The problem I have with the story of my mother following her death, is that it’s all about how hard the doctors tried. It focuses on every consultant and surgeon available at hand basically shutting down a hospital (incidentally, the one she worked at as an RN Midwife) to the point of leaving new mothers to birth their babies unattended. You think about those new mothers and you sigh. You think about the doctors and how, in the story of my mother, they have been named the Goliath and the tumor living inside of her, so much bigger than they expected, is named the David they were up against.
Any mention of my own mother, in her own story, comes at the very end. It is a conclusion that begins in the recovery room and goes on with very brief details: knitted brows, a whisper, closed eyes, last breath.
I have a problem with that story of my mother. It is the story that’s been passed around for the past two days and when I hear it begin (“The Doctors…”) I quickly find an empty room to lock myself in, and in my own way, I summon her presence.
I talk to her. Yesterday, I left the house and took a walk with her—we talk about the details of her true story. Together, we’ve decided not only that it would be interesting to have a colour of paint that is exactly the shade of dried cement that’s gotten wet in the rain—but also that, if her story must keep the tumor in mind, we have to think of it this way:
That tumor was a rock—and not of the same ilk as the one in David’s sling. It was a rock—a solid mass of sacrifices, a weight that she carried with the strength of, well, my mother; a weight that she never called a burden even when it made her too sick to lie in bed at night, even when it made her too sick to eat and keep it down. Even when it made her so sick walking for a few seconds made her short of breath.
When I was between the ages of four and six, my mother and I lived a solitary life—I was an only child then, and my father was away, working, providing for us from a distance. She was the strength who carried a 4-year-old on one hip, and a small cylinder of cooking gas on the other. She was the strength who dealt with me when I acted out in the name of missing my father. She was the strength who found a way to feed me on a secretary’s salary, while going to school, while being twenty-four, while often being robbed of all her groceries on evenings when we’d use the shortcut to make our way back home—because with her hands laden with bags, she actually couldn’t lift me.
Whenever I am able to speak, and there are people willing to listen—I tell them the true story of my mother. I paint, in as much complete sentences as I can utter, a complete picture of the woman she was.
I tell them about her strength of which there are more than enough stories to illustrate. I tell them her passion was her children and try to really explain that my mother was a woman who had me, her first child, at 20, and somehow managed to never make me feel a pang of wanting, all while missing out on the chance to be the average wayward 20-something. She sacrificed her youth for me, and continued to sacrifice everything for my brothers and I. And she did it all with a smile on her face, or the occasional bickering when we didn’t live up to what she expected.
I think I understand, to some extent, why people start the story of my mother with the doctors, and end it with her closing eyes, last breath. They do it because it is an easy story to tell, a comforting one. It is hard even just to write a few words about the true story, let alone tell it every time the phone rings. It is hard to breathe through these words and I am not even speaking them aloud. It is hard to talk about my mother in the past tense. But I have to make it known that there is a story of my mother, and it is a story that I cannot tell properly today, but one that I will tell someday. I will have to make it known even through tears and the pain of the hollowed out space in my chest. I have to make it known that my mother exists beyond my memory of my father telling me that “Things are not good…” and then finally, “We lost her.”
I have to let her story echo louder than the chants of bible verses and several translations of everyone comforter’s favourite book: “Everything Will Be Okay, Chapter 1-100: It Will All Be Okay.”
It will never be okay without my mother. But it will be bearable if I hold her story close to me. It will be bearable if I can tell it, and retell it as my voice becomes stronger and my heart is not so weak.
The final thing I will say here, for now, about the story of my mother, since the tumor must be considered, is that she carried a 10lb parasite inside of her for 3 months and maybe longer. She is a strong woman, but it could not have been easy and in the past month I was there to witness that it wasn’t. I was often in denial about her suffering. Often I wished we could go back to talking about things that did not pertain to it. Because I did not often see my mother weak, I knew that when she was, it was time to be worried, or afraid. I didn’t want to be either of those things about her health. On the day my father and I took my mother to the hospital to prepare for surgery, she told me she was scared. I saw my mother, the strength of my mother, wither to a frail admission about coming to grips with her own mortality. And I left her there. I told her I loved her, hugged her, kissed her, blew her a kiss, and I left her. I know I had to, I know there is reasonably nothing else I could have done, but– I left her there to be alone, and scared. My mother who got up at 6 AM to come to me in my very first apartment because I had seen a cockroach the night before and didn’t sleep and couldn’t kill it myself because of a crippling fear, told me she was scared, and I left her.
I want to say the hardest part is that I wasn’t allowed to be there to hold my mother’s hand as she slipped away. To comfort her when she was afraid. To kiss her while her forehead was still warm, to tell her that I loved her again, and again, before she lost all her blood.
But the hardest part is all of them, because now an end has to be written into the story of my mother.