When I knew , I knew

The day my mother died is the day I really knew she loved me. A strange thing to say, I know, but my truth nevertheless.  The understanding of all things from the beginning came with the ending.

I had crawled in bed with her waiting for her last organic breath in a sterile room. My nose irritated by the scents of alcohol and i.v.  Her nose bloody from forcing oxygen. I tried to clean her face.  Lotion even but tears would fall from her left eye.  My strong mother didn’t  cry. She “leaked” as we would call it. I didn’t want to take it away from her.  Truth is, I didn’t  want to lose them myself. If I wiped them, I would never again see the strength of her womanhood again.

She hadn’t spoken for 3 days.  Not since she had given me some rather poetic instructions.  Even now I laugh that she and I could never have a straight conversation.   Always a movie script of some kind.  Meaningful now, drama back then.

When the silence came, her heart monitor spoke for her.  The number of beats would rise and fall as different voices entered the room and addressed her all with the same tone. “Sister?” “Ma’cia?”  “Mama? Mama? MAMA!!”

I knew her 3 day rule. If she didn’t rise in the three days like Jesus did, then she didn’t want to be hooked to nothing that would change that.  She was adamant about not being trapped in weakness. 

But I punked out.  I sang “He’s sweet I know” as if that were going to change her mind.  She waved a few times. I never knew if she was raising her hands in worship or telling me to shut up.

I have always felt I failed my younger sister by allowing her to sign those dreaded papers. I remember the mix of sadness and anger in her eyes as she penned her name and then literally ran from the room. It would be days before I saw her again 

I’m was not quite cognitive of where my older sister was in that moment.  I knew she was there. I suspect she was no longer the Big Sister at that moment but too was again the child with the single pocahontas ponytail praying for Mama not to go. She, like Mama, would try hard to not show it, but vulnerability reveals itself even in stone. 

 I only found out today that they had their private moment at some point  that I must have slipped away. There was a forgiveness time involved and a phone conversation with her best friend. I pray she will tell you all about that someday. 

The youngest was barely a preteen.  Sheltered in the room with the grandchildren.  The “adults ” always feeling the need to protect them from the inevitable. 

I too made that mistake.  I had sent my two youngest kids to school that Monday. Not sure if I was shielding them from death or from seeing me in a child like desperation. Children need to know that their parents are human too.

The treatment of my eldest, I regret the most.  I had him when I was 15. He was her baby. Her son that I birthed. She would laugh and say that I was just the “egg bearer.” 

Through well meaning “it’s going to be okay” I neglected to talk to him about God’s Will and how a person’s will outweighs our tears.  At the moment of her death, he comes flying in with a bouquet of get well balloons, not realizing that her version of getting well meant leaving us behind. 

Let me correct that. She didn’t leave us behind. She left this world behind and we just happened to be still in it.

The room was full though. Sister’s sisters and Sister’s brothers (one on the phone was in New York). There were so many, 10 of them total.  Being on the oldest end, she was a second caregiver to most of them. Missing completely was the youngest brother. He was her original baby boy and had been murdered by a robber a few short years before. Honestly, I believe that was the day she really died.  Her broken heart never quite recovered and affected her body from that point forward.

Her mother, the rock of our family, had been in and out,  wheeled in a chair. But I still  can’t picture her in the room at that moment. I was told later how she drew close to her daughter and gently rubbed her forehead. A silent expression of love that is the hallmark for much of my family. This was the second child she had lost at too young of an age. The baby boy, Ronnie at 33 and my mom not quite 54. Her soul was hurting in ways I cannot and will not try to imagine.

Slowing beeps and tubes being removed, counting each deep draw and release. Five. The number of grace. A number I now have a love / hate relationship with. On Valentine’s Day no less.  A day she has previously disliked and one I still avoid 21 years later.

 I remember my pastor/godmother trying to pull me away and I screamed at her “she brought me in this world, I can go with her out.” I don’t think I ever apologized to Cat for that.  Not sure I should,  that pull almost took my mother’s love from me.

In that moment, holding fiercely to my mother’s arm, I felt her.  Not just a shockingly strange amount of energy that only those who have held on to a transitioning person know.

But I felt her. 

It should have been a peaceful moment. But I was 31 years old  and wasn’t ready for her to go yet. I had questions only she could answer. I screamed. I cried.  I prayed in tongues so strong and loud that Cat asked the  nurse to give me a sedative.. Even now I believe my comical mother got a chuckle out of that. 

But I felt her.

She was free. She was seeing her Savior.  She saw that Ronnie was okay.. Everything that ever burdened her was being released. 

But I felt her.

Though it was only mere minutes it felt like hours. Holding on to her arm,  that ironically had no more strength or warmth, I believe I was selfishly trying to hold on to her.  Hold on to her because  I still needed her. I still wanted her.  

But I felt her. And she was finally fierce. 

Her love was intense. It was given. It was written. It was unspoken. It was taken for granted. It was appreciated.  It was too much and not enough all at once. It hurt her. It hurt others. It healed her and she healed others. 

And in that moment, I felt her. I felt her love and I didn’t cry for her again for one full year.  My mother showed me she loved me when she let me feel her.

November 8, 2021. An excerpt from “My Mama’s Love Is Like …”

Heart Hungry

I was out in the Carytown area yesterday. One of the worst places to be when you know that you can’t have solid food for 36 hours before a medical test. But I was looking to pick up my last meal for a few days and wanted something special.

