“It was 1 a.m. on July 22, 2015 when I received ‘the call.’ Two days prior, my father was admitted to the hospital with severely low blood pressure and shortness of breath. We were told he needed to be transferred to another hospital to get stents due to clogged arteries to his heart. My mother was on the computer, looking up what he would have to go through with surgery.
I knew this wasn’t going to go right from the beginning. I had that feeling in my soul. I answered ‘the call’ and said ‘Don’t tell me anything bad.’ The doctor said, ‘I’m so sorry, we worked on your father for two hours.’ I ran out into the hallway, my mom got up from the computer (everything seemed to go in slow motion), and I said ‘Mom, I’m so sorry, Daddy died.’ I never saw lips go from beautiful pink to pale white like that. She was never the same after that.
Days went by, we had the funeral, my mom smiled less, her laughter left, and I didn’t know what to do. I mourned. I drank wine to ease the pain, I smoked cigarettes to pass the time so I wouldn’t think about my dad all day. My dad was my best friend, my life, my educator, my heart. How do I live without my heart? One day I felt okay, and I started getting back to my routine of working out. I stopped smoking, cut down on the drinking, and slowly got my life together.
I noticed that my mother started to lay down more. It had been almost four months now. I thought maybe she recognized that I’m doing okay; she could now mourn and not worry about staying strong for me. We were going on two weeks now; she wasn’t eating or doing her normal things around the house, and my dog would not leave her side. One day, I said ‘Mom, come and lie down in the living room, change your environment.’ She laid with me on the couch in the living room, and we watched TV. She then went to get up and told me the room was spinning. I can tell she was scared, her face went pale. I remember her concentrating on a certain part of my shirt, of course, I was scared. I got her to her bed and then called 911.
EMS arrived, and after vitals were checked I was told that she was on the verge of a stroke. I couldn’t believe my ears. They took her to the same hospital where my father passed four months to the day: November 20, 2015. My older sister met me at the hospital. Tests were done, and I saw the look on the doctor’s face. He called us over, and then in the matter of moments, my life would change forever. He said, ‘I’m so sorry, but your mother has a huge mass on her lung, I cannot confirm without more tests, but doing this for over 20 years, I am 99% sure she has lung cancer’
I didn’t know where to turn or what to do. I could see her looking at us with curiosity from the ER room she was being held in. I went to the side, crying panicked; I was confused. Was I going to be an orphan at the age of 35? I looked at her face again, and she beckoned to me to come closer. I went to her, and she looked me dead in the eye and asked ‘What is it?’ I said, ‘Mama, they cannot confirm until we do more tests, however, there’s a 99.9 % chance you have lung cancer.’ You have to understand; my mother was a heavy smoker since she was 12. My family and I had no doubt that this was her fate.
After that day, I became my mom. I went into survival mode, researching oncologists and calling her regular doctors. We went for tests and waited for the results. The day came for the verdict. We both sat down in front of the oncologist, and sure enough, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer with six months to live with no treatment. My mother didn’t shed a tear, while I sobbed, I couldn’t help myself. I thought to myself not only did I just lose my dad, now I am going to lose my mom. I couldn’t make this about me and I knew deep down I had to pull it together. She wanted to know how long she would live with treatment, and the doctor said one to two years. She then said, ‘That’s what I’ll do to be with my children longer.’
Mom and I got in the car, and the first thing she said to me was ‘I’m going to die.’ I held her hand and said, ‘No, Mom, we are going to die.’ I never made it seem as if she was alone in this journey. A few days later, I received an emergency call that a tumor was found near her bronchia and she could suffocate at any time. I got her up and dressed her with no questions or answers, and we went to the hospital to have emergency surgery. After that, it was doctors, chemo, and despair. The day before we started chemo, she asked me to do her hair for the last time before she lost it.
After a year, my mother’s body couldn’t take chemo anymore, and around Christmas of 2016 she was starting to deteriorate. We went back for more tests. I was kind of hoping for a miracle, but I knew this was it, just needed a confirmation. Her doctor called me, and sure enough he said, ‘Melissa, I called hospice for you. I’m so sorry; you did well for your mom.’
I cried by myself hoping my dad was there to comfort me. For a few hours I kept quiet and did my routine of taking her, fed her, gave her water, and then broke down. I said ‘Mama, it’s time,’ and she knew what I meant with no explanation. I will never forget the look on her face; it was almost a sigh of relief because now she was in so much pain from not getting chemo treatments. I told her the next few days were going to be busy, hospice was going to come and give us equipment.
When hospice came with morphine, it was a blessing, it helped my mom relieve some of her pain. They sent an amazing Hospice worker Shanti (appropriate name) who came every day on the weekdays for four hours. I was the only one living with her so to have that release, I was able to get out of the house and take a breath. The nurses were unbelievable, providing advice, letting me know her status, and even knowing when she was going to die.
