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Losing Mom

Sandra Polvinale

This is an intimate diary of grief unveiled between Mother and child. It seems to be a perfect story for Advent. (The Madonna and Child) It is a glimpse in time of an intense account of a love story of two souls of the last week of my Mother's life that any human being can relate. It is my prayerful desire that this story of two souls will help even just one person to understand that to grieve the profound loss of a parent is healthy. To grieve and mourn is to love deeply. Even Jesus wept.

I was there when my Mother was born

In the 1950's during a hot steamy heat wave in June, my mother watched me being born via mirrors that she called the miracle of birth. On a crisp October day in 2009 I watched and cradled my Mother in my arms as she once cradled me, also watching the miracle of birth. Two souls being very present to each other. Yes, I was there when my Mother was born into eternal life. It was well beyond the thin wall of matter of what is seen and not seen. It is a mystical mysterious place of total love some call heaven and some just call HOME.

Many people that know me well have been listening to the stories of traveling two hours at any given time to be with my aging parents to visit; but more so, to help cook and freeze meals since my Mother couldn't cook anymore and I didn't want my Father to always have to resort to carry out meals.

Mom needed me to help her shower since she had such a fear of showering alone, due to a hard fall in a tub years ago from shampoo being in her eyes. She was heavy with child and developed a phobia from the slip in the tub carrying my unborn brother.

It was the ultimate in suffering seeing my dear Mother ailing with a lung disease when she was such an insatiable comic, vivacious and talented artist, illustrator, cartoonist, designer and opera singer. Momma Chic, (pronounced Chick) as her hairstylist Maria and friends called her, was a Senator Theater Baltimore Beauty Queen Contestant; full of love for so many people transcending all ages or races. This just made me long for someone to hand me a silk handkerchief to wipe my tears that are often racing light years beyond the endurance of my emotional boundaries. I have been told by a friend that faith is doing the work of God in total darkness, knowing the strength will come from HIM, not me. My broken heart is expanding from what I have gone through in order to help others.

The Prophetic dream

In June my Mother had another infection, did her usual hospital stay and returned home. All seemed fine. It was business as usual they thought. I had a different feeling.

I come from a family of artists, musicians, intellectuals, teachers, poets, storytellers and yes, mystics. That night I had a powerful dream. It shook me up enough to take notice. I was in a hospital room in a high rise hotel with a picture window over looking a large river that sparkled like diamonds. My two little sisters were in the room with me along with some choice pets. I looked out the picture window and saw my Father, old and navigating down a flight of stairs to the river that had huge rocks going to the other side of the shore with a great beautiful green forest. He held my Mother's hand but she truly didn't need to hold on to him due to being in her early thirties with short dark brown hair and a dress with a full skirt. I was mesmerized by her beauty and was amazed to see her so energetic, flexible and just so pliant. I felt the rumble of an earthquake and fell back grabbing and searching for my little sisters that are always young in my dreams. When I looked out the window my Father was in the water, but my Mother was washed up on the shore showing no sign of life. I screamed, "Somebody help her! Do something!" But nobody acted like they had even heard me. It was business as usual in that room.

When I realized my Mother was dead I screamed a blood curdling scream from my toes on up. My Mother had gone to "the other side" of the river. I immediately called my family to give them a "heads up" to spend as much time with Mom as they could, for soon she will not be holding on to my Father's hand. She will be gone from our sight. Across the big divide between heaven and earth. I emailed my brother and said, "I had THE dream" Please come soon and have a good visit with Mom. I felt from the dream it was going to be a matter of three months. I HAD THE DREAM! Come soon!

The shock is over

I had a call from my Mother the day before. "Sandi, I hate to worry you darling, but I don't feel too well." Mom was rushed again to the hospital. My heart sunk to the furthest depth of my stomach. "Is this it," Mom said to my sister at her condo? Only God knows the time or place I thought.

I went around the house robotically, preparing to be away for a spell as I had been doing for two years now, with some bags always packed in the car.

