It’s the middle of the night. We sit holding each other. Both of us small enough to fit side by side in her blue recliner, our bony hips jutting into one another. My mother who always battled with her weight is now a 70 pound shadow of herself. It’s the last time we’ll sit together. It’s the last time we’ll do anything together. In a short hour I will be picked up and I will go in to Boston. I will fly home to San Francisco on a 6am flight. But for now I am here. And she is still here. And we sit, mother and daughter, holding on for dear life. The tears come in gushes. They are unstoppable. Promises are made. I make her promise that she will hold on. I promise that I will come back as soon as possible. I promise that I will be on the first plane I can on April 8th. I make her promise that she’ll still be here when I get back. I know that I will keep my promise. But I know that she cannot keep hers. As she is making it, I know she will break it. I know and I forgive her. I know and I cannot forgive myself. And I won’t. Deep down I will never forgive myself.
I will get on that plane. And by the time I get off in San Francisco, the descent into the end will have begun. There has been no food going in for quite some time, but now the liquids will slow. The exhaustion will take over, the number of conscious hours will diminish. She will spend more time in bed. She will be less and less coherent. We will talk on the phone. There will come a time the following weekend when she hasn’t really gotten out of bed in days and my uncle will put the phone up to her ear and we will talk and it will be the last time. I will tell her that I love her. And she will manage to get out the words that she loves me, too. And that will be the last time. Those will be the last syllables I hear from her. And they will come over a phone line, with 3,000 miles separating us. And I will hate that. And I will never stop hating that. The decision will be made on Sunday that it is time to transfer her to the hospice home. I will need her to hold on until Friday. I will start saying a constant silent prayer, running it through my head incessantly. Please let her live until I get there. I will work around the clock, making up for the lost time, the several weeks I spent with her once radiation stopped and at-home hospice began. I will work feverishly and desperately telling myself that I can do this. I will feel as close as I’ve ever felt to losing my mind. Forcing myself to focus on this project, to get through all the details, while my mind never leaves the reality of my mother dying across the country. Constantly asking I don’t know who to let her hang on until I get there. I will be burdened and overwhelmed with meaningless, mundane tasks, tasks that are keeping me away from my mother. Every time I breathe I will be filled with the horror that she is going, that I am losing her. I will feel guilt and shame and anger and sadness on levels I never knew possible. She will slip into a coma. The first day she is at the hospice house she will slip into a coma and the deathwatch will begin. I will call, my sister will put the phone up to her ear. I will speak to her. She will not respond. I will keep doing this. Tuesday will come and she will still be holding on. Wednesday will come and she will still be holding on. I will just need one more day. One more day and then I can leave. My work will be done and I can go. I can run home to my mother. I will go to bed Wednesday night. I will fall asleep thinking that I just might make it after all. The phone will ring in the middle of the night. I will see my sister’s name on the iPhone screen and I will know before I’ve answered that she is gone. I will cry and wail and my boyfriend will have to hold me and cover my mouth because we share a wall with our landlords and I have done enough crying and screaming already, this middle of the night round might just be what pushes them over the edge. I will hyperventilate silently. I will choke on my tears. Morning will come. I will put on a party dress and run a gala for the Magic Theatre. I will not remember how I do it. I will be in a total state of shock. It will be a tremendous success. They will all say it’s the best gala in recent years. It will be exactly what they hired me to do. I will have succeeded. But every part of me will feel like I have failed.
I will keep my promise to my mother, I will be on the first plane possible April 8th. But she will not be there waiting for me. She will be gone. I will sit on that plane and I will not care what happens to it. For the first time I will not feel anxiety when the plane takes off, I will not say any silent prayer that all goes smoothly. For a moment I will not know myself. Without my mother, who am I? It will be a question that I do not know how to answer. I will turn my head to hide my tears. I will get lost staring out the window. I will drift in and out of consciousness. I will be jolted awake with the terrifying thought that I am an orphan now. I will go back ten years, to the very first time she was sick, to the first time a doctor told me he didn’t know if she would live. I will remember so clearly the panic that ran through me rushing to the hospital, the terror I felt at the prospect of losing her and becoming an orphan. I will quietly try to accept the idea that fear is now reality. I will feel alone on that plane, completely cut off and disconnected from everyone and everything. I will later understand that this is the beginning of independence. But at the time I will just feel isolated. Abandoned. Scared. Hopeless.
For now though, we sit holding each other. We apologize for everything. In 32 years as mother and daughter there is much to apologize for. It took decades to build that list, and just seconds to let it all go. We tell each other, “I love you.” Over and over. And over again. We cannot say it enough. With every word that leaves my mouth I know my words have never mattered this much. I know that this is it, but I will not say goodbye.