Mortality

This is a pretty long and personal post. It's really just a way for me to organize my thoughts and try to cope with some recent tragedy. Writing is what I do and it helps me process things, and I'm in serious need of some hardcore mental processing at the moment. I lost my mother yesterday, and this post is an effort to try and grapple with that loss. A little past 8:30 Friday morning, my father called. Mom had stopped breathing and was being rushed by ambulance to the hospital. I called my wife, who was at a doctor's appointment, and we agreed to meet at home to pack up whatever we might need for us and our nine-month-old. Mom and Dad lived north of us, a roughly five-hour drive, and we were finally able to hit the road at 12:00 p.m.

Mom died around 12:30. I had hoped to be able to see her one last time before she passed. I'm trying to steel myself for when I see her next at the funeral home. Sitting now in my parent's living room, her absence is notable, even as my son's laughter fills the silence as he bounces around in his jumper.

The week Benjamin was born, Mom broke her hip. She missed his birth, and we made tentative plans for Christmas, thinking she'd be mobile enough that her and Dad could come downstate and finally see their grandson in person for the first time. Her physical therapy was going slower than expected. She was recovering and doing well, but she wasn't physically ready for such a long car ride. Then there were complications with the hip replacement that resulted in her needing a second surgery to replace the replacement. Physical therapy started over again, and somewhere along the line a nerve in her leg was damaged leaving it largely immobile.

Mom was a tough woman. She would never admit when she had a health problem. Anytime she was noticeably sick, she passed it off as being her allergies. When she fell and broke her hip, she refused to go directly to the hospital because she was, in typical Mom fashion, "fine." She just needed to lay down for a little bit, nothing more. On the few occasions that Dad did have to force her to go to the hospital, she was a massive brat. He'd never hear the end of it, and she'd be snotty with the medical staff. It was always very, very clear that she did not want to be bothered with a hospital stay and that she was being forced to do something clearly against her will. After three days of being laid up in bed with a broken hip, she finally caved and admitted maybe something might be wrong.

For whatever reason, she never admitted, on her last day with us, that maybe something might be wrong again. Her heart stopped Friday morning due to sepsis from a perforation in her bowels (I'm unclear on the cause, but this may have been from a stomach ulcer). According to the doctor, she should have been in quite a bit of pain. If she was, she never admitted it. Instead, she kept it hidden and dealt with it, or simply flat-out denied it to herself and everyone around her.

She was resuscitated long enough to be placed on a ventilator. Her heart was stopped and restarted four times over the course of the early morning. Surgery to repair the perforation was not an option; she was too weak and too unstable to survive it. If she survived, though, it would likely be with brain damage. A few hours later, a massive heart attack struck. She was gone.

I have a few consolations in all this. She didn't suffer, for one (at least according to the doctors, and as far as we know...but really, the only who knows that can no longer tell us. We can only guess or presume). She wouldn't go on with a reduced capacity in life, or live with brain damage, or be hooked up to a ventilator long-term in a vegetative state. These are not things she would have wanted, I don't think, given her stubbornness and strong-willed nature. And, a few months ago, she was able to meet her grandson, which I'll be forever grateful for.

Still unable to travel, we made the trip to them on Easter. Mom got to meet Benny, and he was finally able to put a face to the voice he'd heard over the telephone. He'll never remember it, of course; he was far too young at only six months for that to stick. But I'll remember it. And I'll remember the smile on both their faces, and the laughter they shared.

As it turns out, that was also the last time I got to see Mom. She was frail, weakened, thinner than I'd ever seen her. The hip damage and surgeries had taken a lot out of her. Even as a woman in her seventies, she somehow looked older. Physically, it was a reminder that there were less and less days ahead, and as her problems with her hip progressed I couldn't help but wonder how many more surgeries she could survive.

To say I was ready for that Friday morning phone call, though, would be wildly incorrect. I was deeply shaken by it, and after I hung up with Dad I had about a hundred thoughts swirling through my head, an odd balance of panic, terror, and knowing that I had to be strong enough to take care of more than a few things at once.

Now, roughly twenty-four hours after her passing, I'm not quite sure what exactly I should be feeling. Sadness, sure. There's plenty of that, and I've had a few crying fits already. But there's also this void. I feel somewhat caught in limbo, waiting for something more to happen. Her dying while I was still several hours away has me wondering if I missed any chance for closure. Do I have to wait for that moment of finality when I see her at the funeral home? Is there any closure at all, or will it merely be the passage of time that eases this ache? I wish I knew.

As a public school teacher, Mom touched a lot of lives. I hope that she at least made an impact on a few of those students, and maybe even inspired them, as much as she did me. I miss her. I wish I could have seen her one last time. And I'm glad my son had a chance to meet her at all, or rather that I at least got to see them meet. Like me, though, he's going to grow up never having known his grandmother (I never knew any of my grandparents at all; Benny, though, will have both his grandmother and grandfather on his mother's side for the foreseeable future).

Mom also had a large impact on my friend, also named Mike, the closest I've ever gotten to having a brother. She was like a second mom to him, and every time he came over she had a meal ready for him, anything from steak to bean dip to some pie. It was those meals, I think, that really helped define us all as a family. And it's in some of those recipes of hers that she'll live on. I can't imagine making her particular steak marinade, a few of her casserole dishes, or her spaghetti pie, and not thinking of her. And I know those dishes won't be quite the same; she added something to them that goes beyond whatever she's scratched down on some notepad sheets stuffed into her cookbooks that is impossible to replicate. Still, there's a sort of physical legacy in those dishes, a way to keep her near despite the absence, and something that I can pass down.

Now begins the hard part. The really hard stuff. The funeral and figuring out all that stuff. The financial stuff. Finding her will. Helping Dad deal with all of this as we help each other. Thankfully my wife is awesome and is already putting her Google-Fu to work trying to figure out what we need to do and how we do it. Right now, that all feels like more heartache than anything else. We're not ready for it, not yet, but we'll have to be soon.

First, though, is a much-needed change of scenery. Although my parent's house is on the lake shore, I think we're due to get out of the house for a bit. We're going to head downtown for a little while, and I'm going to enjoy the company of my wife and son.

[Edit: We found a new place in downtown Traverse City called Taproot Cider House, which, as you may surmise from the title, is a cider house! They've got all kinds of tasty hard cider concoctions. I was able to clear my head a bit with the El Chavo, a hard apple cider blended with habanero pepper and mango. Walking along the bay for a bit helped, too. Fresh air really does wonders.]

Yesterday, before we left the house to travel north, I held Benny close and told him, "I love you." And then my nine-month old boy said those words back to me. I can't even begin to explain how badly I needed that, and, even if it was just simply mimicry, it felt good to hear. I needed to hear it then, and I wouldn't mind hearing it again now. I lost my mother, but thankfully I still have my family and they're doing more for me than I can properly express.

Michael Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.


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