She was a mother to five, biologically. I was number six.
But what a sixth kid I was to her. She taught me that you needn’t share DNA to be family — and, believe me, if you knew my familial background, you’d know how much that lesson has meant to me over the years. I was just like another son to her, and just another brother — “kuya”1 — to her daughters, my sisters. We’re family. We’ve laughed together, cried together, spent holidays together, and been there for each other, through times good and bad. She’d yell at me just as much as she’d yell at any one of her own kids, but she’d always preface it with the disclaimer that if she didn’t care, she wouldn’t yell. The ultimate backhanded compliment.
When I got the phone call yesterday from my sister’s boyfriend that she had passed away, I immediately went numb. Shocked. It was as though Doc Brown channeled the lightning to hit me with 1.21 jigawatts of electricity. I saw on the edge of my bed for awhile, stunned, unable to move. We all knew it was coming — I’d been dreading for weeks this very call — but a terminal diagnosis replete with hospice care cannot ever fully prepare the mind for the wave of emotions that come with the death of a loved one.
I eventually got up and made my way into the bathroom to shower. I went through the motions of my daily routine robotically. I ran an errand to the grocery store. I made a few phone calls to mutual friends so as to break the sad news. But all these tasks were done in the densest of fogs, emotionally speaking. The things I did were done out of repetition and without any semblance of thought or emotion. I just did because I had roughly planned to do so the previous night, before receiving the Very Bad Yet Expected But Still Heartbreaking News. I spent the day feeling as if I was dreaming, that this was not reality. She can’t be gone. I don’t fucking believe it.
And yet, she is gone. I still don’t believe it, but I’ve been here before. Twice.
In 16 years, since my biological mom finally succumbed to her own battle with cancer in 1998, I’ve lost three people in my life, all of whom were close to me: two moms and a maternal grandmother. Losing just one person is bad enough — I’ve done this dance three times in 16 years. To put that even further into context, I turned 32 in September, so that means I’ve spent the latter half of my life up to this moment dealing with devastating loss. Two of the three persons had cancer, the other dementia. Fuck cancer (and dementia) square in the eye. Just fuck you, man.
Each time I’ve gotten though it, though. It sounds so cliche, but time really does “heal” all wounds. I put heal in quotation marks to imply that you never truly heal from these emotional wounds; you just learn, as time inevitably marches on, how to deal with the pain. It’s always with you, you most certainly never forget, but you medicate yourself by surrounding yourself with those you love and remember the good times. It starts, of course, with the memorial service soon after death, but you have holidays and other special occasions like birthdays and, in this case, Mother’s Day. The pain is worse now — where by “now”, I mean the pain we currently all feel — especially so close to Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the general concept remains. Time goes on as it’s wont to do, and we have try to move with it as best we can without falling apart into a trillion pieces.
So often over the last couple days have I received messages on Facebook from people who knew and loved Mom, telling me how much she loved and was proud of me and my accomplishments, especially lately with my freelancing and podcast.
Remember how much she loved you, and all the memories you shared with her, help you in your sorrow now. She will be missed by all the people who knew her
[Y]ou were so loved […] and she was so proud of you.
I’ve gotten choked up more than once reading comments like this, because I know them to be true. Mom was never one for sentimentalism, so she never explicitly said she loved me, but she did. God, did she ever. Though I rolled my eyes at her many, many, many times, I always knew she had my best interest at heart, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.
My sisters are still here and I know they need me, even if I don’t get to see or talk to them as often as we’d like. (Apartments, boyfriends, dogs, the life of an RN, and whatever else will do that.) Aside from a few intermittent text messages, I haven’t seen or spoken to either of them since yesterday's event, but I will soon enough. But I know they love me just as much as mom did, and I know we’ll continue doing what we do because that’s what mom would’ve wanted. We’re family, bloodline be damned. Always have, always will be.
The grieving process is a grueling one. Even as I write this, there is still much pain in my heart, pain that will take much longer than a few days to subside. I push forward, though, because the universe says I have to, and I have a wealth of good in my life happening now and in the future. Mom would’ve wanted it that way, for me to push forward and to take care of my sisters. We will survive — I will survive because, well, that’s what I’ve done all my life. The strongest person many people have apparently ever known.
As craptastic of an emotional mess as I am at the moment, I am thankful that it happened at a time where my psychological well being is stable. I couldn’t say that when 2013 began; it would be exactly this type of traumatic event that very likely would’ve pushed me over the proverbial edge. Thankfully, I’m nowhere near that cliff today. I will push through, onward and upward, because pushing is what I do. Mom knew that.
Mom also knew how so very much I loved her. Always and forever.