In Her Time of Dying: Aftermath

December 30th, 2011

I’m finding a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that all of this began just a little over a week ago. I cannot comprehend that it’s only been nine days since my mom was first admitted to the hospital and coded for the first time. I feel as if I’ve been living this experience for a year.

I’m taking today off of work and spending it by myself. My brother left for Milwaukee this morning after he and I had breakfast together. I’m so happy that he’s going to get to be home with his fiancée for New Year’s Eve, and that they can ring in a new year together. I miss him. I don’t know if I could have done this without him. He and I were together through all of the hard years growing up. He and I were together when all of this truly started in the summer of 2008 and we were together to see it finished. It feels in a way that several things in our lives have come full circle in all of this. When we visited the hospital and had to go through the emergency room entrance because the patient entrance was closed, Drew asked me if I remembered sitting in that exact emergency room with mom the summer of 2008 and I told him of course I did. It seemed poetic somehow that her journey ended where it began. The morning that I got Nellie’s Christmas gift from mom was the day she died. You can call it a coincidence; just another Christmas present that was slightly delayed but I feel like it’s more than that. I feel like it was her goodbye to Nellie when she was no longer to vocally convey it herself.

I find myself feeling okay most of the day, but melancholy and detached by the time evening comes around. I’m having a hard time forgetting the night she died. Forgetting how she looked in her last hour. I will write about the night she died, and will probably be pretty detailed about the things I saw. But not yet.

The day she died I left work around noon to eat lunch with Drew. I sat at a red light waiting for it to turn, feeling sad and heavy. It felt like my heart weighed a thousand pounds and was trying to make its way out of my chest through my feet. I sat there behind the wheel, shoulders sunk, feeling as though I was drowning under the weight of sorrow when my favorite Ani DiFranco song came on: “Little Plastic Castles”. The cheery, upbeat combination of horns and drums surrounded me and the contrast of their joyful sounds versus my inner pain felt surreal; like a dream. The song’s tone and chords seemed so out-of-place with my emotions that at the time I couldn’t even fathom that one could be in such a place so full of happiness and creativity to create such music.

We went to the crematorium yesterday to get everything in order. I gave answers as the director asked questions for her death certificate. He asked if any of us wanted to witness the cremation (a resounding NO). We gave a credit card number and, as easily and efficiently as if we were ordering a new couch for our apartment, the transaction was complete. We even got a receipt.

Everything comes down to business. Even death.

I have to go shopping for a “vessel” (as the funeral director put it) to put mom’s ashes in. True to my penchant for laughing at inappropriate times and finding funny things where funny things maybe should not be, all I can think of is the Big Lebowski.

I want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone. Part of me is afraid to be alone. I feel so weird. I’m not necessarily sad she is gone. I don’t really miss her being here, because we had such a hard relationship and I haven’t enjoyed being around my mother in over a decade. I feel sad because her life was so difficult and full of sadness. She was young, and she had so many bad things happen to her. She alienated everyone around her. Hers is a tragic story; one that breaks my heart. I also think that for the first time, I’m mourning for her tragic life and for the mother that I truly will never have. I always knew that she could never be what I needed or wanted her to be but now that she’s gone, it really never will happen. I found myself feeling very childlike yesterday when I took a nap; I found myself thinking, “I want my mommy”. I realized I’ve been thinking that for years. It’s something that I never got, and never will. Last night Nellie was having a hard time getting to sleep. I kneeled beside her bed and stroked her hair. I told her I knew that mama had been gone a lot lately, but that she was back now and things would get back to normal. I just kept repeating, “mama’s here. Mama’s here.” And I just felt so fucking sad.

I try to focus on the positive things she experienced. She had two awesome (I might be biased) kids. She took wonderful vacations with her family and saw beautiful things. She played in a band with her sister. She got to see her youngest child get married. She was at the hospital for the birth of her first grandchild, and was one of the first people to hold her. I asked Joshua if I was ever going to get the image of her dying out of my head. I cannot stop thinking about it. He told me to try to replace it with an image of her in happier years and that eventually it would fade. I want it gone now. I don’t want it in my head anymore.

This is really hard. I am very aware that my grieving process is going to take a long time, and the thought of it makes me feel exhausted. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be feeling these things. I want them to go away. The thought of getting back to doing normal things after I’ve seen the things I’ve seen seems far away. Thinking about sitting at my desk and writing e-mails, answering questions and phone calls, and doing my normal tasks seems impossible.

I took a picture of myself after I’d gotten showered and put some makeup on. I looked somewhat normal again after days of throwing clothes on and not caring what I looked like.

I looked normal, except for my eyes.

My eyes look different. Not the color, or the shape, but what’s behind them makes them look different. I’m never going to be the same again after this.

They just look different.


  1. Natalie, I am so so so sorry. <3hugs<3
    Emily @ Baby Dickey recently posted..Merry Christmas 2011

  2. My grandfather died in the Memorial Hospital Hospice Unit in August 2007 while I was pregnant with The Punkin. When you wrote that you can’t get the image of your mother dying out of you head I thought about it. I realized that today I can recall seeing Pappaw in the ICU and then the hospice unit, I can recall the last conversation I had with him, but these are not the things that instantly pop into my head when I think about him. I have to consciously think about that time in order to recall those images. When I think about him, the first image that comes to mind is him sitting at his spot at the dining room table or sitting in his recliner watching television. I’ve not lost a parent and my grandfather and I had a better relationship than you and your mother, so the scenarios are different, but I can still be confident in saying that eventually, yes, you will one day think of your mother and the first thing that comes to mind will be her in anyplace other than the hospice unit.

    Know that we are thinking about you during this time.

  3. When you said you felt sad about the tragic life your mom had, and the mom you never really and truly had, that really resonated with me. Thanks for putting into words something that I similarly feel toward my own mother, but hadn’t been able to articulate.

    Thanks for writing your thoughts. Still praying for peace.

  4. I know our circumstances are not the same but I felt from the moment we first talked about our mothers together that we had similar relationships with our mothers. Following your blog over the last week has taken my mind into some serious time travel. me back into time. It has taken me to the numb misserable heart breaking time 9 years ago when

  5. Love you.

  6. Andrea Ball-Ryan says:

    Natalie I’m very late but I wanted to send my condolences to all. I’m glad that you’re honest with yourself about everything and are taking this opportunity walk towards a place of healing all around. I’m sorry that you and Susan’s relationship was so tumultuous. Don’t want to upset you at all, but I want to add something else positive to your memory bank you wrote about. I can honestly say that when Susan and I worked together at Chestnut, she truly had a way of connecting with those women; no lie. You mom actually brought an ease and sense of humor to the unit and the clients really appreciated her late night chats with them. I know because numerous clients told me this themselves. She sparkled somewhere in life; I was able to see that much. Be well as as you can and know that even though we don’t really speak, I’m here if need an ear. —Andrea

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