Monday, November 11, 2013

A New Chapter: Pt. 1

Mom and I the day before I left for Saint Meinrad, 2011
I have not written in a very long while.

I would like to talk about how my time at Saint Meinrad wrapped up in the last semester, and how I got to say goodbye to the place that means the most to me and the people who have been like a second family. I would like to be able to say that I accomplished all my goals and that I am living out a life congruent with the past 6 years of theological studies I have under my belt.

The short story here is that in early May my mother, who had been suffering from lung cancer for just over a year, had become paralyzed from the waste down when the cancer spread to her spine. She called me home to take care of her. I left Saint Meinrad suddenly and mostly unnoticed early on a Sunday morning. My last memory of that place was me pulling out of the parking lot as the bells rang for Lauds.

I didn't know how much longer my mom had to live as I made the 11 hour drive across Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and finally to my destination in South Carolina. So many questions raced through my mind. What is happening? Where am I going? What am I doing? Can I do it? How does this work? I didn't know. I had no clue.

I drove straight to the hospital in Rock Hill where my mom had been staying for a week for complication. She immediately wanted me to wheel her out to the parking lot for a cigarette break. I was angry about this -cigarettes got her into this mess to begin with- but I knew it was pointless at this stage to protest. Cigarettes were killing my mom and were still one of her only pleasures left in life. We made several of these cigarette breaks for the following week, sometimes 5 and 6 times a day, and I was there morning until after sunset. Friends and family came to visit her: everyone from her sister-in-law's son to a monk from Belmont Abbey who was quite fond of her and had made a rosary for her -In Carolina Panther's blue. Mom loved it.

Mom finally got to go home. My new schedule fell into place. At 6:00am I had to be up to make mom's breakfast so she could take her medicine. I had to make lunch so she could take more medicine. I had to make supper so she could take even more medicine. I had to take her out onto the front porch several times a day for her cigarette breaks and so she could see the trees and hear the birds. I wasn't allowed to leave her alone, and since Hospice was involved and came out daily, I was only allowed to leave the house for about an hour a day...usually to get lottery tickets and cigarettes for mom.

Initially, I was quite frustrated. My freedom had been taken from me. I had no job, no money, no "me time". Nothing. But gradually I realized how much worse my mom had it. She could not walk. She needed me to get her in and out of bed and on and off the toilet. She needed me to do the laundry and help her dress. She needed me to cook and clean. I am thankful I realized this sooner than later, because once I did, it became easier. I needed my mom when I was a baby to do these things for me, and who was I to complain? The last few weeks became about spending time with my mom, not worrying about what I could and couldn't do.

Thanksgiving, 2012
Mom always made amazing pot roast, and she was craving it when she guided me through the steps of making it myself for the first time. Astonishingly it came out pretty well. She even tried to make banana pudding in her wheelchair using the transfer board that Hospice had given her to move herself in and out of the bed as a table. That didn't come out as good, because I got the wrong kind of pudding mix! Usually, though, we got take out. She would call it in and I would sneak off for a short time to get it hoping Hospice wouldn't come by and see me gone. Mom didn't have much money in the bank, but she had lots of gift cards and small winnings from scratch offs.

She also used the scratch off tickets to secretly  save money to pay for my gas to go to Bonnaroo. I didn't want to go when I came home. It seemed stupid and needless to leave her and drive 6 hours away to Tennessee for a music festival. When I told her I wasn't going to go, she looked me in the eye and told me I had to. "This will probably be the last time you get to do anything fun for a while. Things are going to get harder for the both of us. You need to take this trip and enjoy it before that." We both knew what was coming down the road.

Mom was going to get worse. She was going to loose more freedom. She was going to waste away. She was going to need help feeding herself. She probably wasn't going to be able to get out of bed or use a wheelchair. But, she wanted me to go then. She wanted me to have a few days of fun. And I reluctantly caved in when the Hospice nurses convinced me it was a wise decision. I had been at my mother's side day and night for the past few weeks, and they promised to take care of her for the four days I would be gone. I needed to go, they said, for respite. Things were going to get worse.

I went to Bonnaroo. It felt strange. For the past few weeks, my world had been me and mom, all day, every day. I was suddenly thrust in the midst of 80,000 people. I had registered to camp with a group of 170+ people through a group on Reddit. I immediately sought solitude in the woods near our camp where I hanged my hammock. Despite all the hype, all the months of preparation, all the anticipation and excitement...I did not enjoy myself. I only saw one show that weekend. I went for a sort of healing, I guess, as I squeezed my way within 50 yards of the main stage before Paul McCartney came out. The three hours he played are my only real memories of Bonnaroo outside of wandering around aimlessly and alone to get food, water, or to find shade. I didn't even make it to Sunday night. I left early and attempted to get home in one drive, but I was sleepy and spent the night in Georgia.

