“Death is a debt we all must pay.” ~Euripides
Death. Death has no discrimination; there’s no escaping it and each and every one of us will have the opportunity to experience it. Whether you are a person, an animal or a living flower, we will all at one point find death and, to be completely honest; it scares me. This was another reason why I decided to be baptized. I wanted to make sure that I secured my place in heaven, right next to God and my family who are there now. I do believe with all my heart that there is a place for me in God’s Kingdom, but I am still afraid of the dying process and how I might get there. Surely, a common thought to most. In my dreams, I always die by electrocution; to the point where I feel my body vibrating, pulsating to every electrifying current, only to wake up before death finds me. Nobody ever wants to think of their own mortality. This is something that I have been trying to work within myself for many years. I meditate, focusing on the heavens above me, the people and serenity that surround me. I watch God’s beauty, feeling comforted, safe and an indisputable believer of what waits for me. I believe in after death communication (ADC) and near death experiences (NDE) and have read many books on the subject. I believe that our loved ones can communicate with us after they have passed on. These are the beliefs that comfort me. Still, there are times that I can’t help but to have some unpredicted fear about dying.
It was a Sunday evening on September 9, 2001, when I had received a phone call from the Chaplain at Weiss Memorial Hospital. Hearing her introduce herself as the Chaplain brought immediate concern. The Chaplain was informing me that my mother was brought to the emergency room and placed in intensive care and was on a ventilator. She shared with me that my mother wasn’t doing very well. Not knowing exactly what she meant by “not doing very well,” I had asked her if this was a situation where I needed to contact other family members and the Chaplain said, yes, it was.
I was actually surprised that I received such a call from the hospital, as I knew my brother, Jeff, was listed as the next of kin in my mother’s medical chart. The second name listed in mom’s chart was my own. But, Jeff didn’t have my phone number to call me directly and, because of HIPAA laws, where a patient’s medical and private information is protected, the Chaplain legally could not give out any information that was detailed in my mother’s chart, my telephone number included. Therefore, the hospital had to call and tell me my mother was in the hospital. Jeff didn’t have my phone number because we hadn’t spoken to one another since 1993, almost 8 years.
Upon hearing that mom was in ICU, I made a phone call to my brother, Steve. As I was dialing, I remembered the last time I had informed him of a death; his own precious grandfather’s years before. Now, here I am again, notifying him that his mother isn’t doing well and that her chances for survival were basically hopeless. We chatted for a while about the seriousness of the situation and I told him that he may want to consider a trip to Chicago. We both came to the realization that this may be the time for our mother’s passing. Steve and his family were making arrangements to drive to Chicago from Bay City, Michigan, and that we would see them most likely in the early morning hours, as it was approximately a six hour drive.
Frank and I also shared the news with our children. At the time, Arlaraye was nine years old and Tanner was five. Both old enough to realize what death was and what saying good-bye was all about, they were both sad to learn about their grandmother’s condition but, at the same time, they were vague with their emotions. Mom never had a close relationship with either of my children for the fact that she never made an effort to bond or connect with them; a pattern that she had once shared with me.
Throughout the years, mom had been in and out of the hospital quite often; mostly brought on by her own health habits. My mother wasn’t in the best physical condition. She didn’t eat properly and was overweight, needed the aid of an oxygen tank on a daily basis and was a chronic smoker. She was diabetic, had high cholesterol and also had high blood pressure. In the past, mom was always being admitted to the hospital, as her immune system would be low, causing her to get lung infections. She would stay a couple of days, get cleared up and then was released home. This routine went on for many years. Mom admitted that she would even feel better promising to work on her health, but always went back to her unhealthy behavior.
I had learned from the Chaplain that my mom wasn’t feeling well, so mom called my brother, Jeff, letting him know that she wasn’t feeling right and asked him to come over. It was apparent in her voice that she wasn’t herself, therefore, Jeff instructed mom to call an ambulance to take her to the hospital. Once the ambulance arrived at her building, they found mom almost unresponsive. This was when mom was rushed to the emergency room, where she laid in a sedated coma.
On Monday, September 10, while Steve and his family were on their way to Chicago, Frank and I went to the hospital that afternoon to see what information we could find out about mom’s condition. I called into work that day, informing them of my situation and that I would not be into work.
