My mother was very sick for a long time. She already beat cancer once, but in January of 2017 (just at the mark of what would have been her five year remission) it came back. She had cervical cancer caused by the HPV virus, however this time it came back in her lymph nodes. I remember standing there in a state of numbness while the doctor’s voice sounded like something from an episode of the Peanuts cartoon (Charlie Brown), “wa wa wa” as she told my mother that she had 6-18 months to live.
She put up a good fight but around 13 months after her re-diagnosis she became sick with an infection. Her immune system couldn’t handle much more and she ended up being admitted to the hospital. Eventually she went into respiratory failure and became intubated. She spent the last 3 months of her life in the hospital, and the last 3 weeks of that on a ventilator. They knew that she was going to be on the ventilator long term, so after a couple days they trached her. There is much more about her condition that contributed to that, but that is for another time. However due to the tracheotomy she was moved to a specialty hospital that was an hour away from our home town.
Between my brother, dad, grandfather, and myself we did our best to make sure that she was never alone. She was awake and very much aware. Often times she was capable of making her own decisions and could communicate with a dry erase board that I bought her. We got to spend a lot of quality time together, and I was really good a reading her lips. She was impressed with how well I could read her lips, because we were able to have full fluid conversations without the dry erase board for the most part. Little did she realize that I was able to read her lips long before she was in that condition. She was, and still is, my greatest idol, of course I could read her lips, I have been watching her in admiration before I could talk. Anyways, we never wanted her to be alone because her anxiety was very bad. One night when I stayed with her she asked me to make up my hospital chair bed right next to her bedside so that we could hold hands while we slept. I did, and I will always cherish that.
We were fortunate to get the chance to celebrate one last Easter together, and my 29th birthday too. On Easter my husband and I brought the kids up to see her, the whole family was there. We had taken the kids shopping the day before and made her an Easter basket full of goodies. The kids got to dye Easter eggs with her, fake ones that we can hold dear forever. For my birthday we got a cake (per her request) and we all met her up at the hospital to celebrate together. She was able to eat things of a certain consistency, so she enjoyed some jello while we had cake. We shared the left over cake with the hospital staff. My mom was so happy for this. There’s nothing she loved more than spending time with her family, especially getting to see her grand-kids.
Late one night after my husband and I had a wonderful visit with mom that day, I was at home sleeping when I got a phone call. It was 2 in the morning, and I knew that only meant bad news. My brother had stayed that night with my mom, but it was my dad that called me. He told me that my brother had called him and said we’d better get up there, that mom was passing away. My heart sank and I quickly jumped in my car. I must have cut that hour drive down to 40 minutes at least. When I got there she was still awake, but she was fading fast. I grabbed onto her hand and said, “mamma I’m here. I love you!” I read her lips and she said, “love you”. At a loss for words I said it again, “I love you”, and again she said, “love you”. Then she mouthed a word that even I had a hard time making out, but upon reflection I believe she said, “always”, and that was the last thing my beautiful mother ever said.
Shortly after I got there they gave her some medication to keep her comfortable, without pain, and help her to not be anxious. After that she became very relaxed. I held one of her hands and my brother held onto the other. We talked to her, and to each other. At one point she squeezed both of our hands very tightly, as if to tell us she was still there. I know she meant it as a hug goodbye.
My grandfather showed up and said a prayer over her. He couldn’t stand to stay and watch his little girl die, so my brother offered to walk him to his car. My dad took over holding her hand, the one that my brother was holding. As we both held her hands, we were talking about how we were partially glad for her that her suffering was coming to an end. With that my mom took one last breath and let it out, almost like a sigh of relief, and she was gone. At 5 o’clock in the morning on April 11th 2018, right in the palm of my hand my mommy left this world, and went home to be with Jesus. It’s amazing when you watch someone die, you realize how our bodies are really just shells for our souls. When she let out that breath her skin felt different almost immediately, her color changed, and I knew that she had left her body. What laid before me was a beautiful empty shell where my mother used to reside. I don’t care what anyone believes, but you cannot experience something like that without coming to the conclusion that there is definitely something- somewhere beyond us. I call it Heaven, but whatever you want to call it, its real.
As soon as she took her last breath my brother came back in. I was sad for him that he missed it, but if I know my mom (and I do) I really believe that she waited for him to step out so she could go. He was her baby, and she didn’t want him to see that. He rushed to her side and reclaimed the hand my dad kept warm for him. Eventually the nurses came in and offered to “make her look more comfortable” if we would step out for a moment. I just remember my brother not wanting to let go of her hand, because he said he didn’t want it to get cold. That shattered my already broken heart.
When my brother was ready we left the room, and went to sit in his car to wait. While we sat in the car in the silence of disbelief, the sun began to rise. The sun coming out felt like a slap in the face, like someone rubbing salt in the wound. That’s when it hit me… My whole world just stopped, yet the world around me was going to go on like nothing happened. How? How is it possible to keep going on like that? How can I rise up like the sun for a new day? How?
Charlene Dawne Stewart, she made it 15 months after her diagnosis. She was only 46 years young. November 18, 1971 – April 11, 2018.
This is my journey to finding out “how” to be me without her.
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