My Friday started like other Fridays: Waking up in the middle of the night, lots of coffee, lots of writing, breaking news and breakfast. But that’s where any normalcy ended.
I got a call from my dad. My mom was in the hospital. It didn’t seem good. The doctors needed someone with the power to make medical decisions for her. And that was me. Logically, I knew that decisions like that would fall to me. But even aside from the fact that my mother and I weren’t as close as one might expect, what 25-year-old thinks of stuff like that? I mean I think of A LOT of “what ifs,” but not that. Not decision-making before death. Not that.
I’m told my mom collapsed very early Friday morning. I’m told she stopped breathing and that a roommate performed CPR before calling 911. I’m told that, had he not performed CPR, she wouldn’t have made it to the hospital alive. But from that moment on, my current understanding is that she was no longer conscious or stable.
I got to the hospital as soon as I could. When I got to the area where my mom was, my dad was standing outside. As soon as he saw me, he teared up. This man does NOT cry. My mom’s heart had just stopped beating again. The doctors were working to bring her back. They did. This would happen repeatedly.
After, the doctor came out and told us we could go back to have a few moments. We did. This was not the same as with my grandfather a bit more than a year ago. With him, he looked a bit different, but was chatting, making jokes, and still trying to get me to become a Republican. Not my 48-year-old mom. She wasn’t saying she loved me. She wasn’t saying something inappropriate, in her country voice. She wasn’t asking me about any guys in my life. She wasn’t repeating herself and taking five minutes to tell a pointless story that could’ve taken 30 seconds (where do you think I got it from?). She was bloated from the fluids that were going into her. She was on ventilator. She was having seizures. She was pale. I know that some people see a benefit to seeing people like this. I, however, do not. I find comfort in productivity, so I went out to try and call more of her family members to tell them what was going on. Before I went out, the doctor said she would likely need CPR again — she was very unstable.
The doctor was right. Eventually, it would be clear that — in addition to not being able to get her blood pressure up, stabilize her heart or stop her seizures — there was no brain activity. The CPR stopped. Her heart stopped. Last weekend, she was at the Home & Patio show. This weekend, I was planning her cremation and memorial. Just like that.
Because of my relationship with her, many people have thought perhaps I didn’t love her. Perhaps I didn’t care. Perhaps I didn’t appreciate her. Perhaps I could’ve tried harder. To these people, I say: You’re wrong. You were always wrong. You will forever stay wrong. I have no regrets for myself. Life can’t be that way. Life can’t be this series of endless second guesses. I tried and I tried and I tried. And despite that not working out so often, I still cared. I still hoped. And I still loved.
After all, if there’s one thing I DO know, it’s that she loved me and was hella proud. Her “baby” always made good grades. He graduated from UF. By the way she told it, you would think I was the main anchor at Channel 4. So you know what? Yes, I ran the River Run on Saturday. Yes, I’m going to rock the hell out of this play next month. And yes, I’m going to produce the hell out of a special work project I’m doing around the same time as the play. I kept living. It’s what we do.
I don’t know that it’s hit me yet. I learned with my grandfather that I almost go into “work mode” when these things happen. I make lists. I call people. I plan. I help however I can. I help others cope. I understand this. And I understand it means I must make sure that I am grieving and not holding back. We all handle these situations differently and just as I respect how others are handling it, I expect my handling of this to be respected as well. So far, so good. Writing this is helping.
The point of this is not to suggest sympathy. It’s not to suggest I’m going through something no one else goes through. It’s not to suggest that I didn’t see this coming, one day. It’s not to pretend I had the best relationship with my mother in the history of mothers and sons. It’s not to pretend she was perfect. Or to suggest that I am.
No. The point of this is to say that a whole lot of people will go through this. It’s to say that, even if I did see a premature end to my mother’s life, it doesn’t make it better or easier or different. It’s to say that, despite a rocky relationship, she’s my mom. It’s to say that now, when I think of those imperfections and things that she did that annoyed the hell out of me, I think about how I will NEVER have the chance to be annoyed by them again. I’ll never have the chance to blush at something she says. I’ll never have the chance to get pissed off at her. I’ll never get to listen to a five-minute voicemail that starts with, “Hey, Kyle. It’s your mom. I know you’re probably sleeping right now…” I’ll never have a new “mom story” to share with my friends.
So mom, thank you. First of all, as you would put it, I came out of YOUR stomach. Thank you for accepting that I was gay and eventually going above and beyond to ask about relationships and such. Thanks for saying you’d beat anyone’s ass if they messed with me. I always knew you could beat mine! Your 5’5, 100 pound body was deceptive. Goodness knows, I knew that. Thank you for introducing me to Alanis and Celine. I mean, I have NO idea how you didn’t know about me…but, whatever. Thanks for letting me drive down that dirt road to see your family when I was younger, though you were always a terrible driver. Thank you for always telling me you loved me, to the point of annoyance. Now I get it.
I’m sorry you didn’t have a great life. I wish I could’ve been there at your birth to protect you. To help you. To give you what you needed to have a successful life. You could’ve done such big things with your big heart. You gave a lot. And a whole bunch of people took a lot. I’m sorry I didn’t understand where you were coming from with a lot of things. I know that, as a child, I’m probably not supposed to. But I also know I wasn’t the average kid. I’ve never been average and I promise you I will try to keep it that way. I promise to take every advantage I was ever given, however little or big, whether from you or from Dad, and to do great things with it. You may not have been able to climb out of the circumstances you were born into, but I wasn’t born into those same circumstances thanks to you and Dad. And I took what I was given and am trying to do the best I can with it, to go above and beyond anything anyone ever expected. And I think I somehow DO have the ability to climb — to transcend circumstances. I won’t let people hold me back. And I may have pretended to have forgotten, but I’ve always remembered that I used to be called a “mama’s boy.” And I bet I don’t yet give you credit for a lot of my good traits. Aside from my good ass…you always said I got that from you. 😉 I’ll work to really identify those traits and be more appreciative of them. But I never stopped loving you and caring about you. I know you know that.
To all of my friends, I know you care. I appreciate your well wishes. I’ll be fine. While I’m OK, I would ask you to keep my family in your thoughts. Some people aren’t doing so well. We all had different relationships with my mom and we’re all taking this new reality based on those relationships.
Anything like this reminds us of life’s fragility. So, today, do me a favor: Tell the people you love that you love them. Don’t assume they know. Hug them, if you can. Kiss them, if you can. Do something kind for them, if you can. Consider all of your relationships. Make sure the important ones are being treated like they’re important. Make sure the bad ones are being fixed or eliminated. Don’t waste time. Be kind, but be honest. And please, please, please: If you have a friend or family member with significant alcohol or drug problems, try to help them. Try. But in the end, they have to help themselves. You can support them, but you can’t do it for them. If you could, this blog post would probably not be happening this early in my life and it might sound a lot different. But try. Don’t give up easily. Never give up hoping.
And most importantly: Never stop loving. Never hide your heart. Always treat people the way you want to be treated, at least. Let life’s low points make the high points sweeter. Move forward, not ignoring the past, but accepting it and using it to your advantage. To make you stronger. Anything else is wasteful.