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Mama said it would get better.

I nearly killed myself a month before my fifteenth birthday. It seemed to me at the time, that the pain was beyond my ability to cope. Sixteen months before, my dad had been the victim of a hit and run accident, left half dead and brain damaged. He was institutionalized in a semi-vegetative state. He didn't know my name.

Dad's loss had plunged my mother and I both into depression, forced Mom back into the job market and left me in charge of the household and my three younger sisters. I'd had a secret first love, a girlfriend, who dropped me during this awful time. Then I got Hepatitis A, nearly died and spent months sick and lonely. I had to do double time to catch up on school work from missing nine weeks. All this while, I was enduring the constant torture of bullying as a geek in junior high school. It was unending taunting and even violence.

Is it any wonder I cracked. I remember it so clearly that my skin can still feel it. I was taking a bath, during one of those rare times when I was home alone. I sat in the bath, thinking about the horror that my life had become and unable to imagine how to get through it, to imagine anything other than things getting worse and worse. I remember still the feel of the blade I took out of my mother's shaving razor. I remember sitting in the water growing cold and staring at it. I know I didn't really want to die. I didn't think I had a real option. I couldn't take any more.

I froze, in a sort of fugue state, blade held between my fingers trying to will myself to either use it or put it down. My mother found me like this. She asked what I was doing. I remember answering in that distant, flat voice that I thought it would be better if I was dead.

I remember her gently taking that blade from between my finger tips, opening the drain and reaching for a towel. "No," she said. "Do you know how much I need you? How much I love you?"

She wrapped me in the towel and urged me out of the tub, leading me down the short hall to her bedroom, where she bundled me up, holding me and she kept talking. "I can't lose you. I know it's been hard, so very hard. It won't always be this way. Someday you will find people who are like you and can appreciate you. In the mean time, we have each other. I love you." Over and over she rocked me and told me how much I meant to her. Promised me we would find a way to get through it. Promised me I wasn't alone. Promised me it would get better.

And it did. She worked hard to make sure it did. We both did.

***

Right now, I wake up each day with such a heavy weight in my chest that breathing hurts. I feel that same sense of disconnect, like the world is spinning around me and I just can't follow it. I remember after dad's accident, watching children playing outside and unable to understand how the world could just keep going on when my life had turned upside down.

Dad's body finally died only weeks before my twenty-fourth birthday. I had been in an awful place that winter, living alone in a basement studio apartment and working temp jobs to keep myself fed. The death of Dad's body so long after the death of his mind, had been like a freeing of the grief that had held us in such pain for eleven years. Yes, we had learned to go on without him, to live with the ache and unresolved loss. That final release though, it was like a miracle. Things raced forward and miracles happened. I went back to college, met Troy and Mom moved to Santa Cruz. We found a place for ourselves.

One night there, I woke up from a horrible dream. It shook me so badly that I went next door to my mother's place and got into bed with her. She held me while I told her that I'd dreamed she died. It had become my greatest fear and it haunted me, knowing that someday it would happen. She rocked me and told me I would have to face it, she couldn't help that because she did not want me to die before her. It was the way of things, she said. It's a great wrong when the child dies before the parent. She said that she had once heard that you were never completely grown up until both your parents had died. Hers were still alive then, so she smiled and told me that made me more grown up than her.

My mom's life was never easy. There was at least one real scare per decade of her life where she was hospitalized and I had to face the possibility of losing her. She fought hard to live, to see her children grown and even to be there for her grandchildren. In the last nine years, she was in and out of hospitals and complained about seeing more doctors than friends. Last year, she was diagnosed with COPD – her heart was failing. She'd already had one heart surgery and would not survive another. Even then, I begged for more time. I couldn't let her go yet.

Last month, when the call came that she was in the hospital and this time there was nothing they could do, I knew it was time. She wanted to invoke her right to die, but she wanted me there with her. It had always promised that when there was nothing that could be done, no quality of life, I would be there to let her go. Now was time to honor the promise. She saw me and smiled. She said, "Please let me go." All four of her daughters told her, in tears as they said it, that they understood and that she could go now.

I sat beside her for the next thirty hours, helping her through the process of dying – singing songs of spirit and comfort to help her let go. In the night, while she lay there laboring to breath and struggling to find release, I talked. I told her how much I loved her, recounted what an amazing person she had been and encouraged her to find that next adventure. I asked her forgiveness for the times I let her down and thanked her for all that she had done for me. In the still dark night, she breathed her final breath and stopped. I felt the warmth of her again as she passed.

***

Mom's love for me, and for my sisters, was unconditional. It didn't mean she always approved of what we did. It meant she loved us even when we messed up. And when we did well, she was always there to cheer us on, to tell us how much our success meant to her. And when were down, she was always there to tell us it will get better.

So every morning I wake and remember that she is dead, the weight of it so much I have to remember to breathe, to find a way to get up and face the day – I remind myself it will get better. It won't go away. Even my grief for Dad's lose has never gone away, surging up with Mom even now. I just know that there will be good times again. I have husbands who love and care for me. I have a son, who is for me, like her daughters were for her, like sunlight that warms my heart.

It only gets better if we let it. If we work through the dark painful times to get to the other side. The only way out is through.
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April 2015

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