However my husband and I ran across homeless people near the trash cans of so many of these trendy restaurants . I began to weep when I saw them because this is America….the land of excess…and yet so many are living like this. Carytown flows with cash. Most times I can afford nothing there. It was heartbreaking seeing people of all ages and colors hoping for some wasteful person’s scraps.

This situation is only exasperated by Covid closing so many churches and shelter resources. It is also created by a ” I got mine. You get yours” attitude so many financially secure people have.

We don’t have a lot in our house but we are blessed. My husband and pooled what we had and bought as many sandwiches and fries we could handle. Thank you to the Carytown McDonald’s for asking what we were doing and donating a matching amount of bottled water.

I was shook so much by one married couple out on the corner with what seemed to be all of their possessions huddled against the cold. I freaked when I noticed a baby stroller but was relieved to find it was a very old dog wrapped in a blanket. I’m not a pet lover but I had to feed it. The poor thing was so tired looking he barely lifted his head at the smell of food. The young husband was so grateful he started to cry.

In the age of Covid you can’t touch, get too close or even see smiles anymore. But I was struck by all the emotions in his eyes and they spoke the volume of the problems in the human experience. His eyes were a golden brown color that I have never seen before and pierced right through me as a reminder to be grateful in all things. Even under the dirt and behind a make shift mask his face glowed.

I also noticed that they still wore their wedding bands. Tells me that they have not been out there too long. Most folks would have pawned for a room. Also tells me that they are determined to stay a family.

My husband and I made one last pass thru the street to make sure we hadn’t missed anybody we saw. Thought I had gone crazy because the couple and that old dog were suddenly gone. No way they could have moved that fast. We had just circled the block.

All I can do is wonder if we had been visited and tested. I pray we passed. My own food is still in the fridge. No need for it. My heart filled me.

RE-POTTED

It’s 3 a.m.

Knowing full well that I have to be ready for work in 4 short hours, I am changing the flower pot holding a certain plant on my dining room table.

Honestly, I can’t even tell you what kind of plant she is. All I know is that when I acquired her the tag said “low maintenance.” She ( I determined that because it was far too pretty to be otherwise) was an impulse purchase made immediately after I had been diagnosed with cancer.  

“I want life in this house. Something that grows!” That is was I screamed at my husband when he questioned my purchase. He was right to be puzzled because my green thumb was notoriously lacking. Not even faux plants were safe from me.

But this one said “low maintenance.” I knew she would not fail me. I needed that in my life knowing that my world was about to change. All I had to do was water, feed, turn some light on her. I would sing around her and we would both be alright.

Fast forward. Just about 15 months later. The hard part is done. Surgery, chemo, radiation over. Hair growing back. Returning to more life as Michelle and less as a patient. Busy, busy, busy.

I’m doing pretty good. Her? Not so much. This morning I could practically hear her crying. Missing some leaves. Some turning yellow. Not growing anymore.  

I wanted to give excuses. I wanted to blame Her for not living up to the guarantee. I swore I had not changed a thing. I was still doing my regular routine care of Her.

Or was I?

Was it this Sunday or last? Had my every Sunday morning ritual of loving on Her become less regular? When was the last time I added plant food. Did I forget that She was not a cactus?

I realized from feeling around her soil that water was not this issue. Her position near the light was giving Her the proper hours each day.

Her roots were exposing but She was dying. I realized She was not growing, changing, and evolving because she had no room to. The normal processes of day to day without the promise to expand space had choked the life from Her. Literally.

Routine care was killing Her.

Her, was teaching me a lesson.  Daring me not to return to my “low maintenance” life from before cancer. Her yellowing leaves were weeping begging me to remember to not just breathe but to live.

And then I began to weep.

A few days ago, I lost a beautiful friend. Not to cancer but to a stupid flu bug. I begin to think of her as that neglected plant. Loving, caring, giving her all to make the lives of others beautiful. But not requiring much in return.

Too young to die, but who had convinced herself she was too old to try new things.  

She was an awesome cook who dreamed of catering, but was stuck at a desk job. After many years, she got caught in a company downsizing. I tried to make her see it as an opportunity to finally make use of that awesome kitchen. I even bought her a chef’s hat with her name monogrammed on it, hoping to it motivate her.  I never saw her wear it outside of the day I gave it to her at the office.

So I am still weeping at this awful hour with dirt under my fingernails. Heartbroken at the thought of what could have been if she had just re-repotted.

Now don’t get me wrong. She had a beautiful life. She had an amazing soul.  Her love was beyond compare. But I always could feel her holding back what was truly inside.  She gave herself routine care with no room to expand.

Then I begin to think of the others I lost during the past 15 months. To the ravishing of  cancer clinical and otherwise.  Where might they  have wanted their roots to go? How tall did they want to be?

I realized that their memories were speaking to me through the plant I am fighting to save.

Fight to grow! Everyday! Don’t accept a low maintenance condition when you are born to reach for light. Don’t let the routine “have to” things keep you from being as green as you can possibly be. Don’t let any disappointment, disability or person impede the life you were born to live.

So, now I am completing this task with love. I will probably have the smell of fresh potting soil in my nose all day.  I should have worn gloves to keep me from having any dirt under my nails when I go to work.

But it’s okay. It will be a reminder that I am meant to grow to a bigger pot. Doing my work …but chasing my dreams!!!

In memory of Michelle Rodgers Baber. The most beautiful flower transplanted to Heaven on January 17, 2020. “See ya later, Darling.”