Maybe in another life
I could find you there
Pulled away before your time
I can’t deal
It’s so unfair
–“Gone Away”, The Offspring
Two months ago, instead of going through the weekly routine of Taco Tuesday, I was comforting my friend after receiving the news that his mom, Jess, likely had cancer.
In those two months, she was officially diagnosed with lung cancer, though they never determined what type due to her catching Covid before her scheduled biopsy. After getting out of the hospital, she fell at home and banged her head and shoulder quite badly. A CAT scan meant to check for signs of damage from the fall instead revealed the cancer had progressed to her brain. They still went ahead with the appointment to see if anything could be done for her and the doctor concluded she would not live long and the best thing for her would be hospice care to keep her comfortable until she died.
Within a week, she quickly deteriorated. She was completely blind within the first couple of days and stopped eating after Thanksgiving. Her family had bought her a few things off Amazon to assist her, but when they got them a couple days later she didn’t need them anymore because she was totally bedridden by the end of the week. She could talk normally on Tuesday, could barely talk when I saw her on Saturday, and by Monday she completely lost her ability to speak. Her kidneys had started to fail when I visited her on Monday as evidenced by the catheter bag that looked like it was filled with the darkest grade of honey rather than urine.
While everyone went outside for a smoke break, I stayed inside and talked to her. She had the blanket I had bought for her the other day over her and that’s when I noticed the Sherpa texture felt like Bandit, the golden cocker spaniel she had that passed away years ago. I told her about things that had been happening in my own life as if I were sitting with her in her kitchen. Mostly I told her I loved her and that it was okay to let go. “Of course I don’t want to see you go and I’ll miss you like Hell because I love you, but I also don’t want to see you like this even more. I just wish there was more we could do for you because this sure seems like an awful way to live.”
I’m not even sure if she heard me because she was sleeping the whole time, but her sister had insisted we talk to her regardless. “She can’t talk, but she can still hear you.” Five hours later she was gone. I don’t know if it was because she decided to let go after everyone told her it was okay to or if she had been holding on until she could see her other son, who we were able to bring over for the first time since getting into hospice care.
I thought the news of her dying would be a lot easier having seen her in that deteriorating condition knowing full well that she was going to die in a few days and thinking she would be better off if she passed, but it wasn’t any easier. At first, it didn’t feel real. It felt more like playing a video game with an immersive story and coming across such a huge plot twisting revelation that you pause the game to process what just happened before continuing to play. Suddenly, I had been sucker punched in the gut with the reality of the situation: she was gone—Oh my God, she was really gone forever. Before I knew it, I was deep in the “Depression” stage of grief and sobbing uncontrollably. For a brief moment, I had an intense feeling of fiery rage at the realization that I could get bereavement for the shitty parent whenever Satan decides to call back his Hell spawn, but not for the woman who was more like my mother than my actual mother…and then I started bawling again.
Being that things weren’t so great with my actual mother, I basically lived part time at Jess’ place. She didn’t have an extra bed so I slept on the floor or on the love seat that was too short, but it was better than staying at home. Usually I’d insist on making dinner at least once while I was there, which was usually this potato hash I knew how to make. My first job was helping a master gardener tend the flower beds around town, which gave me the skills to divide and replant all the overgrown orange lilies that grew along the edge of Jess’ porch. Even after I moved out of my mother’s place for good and things were much better, I still stopped by every now and then if I was walking around town. If it was really cold, she’d insist that I sit in front of her heater to warm up. I think the last time I was really over at her house, I had dropped off a bunch of extra produce from my garden—I wish I had given her so much more.