Once at the hospital, Mom’s doctor met with Frank and me. The doctor confirmed that while at home, mom had developed a blood clot in her leg. The doctors ran a battery of tests and it appeared that mom had a DVT, a Deep Vein Thrombosis. A DVT is the formation of a blood clot in the deep vein and is a dangerous condition because the clot can travel up to the heart or lungs and block a vessel feeding those organs, causing cardiac or pulmonary ischemia, cardiac arrest and even death. Mom had one in her leg, which traveled directly to her heart; most likely caused by her sitting and inactivity for a prolonged period of time, her extreme weight and excessive smoking. Over the next couple of days, the doctors were going to perform additional tests on mom to find out the extent of her medical condition.
We met with the hospital Chaplain, who had originally informed me that mom was in the hospital. She asked me if I had any other siblings and I told her yes, my brother, Steve, who was on his way from Michigan with his family. I also relayed that I had a brother, Jeff, but we weren’t on speaking terms. The Champlain shared with us that because of my mother’s serious condition, there was a possibility that a life or death decision may need to be made; the possible decision of taking her off of life support. I told the Chaplain that I didn’t want to make that decision on my own and that I would need to discuss this with my brothers and, if needed, obtain their consent. I remember asking her for Jeff’s phone number so that I could speak with him regarding my mother. But, she told me that she couldn’t give me his phone number, due to the HIPAA laws, the same reason she couldn’t give my number out to Jeff. But, she was happy to make a call on my behalf. I said thank you and asked her to have Jeff call me.
Frank and I arrived back home that Monday evening and we were mentally exhausted. The realization of my mother’s pending demise was weighing heavily on my mind, not to mention the fact that I would soon be in contact with Jeff, who I haven’t spoken to in over eight years. We left our relationship not on the best of terms and I couldn’t help but to wonder what it’s going to be like when we do speak again. Not only did Jeff and I go our separate ways, but Jeff also severed all ties with Steve. It was almost as if Jeff fell off the face of the earth. I can understand where he and I had differences, but Jeff made the same effort in distancing himself from Steve, as well.
The last time that I had communication with Jeff was the evening when Jeff hung up on me during that one revealing evening back in 1993. It was a couple days after Jeff’s father, Melvin, died and mom called me, letting me know that Jeff would be contacting me, as he was going to ask me for two hundred dollars to help cremate his father. I informed mom that I wasn’t about to give Jeff any money toward a cremation of a man who treated me like shit all my life and whose last words to me were calling me a whore. I believed my reasoning’s were justified. I could tell that mom didn’t want to discuss it, making her feel uncomfortable. My words and anger left my mother silent. Mom knew how I felt about Melvin and just bringing up his name to me was a touchy subject. I asked mom to have Jeff call me and I would be happy to explain to him why I wasn’t going to give him any money. It was at that moment that I made the decision to tell Jeff the true reason why I wasn’t going to hand him over any money. There was no way that I was going to give money to help lay to rest a fucking child molester. Jeff could have cremated him in a garbage can with a can of lighter fluid and a book of matches for all I cared!
