On January 19, 2011 I picked up my parents from Sea-Tac airport after they cut their Hawaii vacation short because my mom was in severe pain. None of us had any idea that at that moment that within days she would be in the emergency room, then ICU, moved to an oncology unit, in home hospice and gone exactly three weeks later.
When I gave her eulogy I read the following journal entry I wrote just before she died.
Journal Entry February 9, 2011
I’ve been here three weeks now caring for my mother. Right now is the first time I’ve made it to the beach.
There is hoarfrost covering the grass and rocks, even on the log where I sit. My mom spoke of the hoarfrost that coated North Dakota the winter her mother died.
Mom has been unconscious since Saturday – today is Wednesday. I decided today would be a good day to come to the beach as a signal to her that I will be okay. I am giving her the space to go. She would want to be free and not trapped in her stagnant body with her eyes closed.
She gave me a thousand memories in the past three weeks alone to hang onto. I’ve seen her laugh and cry – say goodbye – love and give – mourn and worry.
My mom is most alive in her smiles and those have been gone now for many days. The mourning has begun. The biggest part of her is already gone.
Sitting on this beach my mind is filled with memories of her here with her grandchildren. She spent endless hours throwing rocks in the ocean and hunting for tiny crabs.
Today is a perfectly clear crisp cool day – a perfect day to say goodbye. Her body is already so weak and yet she continues to live. Maybe she is waiting for this perfect clear Whidbey Island day.
At first goodbye seemed like it was coming at us so fast and now it feels like a long goodbye. With her conversation gone, now the days are long and painful watching her body suffering.
When I got here three weeks ago I realized that if this wasn’t the end I certainly could see if from here. Her body was giving out around her.
My mom was expected to live 3-10 years when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease 44 years ago. She raised us with the intention of being strong and independent enough to live without her. She always knew her time was limited. Her goal was to raise us and she did. Then her goal was to know her grandchildren and she did that, too. Her final goal was to die at home with her family where she is home now.
My mother reminded me this week of how important it was to know people – even if it was for only a short period. She wanted to know everyone’s name and to learn a piece of their story when she was with them.
Growing up in my mother’s shadow I learned to be creative, express myself and try new things. She taught me to dance through life with love and laughter pouring out freely. I learned to be strong and brave and to accept that sometimes there is nothing left to do but to die at your appointed time.
I wish I could bring this peaceful scene with the ocean perfectly reflecting the bright blue sky with the mountains clear and so close it feels like you could reach out and touch them to my mother’s bedside right now. She would enjoy this cool gentle breeze and the hypnotic sound of the ocean caressing the beach. I wish she could breathe in the scent of the ocean so that she would know that it is an ideal day to die – and let go.
My mom saw the beauty in everything and in people. She could translate the beauty onto canvas. For me it is pen and paper that I express myself. These are the first words I’ve allowed to pour out onto paper because I’ve needed to be brave these past few weeks. My mom never liked to console people in her time of crisis – so I was brave. But now I’ve walked down to the safety of the ocean and let down my brave face as I write through tears.
(At 10:00 a.m. I finished writing those words. I had nothing left to write. I sat staring at the ocean for a few moments but the contentment I felt sitting there had left me and I felt compelled to return to the house. I took a moment to throw a rock into the ocean for each member of our family to symbolize us letting her go.
I came to her bedside and told her about the hoarfrost that had settled over Whidbey Island and even onto the beach – like the hoarfrost that was present when her mother died. I told her that the sky was blue and that it was a perfect day to say goodbye.
Her breathing was the same – I walked away from her bedside and moments later returned to find her breathing had changed. We gathered around her and within moments she released her last breath and with that, at 10:25 a.m, she said her final goodbye.)
It is nearly impossible
to think of you in the past tense.
Your life is colorfully woven into the fabric of ours.
I know you are gone,
I saw you leave,
but in my memory you are vividly alive,
with your mischievous smile
teasing the corners of your mouth.
Saying “she was…”
doesn’t fit comfortably on my tongue yet
because you left bold strokes upon my life.
I see you “alive” all around me
You live in the impression
you left upon your grandchildren.
Your life is etched in the laugh lines
worn deeply into my father from a lifetime
of joy shared with “the love of his life”.
I see you in the bold brush strokes you left on canvas
and the lives you touched.
I can hear you in the language of my motherhood
and the dialect of my life.
I feel your strength that you wove deep
into the hearts of my brother and I
because you always knew that you would leave us too soon.
Death may have taken you,
but what you left behind
Will echo in our lives
for generations to come.
Kayla Fioravanti 2/10/11