That evening, I was in a state of unreality liken to a dream, but one you can't escape from waking. I couldn't sleep. So, I began to write an email to a girlfriend. The email was fragmented, as were my grievous thoughts.

Dear Denise, It is 12:30 AM. I laid in bed tonight and stared at the ceiling. Just couldn't sleep. The realization of what was going to happen soon was surreal. I started crying. No, wailing! I cried so loud and hard I startled my pets and they ran and hid. The cry sounded different from that of the cry before my husband died. Very different. I analyzed it to take myself out of myself. It was the cry of a baby for its Mother. MOM! I am a grown woman in my 50's yet still my Mother's child, my Mother's baby, my Mother's only blonde she watched being born. I am her baby girl. I have cried so hard that I have no energy to type. My fingers feel like concrete. The reality is sinking in. She will be gone from my sight soon. I need to stay a long time down there. I'll get my affairs in order here at home. Again, I am not home.

I can hear my Mother saying to her friends, "You know, Sandi is my best friend, and she is always here for me no matter what." "I replayed her messages I had saved all year on the answering machine saying, "Hello darling, it's just Mom. Where's my best friend?" "I worry about you darling. You're working too hard. Is everything alright? I feel like there's something wrong. (She always knew) Make sure you call me, sweetheart."

I started thinking maybe a little too much. Who will worry about me? Who will care if I got home safely" I don't want to be orphaned! I am already widowed, now orphaned? It's not fair! Life can be so beautiful and at times so unfair. I need to go to bed and pray she isn't gone yet, until I get to see her. I can still go down to see her tomorrow. I wanted to storm heaven for one last family Thanksgiving. Please Lord, just one frivolous prayer.

Who will listen to my poems and articles and tell me they were just great! Who will listen to my songs when I write one and sing it to her a million times and each time she loves it that much more? Who will ask to see my artwork and be so proud of me? Who besides my Mom will have the loving kindness to love me with all my flaws, thorns and scales? WHO?!

God may send me a maternal friend, or maybe He just wants me cozied up to Him through all this. Fiat Lord. Thy Will be done. Time to climb the stairs and say goodnight. My legs are like lead. I'll call you later Denise. Love, Sandi

Silent Night, Holy Night

The next day as I drove the familiar road two hours away, a Christmas song was drifting through my mind. Silent night, Holy night. All is calm all is bright. Round yon Virgin Mother and Child….sleep in heavenly peace. I had day dreams drifting in and out as I drove the long trek to the hospital. I saw her with short dark brown hair with those large dark black brown eyes that pulled anyone into her field of gravity straight in! "Dream of angels", she would say, as she kissed my eyes every night tucking me in bed along with the song my Aunt Doris wrote time to go to dreamland little girl of mine.

My Mother was not afraid to die at all! In fact, she was so excited to see her God she loved and spoke with every day. My sister asked her who she was excited to see first. The answer surprised me totally! She said, "Harold." "Who is he, I inquired?" "Harold is my brother that died as a baby. I want to see him first!" I never knew his name, I thought. Well, go figure.

At the hospital, my Mother didn't look good at all. She had not eaten in a week yet was chattering away. She said "I don't know why, but I feel like I am ready to go," (and she pointed up). I said, "Mom, What makes you think you're going to die soon?" "I just have a feeling darling. Please don't be sad. Be happy for me!" I asked if I could take a picture of her looking so bad so that I can look back later and say, no, I don't wish Mom were still here. She needed to go home. She agreed that it may help me, so let me snap a photo of her. One was all I needed.

My Mother always made me promise since I was a child to never ever let her go into a nursing home. Even though I worked in the finest nursing facility for 3 years, I made that promise. And a promise is a promise to me.

My Mother had the special grace of being totally cognizant the entire time until she died. So, she opted for Hospice at home care. It was one of the most intense weeks I have ever spent, but would do it all again for her, because when you truly love somebody you want to be present in every aspect of their lives from birth, to meals, to weddings, to hospital stays, death and funerals or just sitting talking. When you really love somebody you want to be at the ordinary and extraordinary parts of their lives.

