My birthmother died at the very end of August.
It’s been several months and I am still processing this.
I could say it happened quickly but that is not the truth.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer eleven months before me. We were not really speaking at the time of her diagnosis. We did not have an easy relationship. At the point of her first diagnosis, we were about six years into our reunion and half of that time, we were not speaking to each other. That was just how it was.
We kept trying. I think we were both hopeless optimists about what we were to each other. Either that or we were masochists. But we kept trying.
She was there for me eleven months later during my own diagnosis and treatment. She showed up. She cooked. She helped. She cared for us. She took me to appointments. She showed up for my last chemo and sat with me even though she had flashbacks to her own chemos and really didn’t want to be there.
For 18 months, we did not fight. We did not disagree. We just were. We talked on the phone. She would visit. She drove her little Prius up the coast for 8 hour stretches to help me. I accepted what she could give. And I got through it.
Spring of 2015, she called me. She had been struggling with abdominal pain and had visited an er in the winter. The doctor looked at her scans and told her she was ok. The doctor was wrong. Misread scans. It was ovarian cancer and it had been given some months to spread.
She had another fight.
She did everything she could. She did all forms of conventional medicine including IP chemo which is just a grisly treatment. She had a special port placed in her abdomen and her organs were given chemo baths as she was filled with a cocktail that flooded her abdominal cavity. This was in addition to traditional chemo. She suffered and she fought with her eye on the prize of living.
After months of chemo, she visited a healer in South America. She placed my picture in the healing room when she was there and strangely, I felt better. No really. I still feel better than I did before she placed my photo in that room. Can’t make that up.
She continued with naturopaths and massage therapists and acupuncture and…well…everything. She tried everything.
And for a few months, she had remission. And then it came back.
She called me to let me know. We were in the middle of our cross country move. She was leaving for a clinic in Germany. We talked for awhile. I told her I admired her strength and fortitude. No, I really said that. God, what an ass I am.
She soldiered on. I got text updates from her.
Eventually, she returned to the U.S. feeling worse for the trip. My brother told me later that eventually the German clinic said there was nothing more they could do for her and sent her on her way.
She went into hospice. By this time, my family and I living in temporary housing in our new state. I came to see her and my siblings who were caring for her. She was feisty and stubborn and mad as hell. And I did not blame her one bit.
Who wants this? Nobody. Nobody wants this.
62, man. 62 years old. She’d been all over the world. She’d done so many things. She had just received her master’s degree a week before the breast cancer diagnosis. Nurse Practitioner. She had worked so hard. All she wanted to do was get out there and help people. Help mothers and babies and families. She had so much more to do.
She kept getting out of bed. She didn’t want to be in that bed. The problem was, she kept falling down.
One morning, she announced she wanted to go to breakfast. So we went. My sister and I packed her small children in the minivan. My brother took her for a walk there in the wheelchair. We drove past them on the way. My brother walking along while she sat in the chair. Her eyes closed. Her face tilted toward the sky a small smile on her lips. I wished for a camera but I did not want to intrude on the moment. I never want to intrude. It was a beautiful exchange between mother and son. Heartbreaking and palpable and real.
She ordered a BLT. Took one bite. Held it in her hands. I watched her close her eyes again and feel. I do this too. We had done it before, together. It was after my last radiation that she had driven up for. Me looking and feeling a wreck, bald with a cap, dark circles around my eyes, engulfing my eyes. Her, healthy, vibrant, strong, and I assumed safe. We went to my favorite breakfast place in my town. I always say this place is like eating in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. The decor and waitstaff are similar. It’s awesome and as a bonus, the food is quite good. We sat. Holding our coffees. Feeling and smelling and savoring the warmth of cup in hand. She told me then that I was opening a new chapter. She sang the song about the rest being still unwritten. She laughed. It was a nice moment. It’s what I think about when I think of her.
She enjoyed that bite. We took the other half home. She never ate it but that was never the point.
Later that day, she awoke from a well deserved nap telling us about her strange dream. She had dreamt that we had gone to breakfast together. All of us. Wasn’t that funny? And we tried to tell her that we really did but I am not sure she believed us.
I stayed a few days. Tried to help where I could. This was my mother and she was going to die and die soon. I wanted nothing but to be with her. To help.
It was hard to leave but I had to. My boys were starting school in our new state. I had to go. I didn’t want to. I hugged her. I cried. She cried. We hugged again. I told her to listen to her children. All they wanted was to help her. We all loved her so much. But in the next sentence. I told her to remember that she was the captain of this ship. And she looked at me and I could hear her thinking “You’re damn right I am.”
Days passed. Text. Phone. Skype. Facetime. These modern conveniences that help connect us.
And then the final late night text, “She’s gone.”
The first time we met. After I found her. She got on a plane the very next day to see me. She called me from the airport. And I said to her, “Are you really coming to see me? Are you going to do it? Aren’t you scared?” I was scared. And she paused and said to me, “I’m no chicken.” And she wasn’t. She was brave and strong and tough.
I lost her when I was three days old. She was there and then she was gone and I wasn’t supposed to talk about it. Not ever. Even though I talked about it anyway. Everyone told me I was bad for wanting to know the truth about myself. My whole life. So I waited…and waited. I waited to know her name. Her laugh. Her voice, that is so much like mine. I waited to know my chapter one because everyone told me I was disloyal for wanting to know it. Eventually, I searched and searched only to discover over three decades later, that she had been looking for me too. And we met and we loved and we fought and we struggled. But we always kept trying. I came from her. And she did for me what she thought was the best thing she could do under the circumstances. And people can judge as they often do. And tell me their unsolicited opinions on all things adoption. But all I know is that she was my first mother. And I feel empty again without her. I feel the ache I felt my whole life and I wonder if it will remain there forever. I really never thought it would end like this. We didn’t even get ten years.
I still can’t believe she’s gone.