About an hour later, Jeff called me and the demeanor in his voice sounded as if he didn’t want to make any small talk whatsoever; he wanted to get down to business… money business. As far as I knew, Jeff did not know that Melvin had sexually abused me as a child. Nor, did I think he realized that Steve was also one of his victims. If Jeff ever had any concept of us being abused, he never made it apparent to either Steve or me. My thoughts were once I explain everything to Jeff, he would truly understand, if not respect, why I wouldn’t give him the money to help cremate his father. Jeff immediately asked me for the two hundred dollars. I told him that I wasn’t going to give him any money to help bury his father. Jeff couldn’t understand why I was being so adamant about the situation and he started debating with me. It was at that point that I said to him, “Jeff, this is the reason why I’m not going to give you the money for Melvin.” Just as I was about to spit out the words, “It’s because your father is a filthy child molester,” Jeff hung up on me, ending our conversation with an abrupt dial tone in my ear. It was at that point that I became very livid, thinking, how Jeff dare hang up on me. Frank was standing by my side and I told Frank that Jeff just hung up on me and he wouldn’t even let me explain to him why I’m not going to just hand over all that money. I started crying and, the more I cried, the more upset and pissed off I became. I was outraged at the fact that he wouldn’t even give me the opportunity to let me explain why. I dialed Jeff back and I was going to scream as loud as I could in his ear that his father liked to fuck little children and that he doesn’t need to be cremated because his ass is going directly to hell and the devil would do it for him! But, my mother answered the phone instead. I shared with mom that Jeff hung up on me and I asked to speak with him. He refused to come to the phone and talk to me, only making me angrier. This is when I lost it and said to my mom, “You can tell your prick of a son that the reason that I won’t give him any money for his father is because Melvin was nothing but a child molester. And if he doesn’t believe me, then he can call his brother in Michigan and ask him, too!” It was then my turn to hang up the phone. I immediately hung up on my mother and started crying all over again. It was done, finished, my horrible secret that I had been carrying around inside me for over thirty years had finally been revealed, not only to my brother, but to my mother as well. It wasn’t my intentions to blurt out to my mother that Melvin sexually abused me and my brother, Steve, ever since we were young children. I had plans to never share that with my mother or any other family member. It was my own horrible little secret. I was so upset over the fact that Jeff didn’t give me enough respect to even try and listen to me. Everything was always about Jeff and his own world.
As one would imagine, my phone started ringing immediately, relentlessly, but I wouldn’t answer it. It was my mother calling, surely trying to figure out what the hell just happened. I was so upset that I just couldn’t even talk with her. She tried calling all night, so much in fact, that I had to take the phone off of the hook. Eventually, I knew that I would have to speak with her. I did my best to avoid her phone calls all evening. I went to work the next morning and this is where mom caught me. She dialed the main number and asked to speak with me. I knew that it was something that I had to do. I went behind a closed door in one of the offices and spoke with her privately. Mom had asked me why I never told her what was going on between Melvin and me. I shared with her that young children just don’t tell… they just don’t say anything to anyone, they are afraid to, it hides deep within them, never to be mentioned or revealed. During our whole conversation, not once did mom tell me that she was sorry; that she was sorry for what Melvin had done to two of her beautiful and innocent children and everything that we had went through. Not once did mom curse Melvin to hell. Not once did mom make an attempt to defend me or Steve. Not once did mom say she would have killed him if she knew. Not once did mom share one word of remorse with me. Our conversation was as if she called to tell me that she had burnt dinner. As always, mom showed no emotion whatsoever. I was hoping that at least now she would show some anger, some hatred toward Melvin, knowing that he had sexually abused her children throughout their young life. I would be screaming every obscenity there was; telling my child that I was so sorry for what they had to go through, shedding tears right along with them, but my mom not once shed a tear. Instinctively, it was at that precise moment that I was absolutely convinced mom knew all along about the sexual abuse and what had happened to me and my brother so many years before, even knowing when it happened and where it happened. Mom never worked, rarely left the house, and basically was always home. Surely, she had to have her suspicions about Melvin always wanting to take us with him everywhere. All that my mind could think about is how could she not know? Her lack of response and her quietness about the situation truly led me to believe that she knew about all the abuse that Melvin forced on her two children. She had finally been relieved of her own torture that she had kept deep within her heart and soul. The guilt of not protecting her child, not one, but two children, from a sexual predator must have been an unspeakable torment in her own mind. To spare us both further discomfort, I told mom that I don’t want to talk about it, it was all in the past, done and over with and there was absolutely no reason to relive it. We both never talked about Melvin sexually abusing me ever again.
Needless to say, Jeff never did get the money that he wanted to help cremate his father. I don’t even know if mom ever shared with him exactly why I wouldn’t give him any money. Knowing Jeff, he probably thought Steve and I made it all up. It didn’t matter because I didn’t want anything to do with Jeff from that moment on. He wasn’t a brother to me at that time, the time I needed him most. We both stopped talking with one another. He led his life, I led mine and we both went our own separate ways. I stopped acknowledging him as a brother, as a family member. Over the years, I learned from my mother that Jeff got his girlfriend pregnant, moved to Wisconsin with her and years later, after having more children, they eventually married. Unfortunately, because of Jeff’s actions that evening, our relationship was never the same and this was the reason why that I did not see or talk with Jeff in over eight years.