Roles are reversed when your Momma is an age you never thought in your wildest dreams she would live to be. Imagine that. You think your parents will always be young and healthy and be there to take care of you. Well, roles get reversed and we take care of them. It is a joy and an honor. Noses are wiped; we feed them, change their undergarments and dry their tears, alleviating their fears. We get right in the shower with them if they are scared, because they would do it for us. Getting old isn't for wimps my friend once said.

I'm going on a trip tonight

One morning, my Mom sat up and said, "I'm going on a trip tonight darling." I said "Really? Where are you going?" Her brows furrowed a bit like someone thinking and she said, "Uh, I don't know." I said, "Is Dad going on this trip with you?" She laughed and said "oh no, he'll have to go by his self." Then the thoughts and words that came out of her mouth from the deepest part of her soul that she wasn't even sure about, left her and she started talking about something else. For she WAS going on a trip, a very special journey.

During one day she said, I feel different. I feel something's different in my body. I asked if she was in pain and she said no.

Two days before she was eating like crazy! Everything you can think of she wanted. It was great. But she wasn't moving her bowels and that bothered me. I gave her enough Milk of Magnesia to move an elephant, but nothing happened. I knew the body was shutting down at that point. It broke my heart.

I would moan at times and cry in the shower. I heard Mom moaning one night and from her attached bathroom it was like questions were being asked within her moans and I answered them with my groaning rhythmic moans. Waves of moans echoed and drifted through the night like a mist flowing over a pond at dusk. It was heart wrenching. I just moaned and cried all that night as I worked in slow motion. By the grace of God I kept vigil all week 24/7. Getting cat naps when the Hospice people came in.

Two of my sisters were there for a few days all together in her room with me. And my older sister came, cooked some fresh food and played her guitar for Mom. She loved it! All three of my sisters were around her bed singing "time to go to dreamland" as she once sung to all five of her children. Whenever her two living brothers or her son would call, I would hold the phone right to her ear even if it looked like she was asleep. She was really in what I call twilight mode. This is just like when a computer goes to sleep to conserve energy. It is the e same thing.

A traffic jam in heaven?

Three days before she flew off to the better place we all call home, she had a burst of energy we call the rallying point. Everything she had a craving for, we bought and she ate quite a bit!

One morning she woke up real early before the sun came up. I was in a rare deep sleep by her bedside. Keeping an exhausting 24/7 vigil was extremely tiring. In a very typical comical pose, Mom took off her oxygen, flung her arms dramatically in the air with her fingers flared and said, "This is the way to go!" Waking abruptly with an excited exclamation I said "What?!" Mom said again, now with much more gusto, "THIS is the way to go!!!" I have my High Definition TV, my girls, in my own home and all the good food I can eat! THIS is the way to go! One of my sisters with a good sense of humor said, well Mom, are you going now? Uh…no, I don't think so, said sheepishly. Well, just tell me when you do; otherwise I'm going back to sleep. And all us sisters all lined up in beds and sofa cushions all laughed at once. My Mother had a great comedic sense of humor and appreciated the laugh.

This was the beginning of the end, for it was the fifth day now, and on the sixth day the angels came and all heaven was silent as God prepared the banquet table. Even while working in a nursing facility for years, I had never scene someone go from walking around the house to a quick decline in a week.

The hospice nurse came in and said, Miss Chic, what are you waiting for? Is there a traffic jam in heaven? I saw Mom's eyebrow rise up and a small smile was on her face. I even put make up on her with her eyebrows that she never went out of the house with to see if she wanted to be "dressed" for her trip.

When the CNA (a darling woman) would come in and do her AM care and massage Mom with creams, she would say to me, "Oh Sandi, this is wonderful! Look at me! I am getting pampered, and expensive creams rubbed on me and a massage every day!" I laughed and said,"Why, of course Mom, you're on a mini vacation!" (A quote from a previous article I wrote on stress reduction she loved and kept on her end table) We both laughed as we always did, and she said, "Well, this might be my last vacation, but it is the best one I ever had!" And we laughed until we cried!

