, Maryland.

As always my friends, thank you for reading, and if you can spare a good thought and a prayer for Carol, I’d appreciate it.

Copyright 2011 Livelaughloveliquor. All Rights Reserved.  No reproduction in any medium without prior written consent of the author is permitted.

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23 Responses to “How Do You Say Goodbye?”

  1. Carl D'Agostino September 6, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    I find it very hard to believe someone other as med proxy designee would would have preempted rights over a family member. The fact that such has occurred would seem poor judgement in eyes of courts. Can you get her to appoint you with durable power of atty to manage her finances. That would override boyfriend arrangement. But I suppose you have explored these matters already. I have durable power of atty, parent’s assets liquidated and all three names on accounts so there will be no probate and no lawyers.

    • elroyjones September 11, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

      An individual may choose anyone they like as medical proxy but it is a limited POA. If she hasn’t chosen a POA for her estate, probate will likely follow descendancy, spouse-children-grandchildren direct line of descent unless there were no descendants in which case it would move laterally to siblings. Her choice of medical proxy may be a practical decision since he lives there too and can make decisions immediately.

  2. Mandi Yelland September 6, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    You have my prayers my friend. Love you to pieces and praying for peace for you and your family. We’re living this nightmare ourselves. Wish I was close to you so I could give you some time alone.

  3. Sharon Casey Biraghi September 6, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Christine you write so beautifully and from the heart. My heart ached for you reading that and I know it must have been even harder to write. I lost my mom almost two years ago and we had one of those “is it possible she adopted me because I’m so different” relationships, yet I ended up being the one caring for her when she suffered the devastating brain aneurysm that left her disabled. It brought us so much closer. I will pray for your mom and for you.
    Sharon

  4. meleah rebeccah September 6, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    Holy. Shit. Oh sweety, you and your family are in my thought and prayers. xoxox

  5. She's a Maineiac September 6, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    I am so sorry. You and your mom have all of my thoughts and prayers. May you find strength and peace somehow during this time. As you know, my own mother and I have a very unstable relationship and past. Your words really hit home to me. Please take care of yourself.

  6. Maryann Didriksen September 6, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    I am so sorry Christine.

  7. WendyMM September 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

    Big, big hugs and many, many prayers.

  8. Kim Pugliano September 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Beautifully written. Truly. Hugs to you.

  9. Mona September 6, 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    I’m so sorry you are going through this Christine. Wish there was something I could do to help. ((HUGS))

  10. Jenée Libby September 6, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    This is one of the most beautiful posts I’ve read in a long while. I wish I could give you a hug and take your pain away. It reminded me so much of the complicated relationship I still have with my own mother, 10 years after her death from cancer. One thing I would say is don’t miss her yet. She’s still here. The moments you have remaining might turn out to be the most precious you ever experience with her. Bless you. xoxoxo

  11. michelle t. September 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    just as easily as you make me laugh and smile, I read today’s blog post crying and sad. I had to wipe away the tears in order to finish reading. I wish I could reach right thru this post and hug you.. Hug you for the sweet daughter that you are.. Hug you for the wonderful Mother you are and hug you for the gracious friend you are to so many.

    I will pray not only for Carol, your Mother, but for you as well. I pray you find strength and Peace during this difficult time. I’m here if you need a friend.

  12. Lenore Diane September 6, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    Ding dangity, Chrissie – this sucks. My heart goes out to you.
    Thank goodness for the smiles and tugs from our little ones ….
    I hope you find comfort in their love.

  13. Deborah the Closet Monster September 6, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    As to the title? It’s been two years since I heard roughly the words you did, and eighteen months since I gave my mom what I knew was the last kiss I’d give her, and I’m still figuring it out. I think the answer really does come down to accepting this:
    I’ll miss her for the rest of my life.

    She and you are in my prayers.

  14. Renee Mason September 7, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    WOW. That was unexpected. Don’t squander this bit of time you have left. When my mom was terminally ill 2 years ago and was in hospice care at home, I hung back emotionally. I couldn’t bring myself face to face with the reality of losing this woman who had been my best friend and supporter for 57 years. I didn’t know how to act or behave in the face of such an impending tragedy, so I hugged the wall and observed her final days with her caregivers. Then, one morning she was no longer here, and I have spent these 2 years regretting all the things left unsaid.

    Your humor and your wonderful writing gift could distract her and give her such an uplift now. God bless.

  15. thedailydish September 7, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    C – thoughts & prayers not only for your mom’s health, but for the rebuilding of your relationship. Life is too short to waste. XO

  16. elroyjones September 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm #

    Big lump in my throat, eyes swimming in tears. You’re in my thoughts and so is Carol. It all fits now. xoxox

  17. The Logophile September 8, 2011 at 5:39 am #

    I don’t have the heart to click “like” but I just want to say I am sorry for the pain. Sometimes we need to let our hurt slide to make sure we don’t miss any more of life. I hope you figure out a way to get some time in with her and make up for even minutes of lost time. In our prayers… We have to learn and do better, but we are all human and its easy to forget how our time is so limited. Please keep us posted….

  18. elroyjones September 11, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    Terminal illness offers opportunities and provides a unique setting to repair life’s damage. Attending someone’s death is an invitation only event. It seems that Carol has invited you to participate in her leave-taking. It can be a magical time for you and your siblings. It is the last time you will be able to do anything for her and if she will accept what you offer then she’s giving a final gift to all of you.

    Instead of rejection, the medical proxy may be an easy way for her to keep from choosing among her children or maybe she is trying to spare you the burden of heart-wrenching decisions. I am medical POA for my oldest and dearest friend who has two grown daughters. My own advance directive has several people lined up to pull the plug for me should my husband wimp out.

    This is the best advice I have so you won’t have any regrets, do all that she will allow you to do then do then do just a tiny bit extra. Spend some time imagining what you would need from the people you love and how apprehensive you might be in her position. A good friend’s husband died 2 years ago, I was close to both of them and actually knew him longer. They did not talk about his impending death AT ALL. Privately, I couldn’t understand it. Later after he died, I realized what a wonderful gift she gave to him and the courage it must have taken to follow his lead. He did not want to die at 49 and she did everything in her power to make sure that he felt safe and comfortable without voicing her fear of losing him.

    As you can see, I’ve been thinking of you both. xoxox

  19. Tori Nelson September 23, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    Oh, my heart hurts for you. Lots of love from us to you.

  20. wordsfallfrommyeyes September 23, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    My mother died when I was six and I have always wondered what it would have been like to grow up with a mother at side. But then I read a blog like yours and I think it’s just more painful because there comes a day, by some method or other, they will pass on, and you’ve had all those years, and so all that loss. Hope you hold up okay. It’s great how you’ve reflected so much in response to what’s happened.

  21. life is a bowl of kibble September 23, 2011 at 11:44 pm #

    This left me in a puddle of tears. I had the same relationship with my mom. She died 1 year, 16 days and 11 hours ago. I hated that so much time went by without her in my life but I know this was our path in life. I have no regrets and I loved her much. Your writing is beautiful.

  22. The Girl from the Ghetto September 25, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    Oh, no. I am so sorry this has happened to your mother. I’ll be thinking of you both today.

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