Today I am writing the words I have delayed—my momma died on October 19, 2022, at 10:34am.
Today I returned to her pitiful home, yet again, to sift, sort, gather, and store more of her belongings—it is not easy work. Months before passing, before her stroke, before cancer claimed ownership of her bowels, she wore bright colors. She seemed hopeful (a rare tone and perspective).
She told me she felt like a prisoner in her own home, trapped in her bedroom, isolated, unhappy, angry, and bitter. Her home, a little flash of bright light for her and my daddy, was left in disrepair, vandalized, broken, and abandoned. She described her situation as "stuck" with little she could do about it—soon, her body would fail on all fronts, and she would be stuck in it as well.
Before she died, she suffered in body, mind, and spirit. She withered in her last months as her body failed on all fronts. She believed her terminal cancer, with all its pains, was a punishment from God; however, she did not know what grave sins she'd committed to deserve such misery. This was an unnecessary burden propagated by culture, religion, and belief—I am having a hard time forgiving the world for embracing this toxic myth that has caused additional anguish for many. Her primary affliction was as gruesome and disturbing as an engineer of poetic hell might construct.
In the quiet hours between heaving-and-weeping, she shared her fears, dreams, regrets, and memories. She was good at faking a smile to appease her visitors, doing all she could to spare them her personal horror. There were moments when her will was overpowered by her growing tumor, and what she hid behind her weak smile would flow freely for all there to see. The faces were shocked—some were repulsed and turned away, dictated by human instinct. By then, my instincts had shifted. I stood sentinel in the corner, watching her face for signs of anxiety—her eyes darting to mine quickly—silently screaming, “help me!” I did.
I was blessed to be her attendant and companion, even to her last gasp and exhale. On the morning of October 19, 2022, her death rattle began. It was a sound I had never heard a human being make before. Moving to her side, her weak hand in mine, I watched as the flickering pulse beneath the sagging skin of her neck blew out at 10:34am. My entire consciousness hung on this sacred spot on her body for two minutes with a type of awareness I foolishly thought I understood in my youth. Whatever flame animated her flesh had gone out.
My dreams have been haunted by images of her failing body, but slivers of cold moonlight have settled my mind in small, luminous doses. She trusted me with her misery—for now, it still overshadows all the joys I know we shared when I was a boy. The clouds of winter are lingering, very dense in my mind and congested in my heart. They keep feelings of resentment, despair, and anger very close to the ground like a thick early morning fog. I know they will burn away in time, which is a comfort. I still feel them in the interim, and they hurt, but I remain diligent and durable.
Spring will come, and wear the bright colors my momma wore the weeks before her stroke. She was hopeful. Seeing her that way also gave me hope—I will be hopeful again. Today, like her, I muster a smile when I can. I do what needs to be done with as much kindness and peace as possible. Still, murky water is under the bridge and on either side of the trail. I need to stay on the path, as close to the middle way as possible. I am not well right now, and the edges along the way are treacherous. This will take practice and time—I must keep walking with some effort.
Sharing has been dangerous, and while I feel the need to tell the truth of momma's life toward death, I know it is a lot more than most can bear—I am still trying to determine if I can bear it as well (I can—I will). There have been friends—brothers and sisters, who have opened their hearts in ways that have been very helpful. They make a space that holds the pain, and then they put their hands on it—they do not seem afraid to bear witness.
Others simply avoid me altogether. I must carry the perfume of death with me—I smell it too— so they take a long way around. Some offer platitudes about how God uses this; we just don't understand it. I agree about not understanding, but I have no idea about some divine plan being in place. I now have fewer true and trusted winter companions than the number of summertime friends in my orbit before momma got really sick. A true, good friend is a rare and precious gift—I will cherish them.
There was no divinity or comfort in the crushing aloneness of catching my momma's seemingly endless emesis. Comfort and care arrived from ordinary human beings offering their failing best under grisly circumstances. Is that God or plan, or just the original fire of compassion at the center of all beings? I stand in that mystery and leave it untouched. Not knowing is a comfort. Faith in unnamed uncertainty feels more firm than holding on to fabricated truths—myths and phantoms—that only have weight because of the fantasies we conjure around them. I prefer an ordinary friend who witnesses the grief plainly, stating, "I am sorry you are hurting—I don't know the answer." Quick quips regarding God's plan offered as neat containers to skip past my mourning and my momma's suffering are not helpful.
After loading her belongings and leaving her home, I stopped at an old walking path nearby. I often played there as a boy. It’s mostly the same. Trees are more significant; some are downed by storms. The benches are in disrepair. The winding drainage ditch has more garbage in it. Our old neighboring baseball field is overgrown, and fences and signs have succumbed to rust. The bridge creaks when you cross it. I walked in slowly, mindfully—it felt like home.
Under a clear blue sky, I breathed in the cold air. Birds were singing, and the morning light danced through the trees. Long shadows played with the dawn ambiance, painting glory over the old path and its battered adornments. Momma and I never walked here. Thoughts of her being delighted by birdsong, enjoying a brisk walk—healthy, happy, and free—scattered the gloom and offered a sense of closeness to her.
We walked the old path today—she and I—the beautiful textures of her aging body revealed in the chipped paint, splintered wood, and cold bark. I hope to walk with her here again.
My momma—Molly Jean—died on October 19, 2022, at 10:34am after much suffering and sorrow. I miss her, and I am hurting because I wanted her to have a happier, longer life. I try daily to remember that this is a very old path, these steps of mourning and grief. We come and we go. Everyone, every living creature, every being, makes their way here eventually.
I love you, momma.
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(Please forgive any typos or errors at this time—this was written on a smartphone app that makes its own “corrections” in real-time)