I have not celebrated St. Patrick’s Day for 21 years. Not for the obvious reasons of course. I like green. Irish people are fantastic. Green beer is just beer, which I enjoy as well. Every time this day rolls around I send my children off to school with something green so they don’t get pinched. They make shamrocks in art class and talk about leprechauns. It is cute. My youngest searches for rainbows and pots of gold. It is a whimsical kind of day for them just not for me.
March 17, 1994. I was in a over exhausted sleep after leaving my mom’s hospital room. Everything told me to leave and go home. I remember it was around midnight and I told my dad and brothers that I would come back in the morning. They didn’t argue and let me go. I can’t explain the feeling. Death had filled the room and its impending doom had me break into flight mode. My then boyfriend was with me. I think him being there made me feel like I shouldn’t stay either. He had been with me when we had gone for a drink earlier in the evening. I had called my dad during that time and he had told me to get to the hospital. They didn’t think she was going to make it. So, my boyfriend drove me there. For many years I had juggled with the thought “should have I been there or not?” to say my final goodbye. In retrospect 21 years later it was right for me not to watch her take her last breath. I’m only thankful now some memories of the suffering have faded that I did witness. It hurts deep in my chest trying to fish out my remembrance for those last few days leading up to her death.
My mother had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They did the treatments. She went into remission for a year. It came back. It came back hard. That was it. I blinked and there was no more hope. My mother spent 2 and half months in hospital. She was on drugs, morphine to be exact and at first we talked about normal things. I remember saying that she hadn’t really taught me how to make perogys her way. Her response was, “You have never talked like this with me before.” Meaning, I had never talked about her not being around. It was the big-ass elephant in the room that I finally pointed out. I knew. She knew I knew she was going to die. Communication was not a strong point between us. Now I see our relationship more clearly. We were not close as some mother daughters were. I don’t recall my mother asking anything from me. She wanted me to read her mind and be doing things with her without being asked. I didn’t. I didn’t know what she wanted. We argued a lot. I was a teenager. I felt that my parents didn’t tell me the truth about her illness. I did not know my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer until I went for genetic testing and the doctor told me about a year after she died from reading my mother’s medical records.
The next couple months while she was in hospital was when her thoughts on what kind of daughter she thought I was came out clearly and painfully. It wasn’t intimate. It seemed vengeful. She was mean to me and even woven into her morphine induced delusion she could pick me out of the crowd around her bedside and tell me how I was not what she asked for. It hurt. I felt like this tiny paper boat released on the water and was drifting away from the island of my mother. I was letting her go before she was gone. My father felt bad. He blamed the morphine. I told him that she isn’t saying it to you nor my brothers. Just me.
The only saving grace to all of this is that we did have a moment together during this time that was just like all the other good ones that I remember with her. I always called her in her room and asked what I could bring her before coming to see her. She always asked for these bland cookies, but on March 12, 1994 she said she wanted me to bring beer. It was her birthday. The doctor and nurses said she could have anything she wanted. So, the light was streaming into her west facing window and I cracked open a beer and we split it in half. I sat on her bed and smiled because it felt normal. It was something her and I did. She and I would work long days in the garden or in the yard and she would always pour me a little beer. She was a bad influence when it came to under age drinking. The age requirement is 18 here, but I had a got a little bit of alcohol at every holiday event for as long as I could remember. Baby Duck at Christmas. A beer on a hot day sitting on mom’s 2 seater bench after a long days work. It was in those moments that I saw her a bit different. I don’t recall many conversations, but I remember those moments staring at her and wondering about her thoughts or hopes or dreams. She became more of an ally than my mother. Her favorite thing to say to me was that I was her mother first and we could be friends later. We just never got to the friends later part.
March 17th, 1994. The phone rang and it was around 2:30 am and just like that my older brother confirmed that our mother was gone. I asked if I should come back, but he said no. I went back to sleep and I don’t recall if I could or not. I went to school (college) the next day and explained that I would be gone for the rest of the week. I drifted back to my family home and it is here that the memories of the next few days get sketchy. What I do remember is going with my dad’s Sear store card and buying a funeral outfit. Cream colored button up blouse and a long black skirt. I walked around the house that my mother had not been in for a long time. She had gotten one last ride out to the farm a few weeks back and said that was her final time that she would be home ever again. Otherwise, I don’t recall the days leading up to the funeral. I just remember a veil slipped over my eyes.
I could tell you about the last Christmas she was home. I cooked. I could say that I had a devastating year after her death. I tried to act like it didn’t happen. I never spoke about it. My friends rarely heard me even talk about her good or bad. I just stopped thinking and shut it down. I also have risen above all the shortcomings of the events leading up to her death and all the time after her death. It has been 21 years now. She has been gone longer now than I have known her. I think I blocked her out of my life for around 10 years. I found myself interviewing my father about her life. I heard stuff about her I had no idea about at all. She was strong and self-assured. She was loved. She was a big soul. But, I’ll save it for another blog post. 😉 It did change my views on her and who she was. I softened on my stance of who I remembered and who she really was. The negative views started to drop and the veil was lifted.
March 17, 2015. St. Patrick’s Day still means nothing. I don’t feel pain. I feel a longing for something that I didn’t have. I longed for a relationship with my mother. I think that if she had been alive I would have liked to see if we would have become friends like she suggested that we would have been. She was always a champion for my artistic abilities. She saw that was what I was good at and pushed to have it happen for me. She enrolled me in art classes. Danced around out in the field after finding out I got accepted into school for photography. She gave me a lot of time to let me draw and create my world. I’m happy. She was a good mother. She raised me to be tough and strong. Her ability to let me go was a gift. It is the most coveted gift I have received from her. It was a seed implanted so deeply inside that said I was ok just as I am. I think her distance was a blessing. It changed my thoughts on being a mother. I tell my children what I want. I want them to cuddle, I ask. I want them to understand what I’m asking from them, I tell them. I am honest. I tell them what is going on. I don’t cry foul that my mother didn’t do these things, but I recall how I felt feeling lost on no information. I don’t want that for my children. I don’t want them to feel like they were responsible for my being ok or not. I think my mother fiercely loved me. I think she reveled in my independence. I think she was proud that I was off living life in a free country. She didn’t leave me with bad feelings about my body. She didn’t cloak me with thoughts that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. She left me with power. Power within. St. Patrick’s Day just serves as a reminder of what was lost. I take a day to remember the pivotal moment of change that found me that day. Let’s raise a glass of green beer. Cheers Mom! To you! I love you and miss you. Take care of me and my children. Protect us. Speak to me how you continue to do. Thanks for everything.