The Ruby slippers from the wizard of Oz?

When you love somebody you do just about anything to make them feel joy or laugh. Love transcends all time and space, and in MY family nothing is sacred when it comes to humor.

Momma Chic was in her twilight state as two of my sisters were gathered around her bedside with me. They thought Mom was asleep and didn't think Mom could hear us. I said, "Oh yeah? Well watch this."

Remember, my Mother was a gracious refined fashion plate and a Beauty Pageant Queen from the 1950's.With a look of total mischief on my face, I walked over and picked up a pair of my sister's new shoes that looked like the ruby slippers in the Wizard of Oz. I said "Mom, have you seen your daughter's new red sparkly patent leather shoes?" Right away like the great miracle of Lazarus coming out from the tomb, she sat up eyes wide open and was jabbering on and on about how cute they were, and were they comfortable and would not let go of them. My sisters laughed so hard we were crying, once again from humor.

Another time she was in her sleep mode when I called my man friend to come play his violin for Celtic music she loved. He stood at the foot of her bed and just looked on as she seemed to be sleeping. Oh no no no! She again sat right up waved and smiled her model runway smile only a beauty queen knows how to do. I laughed so hard. We all did, including Mom! My Mother is the only one I have ever known that would come straight out of a coma for a beautiful pair of shoes and a cute guy! My Mother kept her keen sense of humor the entire time.

My Father was teasing her saying he wanted to get her checkbook to pay one of her bills. She shot right up again and said "No way!" She had laid back down, sat up with her finger pointing at him in jest with enthusiasm and said "No way Jose!" And we all roared with laughter. She was forever the comedian. My Mother really knew how to work a room.

Is this what they call the death rattles?

My Mother became serious for a moment, sat upright and held my hand with both her tiny petite hands and said, "Sandi, my darling baby girl, I am so sorry you had such a hard life. I truly am." I just smiled and said, "But Mom, I had you!"

I said "Mom, do you want me to tell you the truth of what is going on with your body as time goes on, or would you prefer to not know?" "Sandi, I am not afraid to die and would like to know everything going on." My Mother was a fighter from the word go all her life. One day Mom was struggling for breath and she had a gurgle sound. Mom said, "Sandi, is this what they call the death rattles?" "I think so Mom, but we have medicines here to take care of that. Does that frighten you Mom?" "Oh no darling, I'm ready for Freddie!" And she laughed. But Mom pointed upward and said I can't wait to see Jesus. I am SO ready to go home." "I know Mom, I am a little envious. I can't wait to see Him too, but not too soon!" And we both chuckled.

"Mom, if you see your Mother or Jesus coming to get you, would you tell me straight up, wouldn't you?" Mom chuckled at that and said, "Sure I would!" "OK Mom, just checking."

Going Home, Going Home, we are going home…

From the old African American folk hymns, I heard in my head, the tune, "Going home".

"I'm ready to go home Sandi, but will you stay with me and hold me?" "I will hold you for as long as you want. I am never too tired to hold you Mom!" "Mom, when you get to heaven, would you please tell Chris that I'm not too mad that I haven't heard from him in a while?" We both laughed but knew we were serious also.

Mom really hasn't been feeling well in a long time. When I would come to visit, we would sleep together like sisters in her double bed and hold hands as we chatted and drifted off to sleep giggling and whispering. I usually fell asleep first since I worked so hard. One time she started talking real loud and woke me up out of a sound sleep, and I said "MOM! I was asleep!" "Oh, I'm sorry darling. I just wanted to know about the boyfriend you were dating." And I said, "Which one?" And that was enough to roar into laughter until we cried. I said, "Well, I'm my Mother's daughter." And she laughed again reminding me of her youth and dating.

The hearing is very acute in the end of your life. You could hear a pin drop on a carpet.