Mom thought I would be coming home very late Monday, but she kept calling me every hour on the hour starting Monday morning, happy to know I was already in Atlanta. I finally got home around 2pm. Mom was sitting inside her apartment with a neighbor who had been sitting with her since Hospice dropped her off that morning. I almost didn't recognize her. She had seemingly aged 20 years in 3 short days, yet she still smiled at me while her eyes betrayed the reality of the situation. I hugged mom and the neighbor left. We sat around talking while we waited for a family friend with a stronger back than me to help her into bed that evening. When he came over, I left to go pick up a movie for mom an I to watch: OZ The Great and Powerful.

I ordered a pizza for dinner when I got back and mom's friend left. It was about 5pm. I started the movie. The pizza guy came. Mom had a nibble at the crust of her slice of pizza, but I could see that she wasn't hungry. She took the last course of medicine for the day at 6:30pm like normal. It usually made her a little loopy, so when she started babbling nonsense around 7:30pm, I wasn't too surprised. Except it didn't stop.

Mom with my cousin Jamison, May 2013
Normally she'd just fall asleep and we'd start the medicine cycle again at 6:30am. I'd make toast, she'd have a nibble, she'd take her medicine, and she'd then work on a case of Mountain Dew and a pack of the cheapest cigarettes from the sketchy store down the street. That night she just kept going, saying non-words, nursery rhymes, telling her little brother to be quiet, and calling out for "Momma". I think that was the hardest part to hear. I thought that maybe the medicine would wear off in the morning and she'd be normal again.

It didn't. I called Hospice and they said they were on their way. After weeks and weeks of being the strong one, being the caretaker, being tough...I burst into tears. I knew what was happening and I did not like it one bit. "What's wrong, baby?" I looked up, surprised to see mom staring right at me with her arms open in bed. Somehow my mom had found a brief moment of clarity. I hugged her and said the most honest thing I think I've ever said in my life: "I'm scared." She hugged me and rubbed my back for about 20 seconds before going back to her babbling.

The nurse came, and upon seeing my mom immediately arranged for an ambulance to come pick her up and take her to hospice. I barely remember driving there. I barely remember how I found her room where they had already managed to put her in bed and fill her veins with morphine. I called everyone. Her younger brother, her niece in Atlanta, a friend of hers from Rock Hill...they all came out. Sometimes she'd "wake up" and recognize them by name and say hello, and they got just enough of a chance to say "I love you". I said that a lot too. Every chance I got. When she responded "I love you too" I was happier than I could imagine. Her final visitor was a priest from the Oratory of Rock Hill to anoint her.

Her brother had held vigil by her side almost the entire day and a half she was in the Hospice house. In the evening I went for a ride with my uncle and we talked about my mom for almost an hour as we drove around Rock Hill. He dropped me off a little after 10:00pm. It was Wednesday. I walked into mom's room. She was breathing very heavily. I didn't think I would see her in the morning alive. I took my opportunity to tell her how I felt. I told her how much I loved her. I told her I wasn't angry at her for anything. I told her she was a fantastic mom and friend. I told her she was beautiful. I hugged her and kissed her on the forehead.

He face moved like she was trying to say something. I told her not to. I already knew what she would want to say. I told her I was going to go to sleep right there in the chair next to her bed. I put the teddy bear that she had given to comfort me as a child under her arm and asked her to watch him for me and I'd get him in the morning. I promised I would never leave her side. And I didn't. I dimmed the lights, thinking that it would be scary to see darkness if she had the chance to open her eyes. I crawled under a hospital sheet and curled up in the chair and fell asleep with Somewhere Over the Rainbow playing over the speaker of my phone. It was mom's favorite song.

"Baby. Wake up, sweet pea. Come on, honey." It was some woman's voice. I wasn't sure who. Mom? Was it mom? I drearily looked up at the face of the woman shaking me awake. It wasn't mom. "Baby, she's gone." I closed my eyes. Was I asleep? What's going on? What is happening? Where am I? What am I doing? How does this work? I didn't know. When I opened my eyes again, the woman was gone. I looked at my phone. It was 11:15pm. I hadn't even slept 45 minutes. I sat up, then stood up. Mom was in bed. She wasn't breathing. I walked to her side, leaned down, and kissed her forehead again. I pulled my teddy bear away from her, and walked out to the parking lot. I called her younger brother and left a message for him on his phone. I called a friend in Belmont. Then I just curled up by a pillar outside and cried alone for an hour trying to figure out what it meant that I now no longer had a mother.

Mom was cremated and her ashes interred in the Memorial Garden at the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Rock Hill a week later after a simple mass done by Fr. John. Three of my friends from Belmont Abbey College helped serve, read, and cantor at mass since no one else in mom's family is Catholic. I spent the next week and a half trying to figure out what to do with all of her stuff. Most of it was donated to the Hospice consignment store, and I left with a few photos and works of cross stitch she had made for me. I had to figure out what to do. I had lost my mom. I had no job. I had no home.

In my next blog, I will share where I am now and how I got here...


  1. What a beautiful post, Suas. I didn't know you mom passed away. You wrote about her so beautifully. Thanks for sharing and so sorry for your loss.