I have often heard stories about how “emotional” I was as a small child. I would scream and throw my head back so hard when being held, people would have to catch me with their free hand, so I wouldn’t fall. I would bang my head into the side of my crib until bruises formed on my forehead. I wasn’t experiencing the normal terrible twos, I just really missed my mama.
When I was two, my mama made the decision to leave my dad. In that decision, she also ended up leaving my sister and I behind. When I was younger I was really angry with my mama for this. As I have matured, I realize that there are no good or evil people in stories. We are all just people trying to do the best we can with the resources and knowledge we have. She was not a villain…she was a scared young woman.
While growing up she was hit or miss for visits and birthday calls. She was battling her own life decisions and needed that time for herself and her growth.
I have two favorite memories of her when I was little.
One was when my brother, sister and I would swim in her apartment complex pool. We would wake her up early and get ready quickly because we didn’t want to lose any of the pool sunlight. My mom was beautiful. She always had on a bikini and I remember thinking how perfect she looked. She was also a dynamite swimmer! I remember one time I feel into the deep end and was panicking under the water. I distinctly remember grabbing at the woman’s swimsuit next to me to help me up. However, it was my mama who jumped in and saved me.
But my FAVORITE memory at the pool was that my mama would bring a jar of spicy pickles with us to the pool. When we would need “power” to keep swimming we would run up to her and she would give us one of the pickles from the jar. We would eat it quickly and run (yes run) back to do a cannonball into the pool.
To this day I eat at least one spicy pickle a day… it still gives me power.
My second favorite memory of my Mama was when I was visiting and I got sick. You know how when you have a fever you feel really cold? Well this time I was FREEZING. I couldn’t stop shivering and my whole body felt like pure ice. My mama found every single blanket and covered me up toasty. She even got the couch cushions and put them on top of me. I felt so warm from the inside out.
As an adult, our relationship grew to a comfortable line of respect.
We disagreed and actively debated about almost everything…
▪️The men I date
▪️The way I date men
▪️If I’m hilarious
▪️If my ex husband is an asshole
▪️Whether or not I should tell my ex husband all the time he’s an asshole
▪️per the climate we are in… we starkly disagreed on politics
We would get in very heated debates regularly about these issues and more. It often made other people around us uncomfortable, but to us, it was just us.
A perfect example of this, was during the last few months, when she wouldn’t want to go to the ER. Her oxygen was very low, but my mama did not want to have to be admitted in the hospital again so she was flat out saying no. My sister and brother in law had tried hard but then brought in the big guns… me.
The last time we had this happen, she refused to go to the ER until I pulled up. I had a 35 minute drive to get to her, so she knew if I drove that way and with our debate history, I wasn’t playing. My sister told me as I pulled into the driveway my mom said out loud under her breath “Oh fuck… Jill’s here…I’m going to have to go.”
However, the next time it was not as easy. My mama had just had a week long stay in the hospital and I’m sure she knew deep inside she was declining. She assured us all she “felt fine” and just kept it as “no, I’m not going”.
I know many people would have just called the ambulance, but we all really needed for my mom to feel as if she was in control. It was the only way she would trust us enough to get a glimpse into how she was feeling. Plus she didn’t have control of much at that time and I knew that was very scary for her.
After my sister and brother in law left, my mama and I had an argument on the porch. It was loud, it was passionate, and it was for her life. I felt as if I was fighting for her life stats and she was fighting for her life reality.
After about an hour, she stormed (as much as she could muster) into the house and said “I’m going to bed!”
I stood there and took a couple of deep breaths and then I followed her into the house. I helped her get her jammies on, gave her meds, tucked her in toasty and laid next to her until she fell asleep. I laid there checking her oxygen level every 2 minutes, googling low oxygen side effects and praying that I made the right decision.
That was my mama and I, two very different, independent, life strong and scared women, who loved each other deeply.
Someone told me that the days leading up to my mama’s passing would be some of the best and worst days of my life. They were completely correct.
A couple days before she passed, we took a “bucket list” trip to Family Dollar. It was the only item we ended up checking off. She had gotten a wheelchair that day and had a portable oxygen tank. The hospice caseworker told us “go where she wants to go!”
So we did!
We stopped at Culver’s to grab cheeseburgers and onion rings. We ate in the car. She finished her entire burger and then reached in to grab some ketchup for her onion rings. I remember the joy I had in my heart seeing her eat like that.
We then went to Family Dollar, me pushing her wheelchair, carrying her oxygen and the basket we grabbed for her shopping trip. The first item she got? In typical mama fashion was a giant ass comforter. She wanted a new comforter for the grand babies when they had a sleepover with Gigi.
So carrying oxygen, basket, comforter, my purse over my shoulder and pushing a wheelchair… we went aisle by aisle. She would direct me where to go and give me consistent feedback about how fast or slow I was walking. She slowly filled up the basket with smaller items she needed or wanted to give away (I put the comforter under my arm and then eventually told her she needed to hold it).
When we finally got to the register, her oxygen was on 1% and so were the muscles in my arm. The cashier started scanning the items when a couple large porch signs about 20 feet away caught my mama’s eye.
“Jill, go get those and let me see them!”
I couldn’t believe she was honestly asking me to go get those signs. My arms were already more than full and we had a long line behind us (with a hot guy directly behind us only carrying a case of water)… but of course I did.
“Yes Jill, I like that one” my mama said yelling to the other side of the store, “bring it over here.”
I did and managed to get it to the car with everything else.
The rest of those last good days, were also filled with wonderful memories. We watched mindless television and gossiped about the people on Maury. We had many many conversations sharing our love for our family and specifically the grand babies (my daughter, nieces and nephews). My mama would talk about each of them with such distinct admiration and love. She had a vulnerability with them that she did not show with others. They were her world and she knew and respected their hearts.
There were of very hard moments too, that I’m still trying to process. In this case, death was not a peaceful event and I still have flashbacks to both actions and feelings that I’m trying to work through. I’m not sure that I had really heard of that side before so it had caught me by surprise. I told my sister many times throughout our journey “I’m not made for the medical field.”
Since my mama has passed, I am still trying to cope. Gone are the days when I can throw my head back and have someone catch me. Instead, I am in an ebbing and flowing daze while trying to figure out my new normal. I have planned and went on a trip with my sister to Charleston. She’s been my partner in this entire journey and without her by my side I’m not sure I would be here. I’m also trying new activities, like axe throwing and being more intentional with my time and decisions. I am trying to focus on the beautiful tribe I have, being in the moment, and all wonderful blessings in my life. All of these things are helping me put one foot in front of the other.
However, in the really quiet moments, when my mind can wander, I know that I just really really miss my mama.