it's rare that i think about my mom on the last day i saw her. i prefer to think about all the days before that day because i've worked through most of the pain of that last day and the days to follow. but for the story, today i needed to go back to that day.
here's a little bit of what i remember from way back when...
Come to think of it, it was 7 days from the last time I saw my mom until I found out she was dead. And 7 days from that time until I saw her in the mortuary. I held her hand—no, that’s a lie. You can’t say that you held someone’s hand when they’re dead and they don’t know you’re holding it, can you? When they’re not holding your hand back?there are so many parallels between my mother's and father's deaths. and still, they were nothing alike.
I entered the room. Was anyone with me? Must have been because I remember asking for some time alone with her. My grandmother was skeptical about leaving me alone with her. So was my father, but he might have known better than to attempt persuading me not to. They left the room and a silence I’d never heard before filled the room. My mother was in the room, but there was no laughter. There were no jokes. There were no rules or restrictions. She wasn’t ever going to ground me again or tell me to get off the phone again or tell me anything, ever again.
I went to a funeral with my mom when I was thirteen. This was nothing like that. I thought I was sad when Brandy Fernandez died. But if that was sadness, it felt nothing like this. I’d heard before that when you lose someone you love it feels like your heart is being ripped out. I didn’t believe them until I felt the tearing of my flesh beneath my skin. It was slow and subtle at first, and then like chains and pulleys had been wrapped around it to be pulled out of my chest. I was afraid to look for fear of seeing blood drip from my wounded soul.
Someone—who was it? My father? My therapist? A stranger walking down the street?—suggested I write a letter to my mom and tell her all the things I wished I could have before she died. To share my soul with her on paper, then read it aloud to her; to her spirit. I pulled myself together as best I could and did what I was told. I began reading. One word and then another. I began to sob. I kept reading. Through sobs, I focused on the words on the page and getting them out. And while I read I missed her. I missed my mom. I wanted to hold her hand again. I wanted to feel the warm touch of my mother’s hand just one more time. Without thinking about what I was doing, I reached my hand into her casket and put my hand on hers. This is where I wonder if I held her hand.
It wasn’t supposed to feel like that.
I remember walking in the room now; an image that’s stuck in my mind all these years. Nothing looked liked her except her lips and her hands. I never noticed how much our hands looked alike until that day. But they no longer felt alike.
I couldn’t believe what I felt against my skin. Just like the silence I’d never knew existed, I felt a coldness no living person can ever truly understand. For all of my sixteen years, my mom had the warmest hands I’d ever felt.
They comforted me while having thorns pulled from my shins after running through rose bushes. Dried tears of sorrow and incomprehension with just a hug when she knew words held no meaning. Those hands cared for me more than I ever realized I would miss. And to touch them with no warmth, only ice seeping through her pores, stunned me.
I struggled to breathe for a moment and stumbled away from the casket. I dropped to my knees and sobbed. Loudly. I could think of nothing but the hole in my chest that I could feel but not see.
As I sat beside myself in grief I heard a door creak open. I looked towards the entrance to the room and have a vague recollection of shooing away whoever had checked in on me. I was embarrassed at being unable to hold myself together. I quickly stood up, wiped tears and snot from my cheeks and chin, and then continued the letter from where I’d left off before I’d distracted myself with my mother’s hands.
After finishing the letter, I folded it back up, and tucked it under those cold hands, leaving it to be cremated with her.
Looking back, I wish I’d kept a copy of that letter. At the time I’d been angry that my last moments with my mother had been disturbed, but I said nothing. Instead, I felt cheated and kept it to myself. The last mother-and-daughter moment I would ever have was cut short and there was nothing I could do to get it back.