I finished reading Diary of a Dying Mom early last week. So much for it supplying me with another 2 weeks of reading material… I just couldn’t stop turning the pages (I printed out all the entries, highlighted certain parts I loved, and made little comments in the margins—I plan to pass it on and wanted to include my own thoughts along with it). My heart breaks for Bill and their children, who are about a year behind me in my own grieving process (theoretically at least, we all definitely grieve at our own pace—I see this in even our own family). In reality, Michelle was in heaven long before I even knew her blog existed, but for me, she was very much alive. Until last week. And for that, I am sad. There are no more pages left to turn; no more new, witty comments left to read; no more comfort to seek. However, that in no way can take away from all I have gained from her words.
A big question I had prior to reading these final posts was whether she knew the end was drawing near. Obviously she knew this all along, but I mean… could she tell when her body was finally really failing? I learned that, yes, she most certainly could. She wrote, “I now need help to walk from the bed to the bathroom, and I am gasping for breath when I return to bed. I am beginning to accept that this is a battle I cannot win… I’m tired everyone. I have fought a long and hard fight, but I need a graceful exit strategy now. Of course my heart is broken and my dreams are shattered, but I feel in my heart that the most loving thing to do is set myself, Bill, and the kids free. I have to follow my heart.” In a weird way, this puts me at ease. It helps me to feel as though you allowed yourself to go, rather than that you were taken from me. To think that you went (internally) kicking and screaming, makes me feel sick. I want to picture you allowing yourself to slip away into a much happier, more serene existence. And that’s what I intend to think from now on. It’s reassuring that, while you were in an induced-coma for the hours before your death, each of us provided you with permission to let go… and you did. Is that what you were waiting for all along? For months you noticed severe changes in your body and what it could and could not handle. You became too tired to shower; too weak to walk; unable to digest food… everything became a challenge. Now looking back on our final night together, I am certain that you knew it was your time (however, this is a recollection for another day).
Ironically, Michelle touched upon the topic of ‘pictures’, which I did previously in my post on regrets/lessons learned. She said, “As I poured over photos over the last few weeks, I realized how few I had of me and the children. I was always the one behind the lens. ‘You cannot see me,’ I thought to myself, ‘but I was still there.’ I realize now that I will never really leave. My children, husband, family, friends will carry me with them in their hearts and their memories. Perhaps that is eternal life.” Not even all of my favorite things in the world (deer, corn on the cob, John’s fuzzy couch blanket, a McDonald’s quarter-pounder with cheese, Jodi Picoult books) COMBINED could make me feel better than this. Through this I realized that the words I needed to hear have been staring back at me for 3 years right there on your headstone: “Our family lives on because of the love we shared”. NOT because of our pictures together. When I close my eyes, I can still remember what it feels like to hug you and hold your hand. Things like that give me more comfort than any photo ever could.
Michelle wrote that “in some ways it’s a privilege to die slowly. We have had so much time to adjust and prepare… In some weird way I feel lucky.” For a while, I went back and forth between what was “easier”: having years to build up sadness and anxiety in anticipation for losing you, or if you would have just passed away randomly in a car accident or something. To the everyday person, duh, you’d want time to prepare; time to say all you wanted to say and make those final lasting memories together. But, as someone actually having to wake up every morning and wonder if her mom was going to be dead in the living room when she went downstairs to eat breakfast… I was slightly torn. I once also said that if I could go back in time to relive this and have one more day with you, I wouldn’t do it. It hurt too much to lose you and try to move forward without you. Now that I have had years to process my feelings and let go of some of the pain—I am 100% certain we were lucky, and I would relive my life again and again, even with the same outcome, just to have one more moment with you. Losing you in a slow fashion hurt; it hurt terribly. And not just emotionally or mentally—it hurt physically. My heart, literally, hurt. Some days to the point where I thought it was going to give out on me from the immense stress and sadness, and this is in no way an exaggeration. But I couldn’t imagine living a life you weren’t a part of, even if you were only in it for a little while. Our lives together were like an extra large cup of Maxwell House coffee… good to the last drop ;-) I cherish every minute, no matter how difficult. The joy from our laughter outweighs the hurt from my loss; it just took me time to realize that.
Today marks two years since Michelle Mayer passed away. I grew attached to her in merely a few months just through her writing, so I know there are some deeply aching hearts out there tonight. You have my permission to watch over them during this difficult time-- but just for the night-- I'll need you back tomorrow!