It was shortly after Frank and I arrived home from the hospital that evening that I finally received that phone call from Jeff. Hearing the phone ring, I was anxious, nervous, as I wasn’t sure how Jeff’s demeanor was going to be. To my surprise, Jeff was very compassionate and sensible. Our conversation between us was short, but very at ease. I relayed to Jeff that Steve was on his way to Chicago. I asked if we could all meet at the hospital the next morning to find out what else the doctors had found regarding mom’s condition. Jeff agreed and we left the conversation on a mutual and sensible tone. Hanging up the phone, I shared with Frank that the conversation went a lot smoother than anticipated. Even though Jeff was disrespectable to me eight years prior, I wasn’t going to demonstrate any anger or bitterness. There wasn’t time for that.
I poured myself a well deserved glass of wine and worked up my courage as I realized that I now had the heartbreaking responsibility of contacting my grandmother who lived in Wisconsin. Granny was now in an assisted nursing home in Portage. Granny had no idea that her second born, who is now on life support and fighting for her life, will most likely pass before her. The thought of telling granny that she may lose another child just broke my heart. Her son, my uncle Bob, passed away in 1997, where he was having a heart attack, drove himself to the emergency room, only to pass days later. He was only 59 years old. I decided to contact the social worker at the nursing home instead of speaking with granny directly. I was in fear that such news would jeopardize granny’s own health. I shared with the social worker what was happening and that I would contact them once I find out further information from the doctors and mom’s additional testing.
Waiting for Steve and his family’s arrival, Frank and I set up the basement where they could rest comfortably until the next day when we all headed to the hospital. I finally had a moment to myself, to reflect on what was going on and what could possibly happen. I couldn’t believe what was put before me. As a child, one never thinks about the time when a parent will pass away, how it will happen, or even when. Sitting there, it all seemed so unreal to me, as if I was on the outside looking in, watching someone else’s family tragedy, but realizing that it was actually my own.
It was 1:00 in the morning when Steve arrived with his wife, Mary, and their three children, all exhausted from their long ride in. We set the children up for bed in the basement and they fell quickly back asleep. The adults headed to the living room, where we started to express our thoughts and feelings. Like me, Steve couldn’t believe that this moment had finally arrived, where we would be making a life or death decision. I told Steve that I spoke with Jeff and that we would all meet at the hospital the next morning around 11:00 a.m. After another hour of chat, we all headed to bed, as we knew that the morning would be fast approaching.
As suspected, the morning rolled in a lot faster than I wanted it to. It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and in a bittersweet way, it was the most beautiful day outside. I could see the sun shining through the bedroom windows and I couldn’t help but to think how I was admiring the summer morning when I suddenly remembered that mom was lying in the ICU hooked up to machines and tubes. It was around 8:30 a.m. and Frank was still sleeping so I decided to get out of bed and start my day. I went to the kitchen and started a pot of coffee for everyone, thinking that we were surely going to need it. I laid out coffee cups, sugar and creamer, along with the breakfast goodies I bought the day before. Knowing that I had to make a phone call, I headed to the living room to call work, letting them know that I would not be in again that day, as my family and I had plans to meet with my mother’s doctors. I heard Nikki, our receptionist, pick up my call, greeting me as she always did. I told her it was me and that I wouldn’t be in to work. This is when Nikki asked me if I knew what was going on in New York. I told her I didn’t and wasn’t sure what she was referring to. Nikki advised me to turn on the television. Turning it on, I suddenly became aware that the news station was showing live footage of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, New York. Smoke billowing out from the top floors of the building, along with flames that seemed to be licking the building on every floor. I could see people hanging out of the windows, screaming for help, as they waved cloths to show their existence against the massive silver building. I could also hear the panic and distress in the reporter’s voice. I knew that whatever was happening, it wasn’t good. I was starting to become concerned and frightened and asked Nikki literally, “What the fuck was going on?!” This is when she shared with me that an airplane had crashed directly into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I could see the destruction that the airplane had left behind and knew that many lives were already lost. I hung up the phone with Nikki and immediately went to wake up Frank. I told him that something was happening in New York and that I felt it was best that he get up to watch, as something serious was going on. It wasn’t shortly after Frank came into the living room that Steve and Mary followed behind. All four of us stared helplessly, watching the TV with horrible blank stares on our faces. It was only moments later that we saw on live TV another airplane flying into the World Trade Center, this time making a direct hit into the South Tower. All of us gasped at the same time, with all of us pretty much making the same comment, “OH SHIT!” It was becoming apparent that this was not an accident. We were later being informed that the planes that flew into the towers were hijacked and this was just the beginning. Not knowing what other targets the hijackers had in mind, my concerns grew more and more through the morning, wondering if the kids were safe in school and if we should go and pick them up. Frank made a phone call to the kids’ school and we were reassured that all was safe and that we didn’t need to be alarmed.