My sisters and I were getting a little slap happy with lack of sleep and giggling in the bathroom adjoining her bedroom. She looked over at us, pointed her finger and raised her eyebrow. We laughed and I said, "I know Mom, we're funny!" And she smiled a square smile, since her muscles were not all functioning now. She laughed and smiled and joked until Jesus came to get her, for Jesus created a character beyond belief.

The hardest thing I ever had to ask my Mother

The closer we got to my sister's birthday, the more agitated my sister grew. I called my brother that shares a birthday to see if it would bother him to have Mom die on his birthday. He was fine with that. My little sister was pacing and worrying day after day that my Mother would die on her birthday. Mom had already given her birthday gift and Dad had mailed her card with Mom, Dad and I signing it.

There was no known reason my Mother was hanging on. Time was ticking and her trip at night as she called it was not taken as of yet. She had not gone on this announced trip. My sister was becoming so upset thinking about her birthday and Mom leaving on that day. I felt so sorry for her, for she is the baby of the family.

I went in to Mom's room alone and held her in my arms, rocking her gently whispering Mom…Mom…can you hear me, it's Sandi. She nodded her head yes. I asked her to open her eyes and look at me. She did. "Mom, I need to ask you the hardest thing I have ever asked anyone." As I rocked her slowly, I asked her if she was holding on to be here for her children's birthdays. "Mom, IS THERE A TRAFFIC JAM IN HEAVEN? Because if there isn't, please, it is just three hours until your kid's birthdays and your little one is getting herself all worked up. Please Mom, relax and feel yourself float to heaven. Let's do some relaxing breathing and feel yourself just float to Jesus. Mom nodded to say yes, now I see. She actually squeezed her eyes together like she was concentrating and talking to God him self…..

All my Mother ever wanted to do in her life was to be just that… a Mother. She had talents that could have made her so famous and she had been an illustrator of Jet planes in Baltimore and sold hundreds of paintings won prizes, sang in mini operas and was a beauty queen. But all she ever wanted to be was a good Mother and wife. Mom was distressed to see her youngest child so distressed, so as one last sacrifice being a devoted Mother to the end, she took her last breath as smooth as silk. So peaceful my Mother's soul was carried away by the angels themselves. My Momma Chic willed herself to pass to the angels as only a Mother can do 35 minutes before her children's birthdays. It was a peaceful and beautiful transition full of grace and dignity as the gracious woman she was all her life.

May the angels welcome you to paradise. May the martyrs greet you on your way. May you see the face of the Lord this day. My Mother and my husband now gone from my sight, but not lost forever, until we meet again Mom. "I love you more than you love me," I said to her in a camera video. "Oh No you don't." That little clip of video is one of the most precious gifts my Mother has ever given me. To say she loved me before she went to heaven, and she did!

My insane night

My Mother was dead. Not in this world as flesh anymore. I have seen the ugly face of extreme grief and knew the one intense day was coming where you feel totally crazy. I have seen this demon and was waiting to come face to face. And so it came. Bring it on!

I felt like I was a drift at sea. A song by Phil Collins Against all Odds from 1984 was running through my head. You were the only one that really knew me at all. I looked on line and sang the song as I wept out loud. Every word was Momma Chic and I. It was late, so I emailed a friend.

My dear friend, I feel like I am having a nice little neat nervous breakdown right now, although nerves do not brake down. I can hardly type. It is so late. My feet feel cold from walking in slow motion on the kitchen floor and downstairs from my bedroom. I was screaming for my Mom! Where are you? You said you could do more for me in heaven! I can't feel you! Where are you! I can't remember the way you smelled. Can't stop this crazy kind of crying. I feel crazy, but know it is extreme grief. I feel like I am walking in a dream. My eyes look so bad that I wonder if it is me in the mirror! Is it me? Did I die also? Am I dead? The thoughts that go through your head with crazy grief! This too will pass.

