The places that scare you

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time, oh, let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come
When I won’t have to leave alone.

Warning. This post contains graphic content that may be a trigger to some.

I’m finding sleep is more elusive lately as my mom’s usual “think of something nice and close your eyes” trick has all but stopped working. Instead of focusing on the future, I’m finding myself grasping for happy memories with my family, remembering the ghosts of who we were. Like others who have experienced the death of a loved one, I’ve stopped looking forward to the future and long for the past. I feel haunted by a life that feels like it was ripped away violently with me protesting all along the way.

Unfortunately, instead of providing me with comfort, these memories usually produce feelings of anger, sadness and confusion.

The latter is because just over a year ago, my family was intact.

While my friends know about “the catalyst” for my mom’s depression, many others don’t. I’ve struggled with the decision to share it, as I think there’s a fine dance between blogging with integrity and class, and self-serving “look at me, read about my problems and comment on them!” However, despite some of my reservations about over sharing, I’ve felt that I’ve hidden a part of the story that mom deserves to have told. That is, the reason for her depression and subsequent decision to commit suicide.

On September 25th, 2013 my dad decided to leave my mom for a woman with whom he had been having an affair with at work. This is the short version. After a few edits of this post, I’ve decided that’s all it deserves to be. I’m tired of it being my narrative, this cliche of story that has been told time and time again.

On October 4th, 2013, my mom tried to kill herself for the first time. Fortunately for us, she called 911, and the paramedics were able to get to her before the pills did any major damage to her organs. I was called after she was admitted by a paramedic who used her cell phone to get my number. Seeing “Mom” come up on my caller ID, I answered “Hey Mum!” and was confused by the male voice who greeted me on the other line.

The shoe fell.

Seeing my mom in emergency, awake and in her bed- holding the plastic kidney shaped pan for her as she vomited up charcoal, I thought to myself “this is rock bottom. This is it.” She promised she wouldn’t try it again, it was a moment; a stupid mistake.

It wasn’t. After that, she fell into the dark place that I couldn’t rescue her from. She lost 20 pounds (maybe more) and developed a level of anxiety that caused her to stutter when talking about “it,” this thing that suddenly happened to us. She was still my mom, the most amazing person I had ever known; my best friend, but she was slipping away. Her tenacity and ability to find joy in the small things, in us, went away with my dad. She cried every day, knocking around on her own with the dogs in the big house on Kingston Row. In her note to me, she described it as having a cancer in her heart.

We scheduled her weeks like a parent would for a child- psychiatrist Monday, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor Tuesday, Kathy coming to have dinner with her Wednesday, Fletch on Thursday, Kim on Fridays, me everyday for lunch and both of us on the weekend. Add in a psychologist during the day and a support group occasionally, we had a “plan” to come through this thing. I’d like to say that I approached this with full understanding of mental illness, but I didn’t. I was scared, I wanted my mom back and I have a type ‘A’ personality with an affinity for grudges and control. I couldn’t control it, this scary place in my life that had rocked everything I knew to be true. My mom, the strongest person I had ever met- the woman who ran to work everyday (yes, in the Winter)- 5 miles there, 5 miles back- who I had seen cry twice, was breaking and coming apart with everyday that passed.

She promised us she wouldn’t try it again. Though I think know there were other times where she tried to escape, on March 14th, 2014- she did.

Going back to that day, I found photos I took with Cali, cooking in the apartment while my mom slipped away from me in my childhood home. I was at home cooking steak while my mom tried for the last time. How could I be watching a YouTube cooking demonstration video when my mom, the person who could sense I was in trouble from far away, who texted me when I was about to call her, have done this while I was doing something so menial?  Among other thoughts, this question has gone around in my head so often that revisiting it feels akin to picking at a scar.

I won’t go into the details of how she was found, because the scene (as described to me by the doctor) is too painful to say aloud. The unfortunate result of being a visual person is that I can see it, as if the walls of the house told me in great detail and it’s now come alive in my mind.

I can’t bear to.

She was resuscitated by the paramedics, and her strong, 10-mile-a-day heart fluttered back on. For four days, she lay in the ICU as we hoped for some cue of brain activity as her heart pumped away… with my ear pressed to her breast, I heard iloveyou…iloveyou as it beat steadily on. I rubbed her Nivea cream into her hands and feet, put her Patchouli next to her bed and removed her jewelry when her extremities began to swell from inactivity. My brother and I kept our dry sense of humour alive as much as possible at the hospital, finding light where we could (often at the expense of the hospital staff).