Like robots, we all huddled around the TV, as if we were watching a Bears-Packers football game. With every update that we heard, we all shook our heads with disbelief. As much as we wanted to stay home and watch the tragedy that was unfolding directly in front of our eyes, the tragedy of all these peoples’ lives, we were quickly reminded that we had a tragedy of our own; mom and her own life. We left for the hospital, where we met with the physicians, as well as Jeff for the first time in eight years.
Once at the hospital, we met with mom’s physicians. The news didn’t look good for mom. The doctors performed multiple tests and we were informed that she had no brain activity whatsoever. There was no clinical evidence of brain function upon physical examination. She had no response to pain stimulation and no cranial nerve reflexes, including no eye movement or blinking and she had fixed pupils. Mom was completely brain dead and her condition was irreversible. Mom was at the total mercy of life support. Machines were breathing for her, pumping air into her lungs, one breath at a time. Not only did she look dead on the outside, sadly, you can see that there was nothing living on the inside either.
It was apparent that my brothers and I had to make one of the most important decisions of our lives, of our mother’s life. It was evident that mom was not going to get any better. It was then that we found out that mom had a DNR request in her chart – Do not Resuscitate. It was apparent that the decision has already been made for us. My brothers and I, along with our significant others went back to my house and talked for the longest time, for hours, discussing mom’s fate. I was actually surprised how well Jeff and I were getting along. It was as if nothing happened between us eight years prior and we just picked up our relationship where it left off. Perhaps, it was the moment, surely having a great deal to do with mom. Everyone was being cordial and respectable toward each other and their feelings, regardless of how the person was feeling from the past. It made me think that this is how we should have gotten along years ago. In the end, after discussing mom’s destiny, we all knew that this was the best decision that we could have made for her. Let mom’s mind, body and soul be at peace, let her be lifted up into God’s arms. It was now her turn to go home.
It was later learned that hijackers flew planes into the Twin Towers that were no longer standing. Flight 77 was flown directly into the Pentagon building in Washington and Flight 93 went down into a field in Pennsylvania. Thousands of lives were taken that morning. I remember leaving to go and pick up Arla from school that afternoon and all the parents were around talking about what happened to our country that morning. As I sat in the truck, waiting for the kids to get out of school, I noticed that the skies above me were an eerie quiet, where stillness filled the air. No planes whatsoever were being permitted to fly in the airspace.
During the last two days, the 9/11 tragedy was all over the television with news, special reports, and interviews. It was almost as if every American ate, slept and breathed 9/11. We couldn’t get enough of it. But, this day, my focus was now on my mother. We all made our way back to the hospital, where it was time to take mom off of life support and say our final good-byes. I never did like hospitals, even though I worked in one. They have always represented bad news for me; making me feel uncomfortable, as if death is waiting around every single corner, sensing sickness on every floor and in every patient’s face. It was rare that I walked into a hospital that I didn’t feel grief or sorrow. I felt it all around me.
Frank being in the medical field and working in a hospital for over twenty years, took initiative and helped us prepare for what was about to happen. Frank worked at Columbus Hospital, where he worked in the Emergency Room department and then eventually working with brain tumor patients on the neurosurgical floor. Frank saw people die from their brain tumors, as well as seeing people survive, walking directly out of the hospital to continue their lives. Frank was wonderful talking with the physicians and even the hospital Chaplain.
Everyone met within the waiting room in ICU at Weiss Memorial. The Chaplain arrived just moments after we did, asking how we were all doing, letting us know that she was there for support and will guide us through this ordeal. The kids were coloring in their coloring books, which kept them busy. The TV was on in the waiting room, which was practically screaming 9/11 at you. There was a lot of apprehension in the air, not only with what our country was going through, but what mom’s three children were going through and what they would have to do in only a few short moments.
