By Jaz Taihreen
As I write this, I am watching my mother shrink.
I am in her hospital room, watching this mountain of a woman reduce to a pebble. The cancer is metastatic. Her brain is saturated in it. They say has 5-7 days left. Somewhere in my head, a clock has started. I cannot remember my thoughts for more than a few moments. I am trying to actively listen to my father as he tells stories about their past year after they received the initial diagnosis. Stage 4. Small C cell. Most aggressive.
She is 58.
I am sitting here watch a flurry of nurses come in and out. She is unresponsive until they wake her to do another test. Another vial of blood. Another blood pressure scan. Today I toured hospices because…5 to 7 days. That’s it. Her life reduced to days. Her moments can be counted like my fingers. I am watching her fade away, like the end of a song. I am scared of the silence.
Watching someone you love die is…for lack of a better term…fucked up. When my son died, it was sudden. I found him and it was already over. With my mother I am watching her slowly turn the corner to whatever is next. She is dreaming but she purses her lips the way she does when she doesn’t want to cry and it bring tears to mine, stinging the backs of them. I can’t bring myself to eat because she can’t. I’m sitting here trying to remember the good things like everyone is telling me to. To soak in any moments I can – but I don’t want to remember this. I don’t want to remember bearing witness to my mother’s disappearance from this world.
I’m watching this river of a woman become a desert and I can’t help but be angry at how unfair this is. She may not be famous but she DID things. She was one of the first female welders/pipe fitters in the US Navy. She was a 20 year retiree of it. She was the type of woman who didn’t stop looking for love until she found it. Dealing with abuse from my biological father and running, sprinting, into the arms of the man who I call Dad now. A man who saw her for the kind, deserving spirit that she is. She was afraid to choose herself but she did it. So many women cannot say the same – that they have the courage to choose themselves when they’ve been subject to so much telling them that they can’t or that it’s selfish. My mother is made of strong things, like rocks and metal and love and audacity and fuck this shit when necessary.
And through everything, she loved me the most.
As a kid I didn’t give her the credit. I was told to be angry that she left, and so I was. I missed years of my childhood with her partly because I was told to and partly because in her quest for love I had to be left behind with a man who hated women and then used me as leverage against her. I sit here and marinate in the things I’ve said to her, the way I’ve treated her, how I abandoned her…
…and then grew up to become her.
I know now what it is to yearn for love. It was through the course of my own existence and experiences that I realized why my mother ran away into the night, her spirit on fire, for someone who loved her. As a woman I am grateful that I had the opportunity to reconnect with her – as a mother, as a daughter, as a friend. A woman who supported me in everything I did. I am watching this dam of a woman, who stopped rivers for me…I’m watching the water pass over her.
Her hands feel like saran wrap they’re so thin. I hold her hand as they wash her hair, wipe her face and mouth. Once in a while she responds but she doesn’t talk, she doesn’t walk anymore. She doesn’t look the same. But I am still going to be here. I make family arrangements, I give updates via Facebook live. I’ve been told I’m sorry so many times I can’t think straight. I know their love is from the heart. I know there’s nothing more to say.
I don’t want to let her go, but she is not for me to hold on to.
Yesterday I walked over to her and I stroked her hand…her eyes fluttered just slightly. I told her I love her. That I love her enough to set her free if it is time. That she has been the mom I didn’t deserve. I told her if she has to go, I understand and will always love her. I kissed her on the cheek – once puffy with a smile always – now deflated, though still warm. A tear formed in the corner of her eye which is all the response I need.
I’m watching my canyon of a mother approach the closing of her life with strength and grace. It is an honor to walk to the gate with her. It is my privilege to have been in her life in the first place.