Sorry for not having posted in a while. It’s never easy. And it still isn’t. I’ve probably typed and deleted these very first couple of sentences, over 100 times. Procrastinated. Started, stopped, and started again. In and out of anxiety, just thinking about writing. Having been over a month now, I don’t think it’ll ever be enough. I wish you were still here Mom. More than ever. Happy belated Thanksgiving; for the first time without you. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
On October 24th, 2017, I lost my mother.
I was working a PM shift that night. My last day of orientation, at a new place. With an hour or so left to go, I probably saw 10+ missed calls on my phone. I was on break, taking a quick breather outside. Coincidentally (and no one knows this), when I went on a quick breather a few hours before, I locked eyes with a midnight black cat. Though, I’m not necessarily a superstitious man.
When I saw the missed calls and texts, I saw they were from my brother. “CALL ME.” And at that very moment, I had found out she passed. I sat down on a bench, just outside the hospital, and everything fell silent. Colder. I walked back through the long entrance hallway, back onto the unit, told my supervisor, grabbed my things, and road the Harley back home.
I was employed at a different inpatient psych facility, a month and a half before. During my time there, unfortunately, there were many different staff members taking bereavement leave. This was going on throughout the whole summer. People were just going, left and right. And the reason I’m even bringing this up right now, as solemn as it was, is because one of my co-workers told me about some Filipino belief. Apparently in the Philippines, when people pass, neighbors (and everyone for that matter) would mourn with those families; light candles, etc. It is believed that the Grim Reaper is around the presence of everyone, and is likely to take someone else who is close by. Something like that. Again, I’m not necessarily a superstitious man. But by the end of the summer, the grandmother of my friend who told me that story, passed away. And obviously, a couple of months later, my Mom did too.
My mother and father were on their route back home, from a vacation in the Philippines. According to my father, 20 minutes or so before landing into Hawaii, my mother got up to use the restroom and suddenly collapsed on the floor. An ER nurse was on that flight and she coded her. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough.
That night, I packed a suit case and had my girl drop me off at LAX. I had nothing black. Hell, I didn’t even own a pair of black dress shoes. For what it’s worth, I brought a black hoodie that I typically wear and my vans. But to be honest, I barely brought anything that down played the mood. I guess that just goes to show that no one is ever prepared for things like this. At my mother’s viewing, my brother told relatives about how stressed out he was, when he couldn’t find me at the terminal gate. He thought I was stuck in traffic or maybe something worse. Turns out, I was already posted at the bar and our flight was at like 0730. #LOL. #Getoffmyback. Nevertheless, the plan was to meet with my brother in LAX, fly down to Honolulu, and ultimately bring her body back home to Maryland.
In Hawaii, there was a lot of fluff on legality and documentation that needed to be processed; ie. the death certificate, waiting for the MD to sign off on the autopsy, getting that paperwork back to the airlines, faxing it to a funeral home in Maryland. All of which, ideally, needed to be done before the weekend, in order for us to have a good turn out for my mother’s viewing. The first couple of nights in Honolulu, were a headache. There were even moments where everyone was just not on the same page. All in all, I just didn’t care to hear it. Why was this process so difficult? Everyone get it together already! It was frustrating. Luckily, we had some help.
My father works for United Airlines, and I can’t help but say, that they really take care of their own. In regards to my father’s heart attack episode over a year ago and now this, the company couldn’t have been more helpful. In Honolulu, we had the help of Quintin, an operations manager who managed United for the whole airport. He managed all the paperwork, adjusting our flights, getting us access to the concierge lounge, and getting us access to the ground at the airport (so we can watch the casket in and out of the plane). He even chauffeured us around the city. It really helped.
For the lack of a better way to put it, bringing my mother back home was very ceremonial. Growing up, we’d always take flights everywhere, as a family. We just had that luxury. It still also helps that my brother works for the airlines too. I have never paid for an airline ticket in my life. #WIN. Nevertheless, it was such a normal thing for us; every summer, winter, whenever. Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve grown up to not really like flying all that much. I personally feel that you miss a lot of the country when you fly. Anyway, the whole process of it all is just unsettling and exhausting. I guess that’s one of the reasons I hardly fly back home. But, things were different. This time, we all flew together as a family, one last time.
That Friday morning, before the weekend, the MD cleared the paperwork. We were finally scheduled to see my mother’s body at the funeral home, and then catch an evening flight home. The Honolulu funeral home was pretty. Very “Hawaiian/Pacific,” for the lack of a more appropriate, non-ignorant way of saying it. Colorful, with a ton of exotic flowers… the purples, the pinks, the yellows, the reds and all their different shades. All of which gracefully decorated in a more calming, soothing, peaceful matter; rather than joyous, bright, and exciting.
We were all sitting in a simple, quiet office, then a lady came in and said “We are ready for you now.” We all stood up, and I fell behind my father and brother. I was hesitant. Spaced out, in a daze. My body was present, but my mind was just stuck on thinking about how awful of a son I was… rolling my eyes every time I talked to my mother on the phone, being a video chat child, not remembering the last time I felt the warmth of my mother hugs.
The Hawaiian sun grazed into the chapel that morning, with it’s fresh purified air circulating all around us. And there she was. Lying beautifully, peacefully, dressed in purple. You felt cold. It wasn’t easy. It never is. It’s never easy Mom. Life is stressful. And a struggle. Day by day. I feel like I never know what I’m doing.
