In just a few months, it will have been 4 years since my mom unexpectedly died.
She had been sick for a very, very long time. She was sick with so many different things, that frankly I’m surprised she held on for so long. A hysterectomy gone wrong caused her non-stop pain for years until she died. A rare brain tumor that made its presence known in 2010 onward caused severe vertigo, memory loss, and confusion. She had mini heart attacks that made her heart weak. A not-well-known type of tuberculosis caused weight loss and she was unable to keep anything down.
By the end, I could barely recognize her as the woman who raised me.
She was skin and bones, but I had grown used to it by those final years. When people visited that hadn’t seen her in a long time and were shocked by her appearance, it always surprised me. I remember a girl who was like my sister, who had lived with us for a few years in high school, visited one evening in that last year. It was the first time she’d seen my mom in a long time. My mom was talking on the couch about different things, and I looked next to me and saw that my friend was crying and trying to hide it. She was shocked by how different my mom looked.
I had to remind myself that these people hadn’t seen her every day; they didn’t see it happen like I did.
They didn’t get phone calls from her at all hours of the night where she was confused and thought someone had called her. They didn’t get random text messages full of scribble and nonsense because she didn’t know what she was saying. They didn’t see her many moments of pure dizziness to the point she had to cling to something close by to stay standing.
It was not easy.
We couldn’t go to the mall like other mothers and daughters because she wasn’t able to walk the distance without being in immense pain. We couldn’t go to the movies, either. When I was little, we used to ride bikes and roller-blade pretty often. That was out of the window as well.
I moved out in my college years, and even though I did visit her often, I wish I had visited even more. She and I talked every single day, even if we had argued over something, except for the day she died (December 14, 2013). I remember she was feeling bad that day, so I figured she hadn’t texted me because she was tired and that I would get my usual goodnight text from her at least.
My phone rang, and it was my dad. My dad and I weren’t on good terms, so I knew something horrible had to have happened for him to be calling me. I watched my phone ring for several rings, not wanting to answer it. I’ve never dreaded answering a phone more than I did in that moment, because some part of me just knew.
I answered, and the first thing he said was, “Brittany, your mom is dead.”.
She had laid down to take a nap, and never woke back up. I remember being really angry with him for a while afterwards because I couldn’t believe he just came out and said it like that, over the phone no less. He apologized a few days later for telling me over the phone. He said he wished he had told me to give the phone to my husband, Michael, so Michael could tell me. But I would have known if he’d asked for Mike. I would have. So I forgave him. He had to be there with the police and emergency crew.
I remember just dropping my phone. My dad was still connected, but I don’t know if he heard me screaming. Mike turned around from his computer, saw my face, and I just screamed that my mom was dead. I remember it was as if his face broke, and he flew to me. I started hitting anything I could reach, and I remember Mike holding my arms down and trying to help me calm down. I just screamed over and over that I wanted my mom. It was the worst moment of my life.
I had the option to go see her that night. I didn’t go.
I didn’t see her at all after she died.
I wanted to remember her the way she was the last time I saw her. Happy, smiling at me through the glass door while sitting on the couch, holding a Winnie the Pooh plushie I had just given her.
Side note: My mom was obsessed with Winnie the Pooh. Ob-sess-ed. So anytime I was out and saw anything Pooh related, I bought it and gave it to her. My 11 month old daughter now has my mom’s Tigger plushie. She loves it.
I remember it rained that night. It was like the sky opened up and the rain fell just as hard as my own tears. I called the people who needed to know. I realized that my mom meant more to more people than I had realized. A friend collapsed in a store when she got my call. Another immediately jumped in her car and drove to me. Another grabbed a bottle of wine and rushed over. That night and in the following months, then years, I found out who my friends really were.
We didn’t have a visitation or a funeral, and I’m glad we didn’t. I couldn’t have handled it. I would have ended up in a hospital myself. She was buried next to my little brother, just as she had wanted. My dad brought roses to her burial, and we all put one on her coffin. That is seared into my brain. Today her burial spot lies without a gravestone because I haven’t been able to afford the stone I want to get her. One day, she will have a gravestone with Winnie the Pooh etched onto it.
It’s been years, and I don’t let myself cry about it much anymore. I always feel weird when I cry over her, because people make it seem like you shouldn’t be crying anymore after all this time. But just because I don’t cry doesn’t mean I don’t hurt every second of every day. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I was able to listen to the song “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan (it was our song) without losing it.
When it rains, I think of her. When it snows, I think of her. When I hear certain songs, I think of her. When I’m outside letting our dogs out, I think of how nice it would be for her to drive up in the driveway for a visit.
When someone leaves me an anonymous message saying “I’m still around, even though you think I’m not…I’m here.”, I think of her because I never let myself have the closure of seeing her after she died. My brain knows that she is gone, and I know how stupid it is, but for that brief moment in those instances, I wonder if it could be her. I know, stupid. But sometimes grief doesn’t make sense.
Somehow I learned how to live with the pain. There was a time when I felt like I was literally going to die from the loss of her. But I slowly went a day without crying, then a few days, then a week, and so on.
I took one step, then another, and another.
But in between those steps, I still remember the bright smile on her face as she cuddled her new plushie and watched me drive away.