When it was just mom and I, I had to lift her up to go to the bathroom, bathe her, sit with her, and she never cried once. We had much support from our family and friends. I knew her speech would be gone soon, so we called all of her friends to say goodbye. It was as if she was going on holiday and saying her farewells but she’ll see them again.
I am asked: How? How did I do this? What got me through was the Grace of God, my connection with him, my love for him. ‘If God brings you to it, he will see you through it.’ This saying got me through everything and are the words I live by today. It was a very spiritual experience and moment in my life. My dad was there because she used to ask me, ‘Do you see Daddy? He looks so handsome.’ One day I was taking my mom to the restroom, and I heard a buzz in my ear. I swatted at my ear, and then I heard my mom say, ‘Bill (my dad’s name), leave her alone.’ I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t say anything to her about the buzz in my ear, and there was no sign of a fly around.
A few days after, we hadn’t had any company on this day, I went into her room and Once again my mouth dropped open, and a sense of warmth came over me. I was told by the nurses to give her permission her to go. I believe it was that night that I leaned over to her and asked ‘Mama, don’t you want to be with your dad, mom, and daddy?’ She shook her head no, and I said, ‘You want to be here with me,’ and she nodded yes. I opened the window and said, ‘Mom, you can go. We are going to miss you; please get out of this pain.’ If only the walls in my mother’s room could talk.
A few days went by, and she couldn’t swallow, (another sign of the big day coming), and she hadn’t gone to the bathroom in a while, so I called the nurse. The supervisor nurse came over to my house; I held my mother while they were taking care of her. The nurse and I then went into the kitchen, and she said, ‘Today’s the day!’ This was the day I had been waiting for. I would go to bed every night and ask God, to please not let my mom die while I am sleeping. I made a plea with God that I will take care of her around the clock, no sleep, no food, all I ask is for you to give me the strength and please do not let me wake up to a corpse.
The nurse told me to call my family and prepare myself. I called our Monsignor, who has been here for us since my father died. He gave her last rites, and she even mouthed the ‘Our Father.’ My older sister was there to hold her hand; my sisters were in denial and shock. They never thought they would lose their mom. My sister did not believe my mom was going to die that night, so she said, ‘I’ll be back in the morning.’ I was freaking out. I told a friend that was with us that she’s going to leave. I was going to be by myself, I didn’t know what to do. I went back into the room where my mother was lying with my sister, and my sister said, ‘Melissa, I’m not thinking straight, I’m staying with you.’ I left the room with relief, and as soon as I walked out of the room, I heard ‘Mom’ ‘Mom,’ ‘Mommy.’ She was gone.
Her name was Isabelle Clark, 71 years old. She died eighteen months after my father and died on January 18, 2017 and we closed her eyes at 9:45p.m. My mother was a poet, funny, kind, generous, and loved by many.
I lost both of my parents at 36. My life has been very different. I am more conscious of my surroundings. I do not let the small things affect my life the way I used to. Everything that both Mom and Dad taught me throughout my life, I now apply to my current situations.
A few weeks after my mom died, I had a rough time. I cried, I yelled; I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t call the cops. I was angry, confused, hurt, lonely, and tired. I was facing all these emotions with no parents to make me feel better the way they used to.
I then realized that I was mourning all over again. I had to put my big girl pants on and take grief by the throat, not the other way around. I dove into my writing, and what do you know? A few weeks later, I was offered a freelance reporting job at the Canarsie Courier, my communities’ local paper. I went on to become a published writer, and now I am a Features Editor with Metropolitan Magazine in NYC. I also write for Preferred Health Magazine. Writing saved my life. I know my mom and dad have a lot to do with this.
The time I had taking care of my mom was an amazing experience. It was a bond that I will never forget. I think of the times when I had to pick up her almost lifeless body to go to the bathroom. She would fall asleep in my arms, and I would feel her breathe on my neck, I would stay like that for about 5 minutes to treasure that moment.
I miss my parents every day of my life. Holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays are hard. I have to keep telling myself that this is life; we cannot live forever. I know I will see them again one day; I did, in fact, pick them to be my parents.
If I can give any hope to anyone who reads this, please stay connected with God or whomever you feel comfortable with. We cannot go through this journey alone. This is what saves my life every day and what keeps me going. Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments, but I make sure that I do not stay there. A person can mourn, and I’ll repeat myself: try not to stay there. Your loved ones would not want to see you down. You are living with them inside you.
Life is one big adventure; we are here for a season, a reason, or a lesson. Enjoy your journey and thank you for reading my story.”
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