I feel dead but I remain breathing. I am semi-here. "Where are you Mom I screamed! Are you praying for me? I can't feel it" This is being grief stricken too hard. I can hardly breathe. "Where are you Chris? Aren't you praying for me? Where are all the angels and saints in heaven when you need them? Did I step on them?" (I thought to look under my shoe to make sure and then, that made me laugh.) I am cried out. SPENT. I want so much to go to bed.

I am looking like a crazy person for Mom's pictures, her video on my camera and listening over again all the messages on my answering machine just to hear her sweet voice. "Hello darling, it's just me, Mom. I haven't heard from you in a few days. Call me back". The thought that I couldn't call her made this dragon of grief crazier! I am walking to get tissues but my legs feel like stumps. "I am hurting all over Mom! Where is my Mother to soothe my wounds? Where? I want my Mother! She is in no pain, and now I have it all? What is this?" Not fair is the beast of grief. It is a big fat bully of a beast, it is! Not fair to a soul. Yet, what I am feeling, I know is normal. This is why I am sharing my deepest pain with you. So the grief will be unveiled and exposed for the normal reaction it is. Normal, yet everything seems so abnormal now.

I hate this grief, yet I love it because I have had to make friends with it so many times. That is not good. Not good at all I thought. OK, my crazy grief is calming down until the next wave of grief smacks me with all it's reality in the face again. There is a lull in the angry grief, the I want to move out of state grief, the I can't stand up grief, the where is my God and angels when I need you grief! I sit alone. My pets have all scattered I wail so loud, grief.

I stumble and try to hold the walls as I grab on to anything that feels upright and normal. Now the beast is calm. The lion of grief is now a kitten. But for how long? A night? A day? An hour? A second?

My Mother was so loved that the world shrieks and wails for her. Mourners like the Jews of old. I am wiped out. I am my Mother's only blonde she watched being born and I watched and held my Momma Chic be born as she entered Eternity. That's not such a bad deal. Heaven. Peace. Well, we'll see each other one day, but I can't feel you Mom. Where were all those prayers you promised me? Are they on your street?

Come here to my shack of a house! I could use the angel power! And bring your lipstick, because my lips are all chapped from crying now. That's it! I have had it! I am going to bed. I hope and pray I can sleep. Goodnight Mom. Dream of angels darling. I hurt Mom. I hurt badly. What's this more tears? I thought I ran out of them.

My Mother had enough love for anyone that came her way. A Mother in all true sense of the word. How Blessed I am how very blessed. Goodnight Mom. Dream of angels darling.

My Mother spoke to me from the grave

After I came home from the funeral, I opened my favorite devotional book called God calling and found a beautiful card. It was not dated, however it must have been written at least 7 years ago when I felt very sick. I believe someone had died. Yes, it was from my Mother. The words were like they were for just today, here and now. The card itself said: Today I was thinking of you I was thinking of you today and I was wishing that I could just drop in and chat with you. But since that isn't possible, this little card comes to remind you that you are special to me and you are often in my thoughts and prayers.

The hand written note said,Sunday night: Dearest Sandi, I just want to help you as best I can honey! Remember the funny things Chris used to say to you that made you laugh. Try to remember anything that will make you laugh! I know what you are going through is more than rough. I have been down that road many times darling, believe me. It takes guts and spunk and you have both! So, when you can't take much more, and nothing seems to work, remember to give it over to God! Talk to Him and tell Him you can't handle it, but HE can. It really works. Remember, you're always in my prayers and I love you with all my heart! Keep up, my little one. Love, Mom.

Yes, this was a diary of one of the greatest losses of anyone's life. The death of a Mother. A true intimate love story of just a glimpse into the wounds of a grieving soul is for you to see what normal grief can be like. The intense feelings that may make you feel you won't make it, but you will. You will. And your loved one will communicate in my opinion, from beyond the veil in ways you would never before imagined. May you all have peace within your hearts and souls as you walk the journey of losing a parent. God bless you all. Dream of angels darlings!

Love, Sandi

Read other articles by Sandra Polvinale