A crew of doctors rotated through, and their diagnoses varied with their personalities. The first night a frank but caring resident found me in a rare moment of solitude and broke the news to me on that brains don’t recover from a lack of oxygen. I calmly told him that this was a mistake; a bad conversation with my dad coupled with wine… and she would regret it. She didn’t want to die. I believed him when he told me it broke his heart to tell me that the prognosis was not good, that we needed to honour her wishes. I thanked him, smiled  and turned away. After he left me, I fell into a washroom and wailed, willing myself to wake up from this terrible dream, and hating myself for keeping it together in front of him.

The next day, another specialist told us that only MRIs and CT scans could tell us for certain, and that things were better than we initially expected. (HOPE!). She might wake up, and would with having the effects of a massive stroke. I couldn’t decide what would be worse.

On the third day, they came together and told my brother and I what we already knew somewhere in the depths of our souls. She was gone, and we had to make the decision to take her off of her ventilator, and let her go. I remember looking at each other as all of these faces stared at us, thinking (really? us? you want us to decide? we’re kids!).

Tuesday, March 18 at 10 am.

The part that broke me was telling her friends and family who loved her so much. If you’re out there and reading this, thank you for loving her. She loved you back.

Over and over, I heard hearts break through the phone as I told them what happened. That it was time to say goodbye. I felt like I was reaping their joy.

The time came, once her closest said goodbye. My brother and I were in the room with her, with Jimmy waiting outside to catch me. I wanted to be there, knowing I would never forgive myself from cowering away. The most honourable thing you can do for someone you love is to be with them when they die, no matter how much pain it will bring you. No matter how hard it will be to forget. You need to whisper all the things you will do to make them proud, the things you love about them, and that you’ll be okay.

I chose to sing to her, all the lullabyes she sang to me. My girl; You are my Sunshine; and a melody she would hum when I was sick. I still don’t know the name. I’ve never heard anyone else hum it. I sang over and over again, holding her hand and listening to her heart as it slowed. Her strong, runner’s heart kept beating, after she stopped breathing.

I wish I could tell you that I felt her go, that it was peaceful, and that I don’t remember that moment as vividly as I do. The truth is, you see death come, and the sight of losing a loved one to it will stay with you forever.  You want to fight, kick and scream, wail and protest (and you think that you will)- but you don’t.

Your body wants to survive this, almost more desperately now after being confronted with death. Despite having your heart broken, you will to survive is stronger than any other emotion that you will know and your body will carry you on through the days when that will is weakened.

This story has haunted me, but I’m not afraid to tell it. I hope that through sharing it, I will stop burying it under the answer of “I’m fine.” I won’t ever be fine about this, and that’s okay. A part of me died with her, a part of me that I don’t know how to live without yet.  One happy moment at a time, one peaceful moment at a time, and one moment of remembering her without crying, brings me further along this journey of grieving and through the places that scare me.

. mom in a field

“We should meet in another life, we should meet in air, me and you.”
― Sylvia Plath


2 thoughts on “The places that scare you

  1. You are very brave to tell your story of grief and I think that’s because you know how brave your mother was, living day to day with something that most people don’t understand.

    I saw what my mom went through when we lost my grandpa, it was something I’d never seen in her. It shook her to the core and I know following his death she went through a really dark time.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I think (and even though it may not be the goal) these posts could really help people through the grieving process.


  2. It is a need to grieve that let’s us grieve. It is innate. To survive. Not even a choice really. So many thoughts and feelings churn around inside me as I realize, not for the first time, how you have to face the brokenness, as I know you are trying to find a way out of the hole. I feel the pain of my oh ya moments of Ter not being my soulmate anymore, still, I guess forever. Not just on a Friday night……we loved each other in a way that only her and I knew…it was real friendship at its finest and a kinship of beliefs about life. I loved her. She knew it. In her unaltered state of being, she had grit, and you do too Hannah, she knew that. She loved that. Grieve Hannah, anyway that comes to mind, only you know what helps, it is going to be a a raw road for awhile, but there is grit in grieving of the highest order. Bravery grows as you let it out, it builds. In being broken open, you don’t know it yet, but that is how you break through. I love you. Kim


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