I don’t have appropriate words to describe my mother.
It wasn’t that she was determined because that implies an overall plan of action. She just kept going. I wouldn’t call it perseverance because that invokes the idea that eventually she prevailed. She didn’t. She just kept going. She was not quite persistent or tenacious, and certainly not resolute or steadfast. She woke up every day and did what had to be done all day long, no matter how difficult or unfair or unpleasant. She was not energetic or particularly positive or even hopeful. She just kept going . . . right up until she didn’t.
In the end, COPD won out, but numerous health issues ate at her body for decades. Lifelong depression and anxiety, fibromyalgia, chronic back pain from damaged disks, malnutrition, and wasting away from lung disease. She was 60-something pounds and needed a walker by the time she died. She no longer had the strength to wash her own hair.
She was 56. I was 26 and shattered.
This month, my mother would have turned 70. Fourteen years ago, just months before she died, this was my own detailed plan on how to just keep going. Maybe it keeps you going, too.
Get angry. At everything. At anything. At nothing . . . because there is nothing.
Cry. More than you thought you could. Long after you thought you ran out of strength and tears.
Wail. Loudly. Until the neighbors wonder if you’re dying, too.
Sleep. Go to bed at 8 o’clock on Saturday nights. Sleep until 11 the next day. Then take a nap in the afternoon. Repeat.
See how many -ologists you can meet. Bonus points if you can remember each of their names.
Accept your ability to do nothing to change the situation. Embrace your helplessness.
Pray—once you figure out whether to pray for healing or release.
Investigate diseases and ailments you never knew were caused by cigarettes. Refrain from filing class-action lawsuits if possible.
Learn what a living will is and why your mother needs to sign one while she’s still lucid. Sort of.
Try to remember whether she wants her ashes spread over the Rocky Mountains or the Grand Canyon or the Pacific Ocean or Mount Rushmore. Investigate laws pertaining to the spreading of crematoria. You’d be surprised.
Buy more Kleenex. Scads of Kleenex. Trust me.
Call every day. Weigh the pros and cons of yelling, begging, or feigning ignorance.
Inform your boss that you may have to take a flight at any moment. Hope he doesn’t take the cost of that pricey R.I.P. flower arrangement out of your next paycheck.
Cry. In the fetal position in bed. Curled on the couch. Leaning against the shower wall. Crumpled on the kitchen floor.
See how many hours you can go without leaving your apartment. Bonus points for every hour over 60. Subtract points for every person you talk to on the phone.
Don’t shower. It’s your own personal protest against mortality.
Tell no one . . . or tell everyone. Feel empty either way.
Mourn for the things you’ll never do together. Thirtieth or 60th birthday parties. Weddings. Baby showers. Grandparents Day.
Devise a generic reply to the question, “How’s your mom doing?” Suggestions include the ever-popular, flat-out lie (“She’s OK”), the semi-lie (“She’s hanging in there”), or the duck-and-run (“Is that your car on fire?”).
Perfect the fake smile. See above.
Cry. In an empty conference room at work. In the employee restroom. At your desk, in front of God and everyone. It’s your right.
Wail some more. Let out noises that can only come from someone in agony. Realize that person is you.
Get angry again. Hit things. Swear often.
Accept defeat. Give up. Give in. Try to ignore the nagging feeling that you’re dying, too.
Learn how to be the one who has to stay behind and live.
Originally published on the author’s blog