Today’s post is going to be a tough one!
Next week, on the 29th of November, marks four years since my mother passed away. Growing up I had heard stories of my peers losing a parent, but I had never really given the idea of losing my mother any thought. ”That would never happen to me!” I’d say.. Until it actually happened.
I was 20 years old, embarking on this whole new journey in my life. I had just graduated vet tech school and I had just moved to Denmark to be with my boyfriend at the time. All in all I was very excited about the start of my new life. That was until I received a phone call from my Opa. He was in tears, I still remember till this day how upset he was. ”Your mother has been admitted to the hospital and it isn’t good. We don’t know what is going on, but it’s bad news”. Those words still haunt me. I was all alone, my then boyfriend was at work and it felt like the ground was disappearing from underneath me. I tried to go about my day, phone in my hand, until Mama called me. She told me they would take some more tests, but they were pretty sure that it was cancer. Cancer. The disease that I’ve seen wreaking havoc all around me. I had seen people die from it. Heck, my mom has undergone surgery for it a few years prior, but the doctors said it wasn’t anything serious.
To hear that it came back felt like a slap in the face. No, actually, it felt like a punch in the stomach. My mind was racing a thousand miles an hour. The following weeks were a blur. I’d try to Skype with Mama and the rest of my family as much as I could. They ended up finding out that Mama was suffering from a very rare subtype of Non Hodgkin Lymphoma. She’d keep me updated about her progress and how her rounds of chemo were going. Eventually she started losing her hair and we Skyped while my sister shaved off Mama’s hair. It was raw, it was rough and I was struggling to keep my emotions in. Mama actually sent me a lock of her hair, which I today still keep in a little box with some of her jewellery.
The chemo started taking a toll on her health. Mama has always been a bit weaker. She had been suffering from chronic illnesses for years at that point. At this point, three months in, she needed me to be there, so I hesitantly booked my flight to be there with my family. I was scared.
”Is she still the same? She looks so different.. What if I make her sicker?”
I arrived and I could tell she was filled with joy to see me. I wasn’t too happy, but I knew it was the right thing to do. A couple of days leading up to my arrival back home we found out that my childhood dog Lilo also had cancer and wouldn’t be around for much longer. A couple of days later we had to put our beloved Lilo down. It definitely was a blow for all of us. But I tried to spend as much time with my family and friends as possible. I accompanied my mom to her weekly trips to the hospital and all seemed well, until Mama started getting sicker again. She couldn’t keep anything in and the doctors decided that it’d be smart for her to be readmitted so they could run some tests and scans. The day before I was supposed to go back to Denmark I decided to go to the hospital and be with Mama. Her doctor came in and asked if we’d like to come to the family room to discuss her PET scan results and I immediately sensed something wasn’t right. I told Mama, but she seemed confident that it was all fine. I remember saying: ”But… If everything is fine, why wouldn’t she want to tell us here?” Mama shared a room with some other patients and well.. You wouldn’t bring bad news in a room full with other people. Off to the family room we went..
”I’ll just cut right to the chase. Your treatment isn’t working anymore. The cancer is fighting back a couple of times worse than in the beginning.. I’m really sorry, but it’d probably be better if you would go home and spend the time you still have with your family..”
I don’t think I have ever screamed and cried as much in front of my family and strangers as I did that evening. It felt like my world shattered into a million pieces in mere seconds. Watching Mama and Opa break down was the worst thing I have ever had to witness. They were the people who seemed invincible to me. The car ride home to Oma and my sister was long. I recall Mama trying to hold my hands, but I was completely out of it. I couldn’t look at her, it hurt too bad.
”Don’t you want me to hold your hand?”
”Fuck, Mama, what am I supposed to do without you?”
She held me and we cried on the back seat, all the way home. My sister and Oma were devastated too. And then we suddenly had a funeral to plan. The doctors couldn’t say how much longer she had. Could be a couple of weeks, could be a couple of months. The cancer rapidly took over her body up until the point where she was bed bound. Mama had decided she wanted to be put under palliative care instead of choosing euthanasia, since she thought euthanasia would be too hard for my sister and I. I’d have preferred if she opted for euthanasia, but my sister was happier with the palliative care. Only goes to show how this differs for each individual! Seeing Mama’s health deteriorate so badly was hard to watch.
Mama and I had a complicated relationship. We fought a lot as I got older. For the most part I’m a carbon copy of her, maybe not necessarily looks, but definitely personality, just minus the ADD for me. I used to see her as this invincible entity. Mama who could do anything, Mama who would scare anyone away who’d try to hurt me, Mama who would ALWAYS be there, right? Having to take of her, helping her out of bed, making her food, taking her on walks was something that suddenly didn’t seem like a chore anymore, but I actually liked it, knowing that her time here was coming to an end.. That end came sooner than any of us really anticipated.
The day she decided to be put to sleep came and we had to say goodbye, since she would sleep until she would eventually pass away. It was rough. None of us wanted to say goodbye. I still wanted to ask her so many things, go on so many more hikes, have so many more barbecues, sing so many more songs.
”I am so sorry it has gone so fast Nennie.. I really am”
We hugged, we kissed, we laughed for the last time and then she slept. Four days later she finally passed. When my bonus mom came up in my room to tell me she passed, it felt like a relief. Mama wasn’t suffering anymore. The funeral was planned and it was just the way she would have wanted it. We got a bunch of permanent markers, which people could take to write a message on her casket with and the casket transformed from a boring white casket to a casket filled with messages and flowers. It left an impression for sure. It’s funny how one person could have such an impact. Mama was a dog lover and part of a big community of dog enthusiasts. When she was driven away to be cremated all of her friends were there with their dogs to pay tribute to her and honor her. I look back on it with a smile, knowing she would have loved it.
Having lost her also meant my sister and I lost our childhood home, our dogs and our safe space. Losing her was so much more than losing just her. We lost our old lives and suddenly had to start something new. In the beginning I was convinced I couldn’t do it, but so far, I’d say I’m doing pretty darn well.
I miss her. I miss her so much and it hurts. I wouldn’t even say that it hurts less, because I’m still hurting as much as I did the moment her heart stopped beating. I’ve just learned how to live with it..
In the end, you can’t lose someone who sits so deep within your heart to death. Their memory and stories keep them alive in a way.