The nurses were in mom’s room, preparing her for her final moments of life. The thought of knowing that you had control of someone’s life in the palm of your hand made my mind sick with regret. Was there any turning back at that point? Not according to the physicians. Mom was entirely brain dead. She had no thoughts, feelings or acknowledgement that we were there, unless she felt us spiritually. The nurses call us into mom’s room to say our final good-byes. Steve, Jeff, Frank and I follow the Chaplain into mom’s room, all wrapping our way around her bed. We were quiet, as we listened to the machines in the room pumping, watching them breathe air into mom’s body. Mom lay there, motionless, with tubes down her throat, completely oblivious that we were all there around her, for her. The nurse in the room was twisting cords and readjusting tubes, working with the machines that were obviously keeping her alive. My heart was racing as I stood at the end of mom’s bed. My palms were sweaty and my bottom lip started to quiver. Nobody should be placed in the position that I was in, that my brothers were in, but, yet, death finds us all and there was no escaping it for mom.
Feeling it was important, I asked the hospital Chaplain to say a prayer for mom before they ended life support. My two brothers, Frank and I, along with the Chaplain stood over mom while each of us held hands. With the Chaplain’s hand resting on mom’s shoulder, we recited the Lord’s Prayer.
Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Through broken words I managed to say good-bye to mom, asking her to say hello to grandpa for me and that I missed him. It started to get emotional for me; especially when I knew mom was going to meet grandpa on the other side at any moment. For some reason, I didn’t feel comfortable crying openly in front of everyone, so I held back my tears as much as I could. Saying the Lord’s Prayer over my mother though was comforting to me. It felt like a completion; almost like a cleansing; a purification of her soul for all her torments in her life, for all her secrets that she held in her heart and mind for so many years. Frank, I and the Chaplain were the only ones reciting the Lord’s Prayer, while Steve and Jeff remained silent. I got the impression that they were lost in what to say, just as I had been so many years before, as I once stood not knowing how to pray or what it all meant. I held my rosary in the palm of my hand while praying, the same rosary that I was baptized with just the year before. I didn’t realize it, but I must have held onto Jeff’s hand so intensely that the rosary left indentation marks in the palm of his hand. Perhaps, subconsciously, I was trying to send a message that he should be a better brother, a better listener and that family is worth holding onto.
I cannot say the Lord’s Prayer today without being touched, remembering this faithful memory; bringing me back to this one particular moment every single time, the day that we prayed over mom . The Chaplain shared a few personal words, along with giving mom her last rites. Chaplain asked God to prepare my mother’s soul for death, asking for forgiveness of all her sins and anointing her, preparing her for a safe journey, asking God to accept my mother into His loving kingdom.
After prayers and rituals were done, we were asked to leave the room while they prepared for my mother’s death. They didn’t want us to watch them disconnecting mom from all the various machines; the heart monitor and breathing machine, eventually taking her final breath away. We walked back to the waiting room. The television was on and was showing the latest news and updates with the 911 attack. They replayed the same scenes over and over like a bad sitcom, as we continuously watched the planes hit the World Trade Centers, exploding into huge fireballs or as we watched so many innocent and terrified people making the decision to jump to their own demise, where death waited for them once they made it to their final destination, the ground below. It was my only hope and prayer that God greeted them at the end of their journey with open arms, embracing each and every one of them with His tremendous love and light. It was only a few moments later that the Chaplain and nurse came to me and my family letting us know that mom, too, had passed, completing her own final journey. I didn’t realize how emotional I would get. I never considered myself close to my mom, but I actually broke down when the nurse told us “she was gone.” As I had asked for the 9/11 victims, I was now praying for God to extend the same invitation to my mother.
“Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.” ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
My brothers and I had made the difficult decision taking mom off of life support on September 14, 2001, where she passed at 10:53 a.m., just three days after the 9/11 attacks. Mom was only 62 years old. I watched the people on the television and even made a comment that it didn’t help that I was not only grieving for all the lives lost on 9/11, but for my mother as well. I had such mixed emotions about exactly what I was grieving for. I didn’t know if I was more upset at the fact that my only mother had passed or if I was more upset and grieving for the mother that I never had, for the mother-daughter relationship that I should have had in my life, but never did. I felt in my heart that it was the latter. Sadly, my mother and I didn’t have a close relationship, something that she just wasn’t receptive to having in her life. But, now, death made everything so final.