At the airport, we exited off through the door, right before you enter the plane. We were escorted down the stairs and stood by the belly. And there she was again; in a generic transport coffin, labeled “FRAGILE, HANDLE WITH CAUTION,” with her name on it. She was remotely operated and placed into the belly of the plane, as if she was some wholesale product being placed into a bin by a pallet jack on steroids. And this ceremony replayed over and over, until we got back home to Maryland.
Landing in BWI, I have to mention, was something more than special. My cousins and aunts were escorted, with ground passes, to meet us at the belly off the plane. All my dad’s and brother’s colleagues were there too. My brother works for Southwest. It was as if everyone working that day, just stopped what they were doing at the airport, and mourned with us. She was more beautiful coming back home. There really isn’t enough words to describe it. Everyone had a white colored flower in their hands, and placed it on top of her coffin. We were all finally escorted out, in big black SUVs.
For a second there, it almost felt like we were the Kennedys or something. My mother always had a knack for being the center of attention. #eyerolling.
Back home, my best friend was literally by the hip. You couldn’t really ask for more, in a best friend. That’s all a good support system really is…being there for you, through the thick and thin. And even give you reality checks, when you need it most. It was Saturday morning, and we were both trying to get all blacked down, for the viewing ceremony later that afternoon. We went through your typical department stores; Macy’s, JCPenny, Nordstroms. My mind was just so out of it all. Hell, I was already wearing a black hoodie and my all black Vans.
So, there I was… looking at the mind numbing prices of the jackets, shoes, all of it. I flipped. I got anxious. I got pissed and annoyed. “Why the hell can’t I just go like this? Just as I am?! Holy Jesus! For crying out loud! I don’t want to be here in this store anymore!” Anybody in that situation would just tell you to relax, take a deep breath, and enabled you to walk out of the store. My best friend raised his tone, snapped back, and assertively said, “THIS IS YOUR F**KING MOTHER. BUY THE DAMN SHIRT AND JACKET.” We ended up being like 30 minutes late. We also stopped at the local liquor store, grabbed a flask and a bottle of bourbon. #LOL. #drinkresponsibly.
Not to seem selfish, but the whole couple weeks were just exhausting. I was pressured to do this and do that. I felt obligated to do things, go places. I had to put on the “calm, warm, pleasant” face, to everyone; family, relatives, friends, people I don’t even know for crying out loud. It was like being on the milieu. I had to act in a professional kind of manner. I gave intermittent smiles, throughout the whole damn time. It was exhausting. People were in and out of my aunt’s house… having prayer group, food, conversation, drinking, socializing, etc.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked my dad for the keys to the car, excused myself and drove back home. From the day I left home to dorm at college, lived in Bonaire for 2 years, Chicago for 3, and having now been in San Diego for almost 2… I barely went home. I was distant. I avoided it. I was in my own world… my head so far up my ass… and probably still is. Ever since I came to California, my mother would always tell me things like “I’ve changed… you’re not as caring… you never call… there’s something different about you.” The last time I saw my mother was on a video chat, before she left for the Philippines. And all I wanted to do that day was just sit at home with my mom. Sit on the couch… just right there… next to her. But, I found myself alone, crying on the floor in an empty house… wishing she was there.
Two weeks later, I flew back to San Diego and went back to work on a Wednesday. I was there… embracing work again. People coming up to me, giving me hugs, etc. And just like any other day, I minded my business, put up face and worked through all the garbage my patients were flinging. I got through that night, though. It was pretty routine. But, after just one night of being back, I knew deep down in my heart something had to change.
I had just gotten off of orientation and I already felt the need to get the stink off my back. I was in such a rut; which is why I quit for another job. I once read, “so much time is wasted on something you already know.” To that regard, I can’t say this enough, you have to be happy where you are; if not, move on. I needed new scenery, new people in my life, a different route to work. Sadly, constantly feeling the need to change/move to a different location seems to be a common “thing” for me in my life. Luckily for me, as sudden as it was, it was definitely a better move in my career. That just goes to show change doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing.
Being a psych nurse, having to go through all of this, you’d think I’d have some sense. But, I don’t know anymore than the next nurse. I get my fair share of depressed patients, admitting through the doors. Having to deal with them and their emotions, 5 stages of grief, etc., is above and beyond me. We encourage medications on our patients, in hopes that it will work… prompt them to do things; ie. shower, eat, be more active in the milieu, blah blah blah. Yet, in an empathetic sort of way, sometimes supervised silence can be good too. I feel anyway.
Everyone copes in different ways. And for me, just wanting to be alone and not messed with is what I wanted. I just wanted some time to personally seek a peace of mind. Sometimes patients need that, again everyone copes differently and at their own pace. And sometimes, as fortunate as I was, patients may or may not have those inner mental/social tools to aid in getting out of “the rut.” With that said, in helping one another to get out of depression, I find that the goal is really just to aid one another in seeking that path to continue life; finding the light to move on. Time waits for no one.
My mother said things like, “slow, but sure.” She was the type of woman who would interrupt your television program, just so she can hop on the Magic Mic and make you hear her singing. She supported my every decision, saying things like, “you know, what’s best for you.” She was a Registered Nurse. Throughout her whole life, she put others first, before herself. She cared. She gave a damn.
I love you Mom. I miss you so much.