After mom’s death that morning I, once again, went home to call my grandmother to let her know that her daughter had passed away. The hospital staff made sure that there was a priest there with her when I delivered the news. “Granny, I’m calling to let you know that mom had passed away today.” Speaking with granny, I can tell she was in shock, but the priest was making sure that she understood what was going on. Granny’s response was what any mother would say after losing a child, “Oh no, I lost another one.” The priest sat with granny and they prayed together. I hung up the phone with tears in my eyes and an uncontrollable pain in my heart for my grandmother, as this was now the second child she had lost. Framing a picture of mom when she was young, I sent it to granny so that she would have something to look at, possibly to talk to. The picture was taken in a sepia tone, which made mom’s face glow with radiance. Looking into her eyes, I could once see a happy, lively, vibrant young woman, who exuberated love and kindness. This was the mother that I should have known, should have been best friends with, who I should have been able to tell my deepest darkest secrets to. This is the mom that my heart ached for, not the one who I had known during my life.
Mom looked so happy in this picture and I couldn’t help but to think that this was a different time in her life, where she loved life, as there was nobody there to take it away from her, to beat her, nobody there to verbally humiliate her. It was a time before self inflicting alcohol abuse. I don’t know the event in her life that inspired such a beautiful picture, but I knew that this is how granny would remember her.
My brothers and I decided to have mom cremated, which was done on September 16. These were mom’s final wishes. Shortly after mom was cremated, we went through some of her things. Jeff went to her apartment and grabbed whatever looked important, stuffed it in paper bags and took everything to his house in Wisconsin. Steve and his family had since gone back home to Michigan, therefore, Jeff inviting my family to his home, Jeff and I went through everything to see what was important and what wasn’t. I truly felt that Jeff and I were making amends with our relationship. I know there were issues in the past between us, but we were both grown adults, with each of us having children of our own now. I had looked deep within myself and decided to forgive and forget. What had happened, I left it exactly where it should be… in the past. It appeared that Jeff and I were moving forward… or so I thought. Mom did have some important papers; papers that showed that she had a small life insurance policy, which if it was split evenly, between her three children, wouldn’t make us rich, but it could have help with a bill or two or something else we may have needed. Jeff took it upon himself to initiate the process of the funds and getting the paperwork started. It was agreed between the three of us, my brothers and I, that we would split the insurance money, equally, between the three of us. Unfortunately, it did not happen that way. With Jeff being in total control of the assets, Jeff gave Steve and myself only a very small portion of the insurance money up front and told us that he would send more at a later date. In the end, Jeff decided to keep the rest of the funds for himself. He went onto explain in an email to me that he lost money as he was not able to work at his construction job one weekend, due to all the running around he had to do because of our mother’s passing, therefore justifying to himself why he was going to keep the rest of the money. Perhaps, Jeff didn’t take into consideration that I, too, ran errands, made numerous phone calls to funeral homes, meeting with the funeral home, as well as making arrangements to have my mother’s body transferred to a funeral home for cremation. I also made arrangements for her obituary to be placed in the local newspaper, also paying for the services. Not once, did I bring that to anyone’s attention. But, once again, Jeff was thinking only of himself. Jeff’s email was the last time I heard from my brother, as he never again contacted me or my brother, Steve. Steve and I were completely astonished by Jeff’s actions. We both couldn’t believe that Jeff had cheated his own siblings out of thousands of dollars, only to gratify himself. Jeff did not reflect on our feelings, as he only looked out for his own gain. Not once did Jeff take into consideration how others may feel. I found it quite sad actually. Jeff had every opportunity to make amends with his siblings, especially with me, but he had made the decision instead to leave and end our relationship, once again, over money. He not only lost his sister for the second time in his life, but also his brother. We were so close at one point in our early lives. Growing up, we all went through hardship together; we all had nothing to eat together, we didn’t have any money, we didn’t have lots of clothes, we were all deprived… together. When we had nothing, we knew we always had each other. Is money that important to someone where you would jeopardize a relationship? Can greed be that strong? Money should, under no circumstances whatsoever, interfere with the price of a relationship, family, a loved one. It only led me to believe that if a person could do something like this to their family then there’s a reason why; a reason they needed the money more and I just hoped that whatever Jeff needed it for, it helped him out tremendously. Having the extra money wouldn’t break me or make me rich in either way. Money is not worth destroying family relationships but, sadly, Jeff didn’t value these same opinions. Once again, Jeff was out of my life and I haven’t seen or spoken to him in twelve years, the same amount of time that my mother has been gone.
During the time I was with Jeff looking through my mom’s belongings, I found and kept a small picture of her from when she was approximately three or four years old. Blue eyed and curly blond hair, I saw my own resemblance within her. I also found a notebook, which I immediately slipped into my bag, thinking that I would look at it closer, later, when I was alone. Completely forgetting about the notebook for a couple of weeks, I remembered and pulled it out of my bag. Flipping through the notebook, I felt my heart sink with every page I turned, completely astonished at what I was looking at. Mom had torn out articles that she found in newspapers and magazines. Some of the pieces were even in mom’s own handwriting. I found articles on happiness and being respected and loved. I found one article she clipped from the newspaper titled, “Recipe for a Better Life.” I found clippings about togetherness, where it talked about death is nothing at all, as they have only slipped away into another room… I saw articles on hugging and a note titled, “What is a Friend.” Continuing on through the pages, I found Dear Abby articles that mom felt was important enough, clipping and saving them within her notebook. However, the articles that I found so significant were the ones titled, “Loneliness” and “A Parent’s Prayer.” Reading these two pieces made me come to the realization that mom was hurting so much inside, aching to have any form of this contact with another human being. Every article that she taped neatly into her notebook was how she must have felt in her heart, mind and soul. Unfortunately, mom could not express these words openly to her children, therefore, she did it the only way she knew how and that was by taping her thoughts and feelings into a spiral notebook.
As time went on and weeks went by, my mind started thinking about the mother I wished I could have had in my life while growing up, while getting married, while having children of my own, the mother who was taped within those pages of her notebook. A part of me felt resentful and cheated; knowing that all mom had to do was open her heart, showing me that she cared. But, I knew that she was incapable of doing so. Her life with Melvin throughout those many years had deteriorated her emotions, her happiness, and her passion for life, as well as for everything else that surrounded her. Melvin stripped her emotions away, just like he stripped away the sweet innocence of her two children. Surely, she loved her children in her own unique way; she just had a very hard time expressing it to us. My heart ached for the mom that I could have had, should have had. I wished for my children to have the special grandma relationship that I was blessed with, with my own grandmother. What a special and amazing relationship that they were cheated out of; what my mother was cheated out of. Although, do you miss something that you never had in your life to begin with?
I continue to believe that there’s a purpose, a reason why we are here on this earth. We are here to receive learning lessons. The values we learn on a daily basis, within our lives, we will take back home with us to share with others in God’s world, where we will then be the teacher. I have often wondered, questioning what my learning lessons are as I travel through my life. Is it through the sexual abuse by Melvin, learning how to be strong and overcome any obstacles that are set before me? Is it through the relationship with my mother, where I have learned to be open, expressive, to be the best parent I could be, or through my relationship with my grandparents, where I was shown that life is the most beautiful and precious gift that God has given us, therefore, living it with compassion and love? I have been through so much in my life and I have tried to make every effort to find the positive side of each and every situation… my learning lessons. I have learned to love with all my heart, unconditionally, always letting others know that I love them, sharing what I have gained and cherish life to the best of my ability, as I never know when it will all be taken away from me, when life will end, when death will find me…
If there’s ever a time where I questioned my mother’s love for me, I always know that I can return and read through her many messages that lie deep within the pages of her spiral notebook.
“Well, right now… I’m not dead. But when I am, it’s like… I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading…. An old one. It’s up on a library shelf, so you’re safe and everything, but the book hasn’t been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody’ll pick it up and start reading.”
~Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
Hours after mom’s death, she, herself, sat waiting on a shelf, but she wasn’t a book, she was a doll; a ghost, a spirit. Mom had one last thing she needed to say to me before leaving, therefore, she sat quietly, patiently, waiting for the right moment, until I picked her up and held her tight…