It’s been 7 years since I have heard that affectionate nickname in the tone of my mother’s voice. Sometimes, I swear I can hear it, clear as day, as if I was 8 again, playing with the neighbor kids on the sidewalk of my suburban neighborhood.
“Megs! It’s time for dinner!”
I remember being frustrated at that phrase each summer evening, but now there is nothing in the world I would more rather hear.
It started one day as my parents gathered my 2 sisters and I at the kitchen table. When we heard the news of my mother’s diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer, I can’t help but find my reaction peculiar. My younger sister and my older sister both cried, fear flashing into their eyes. I on the other hand, was upbeat. It was my optimism that kept me going as I watched my mother undergo treatment. This optimism, however, would be short lived.
On a warm summer day in 2007, I happily enjoyed my summer vacation by sleeping in. In the late morning, I awoke to a commotion downstairs. I threw on some clothes and went to check it out. My mother had fainted in the kitchen. My father and my grandmother helped her back to her bed. I, still being optimistic, assumed this was just a side effect of the chemotherapy and that it would pass. That is, until my mother, the calm, collected, experienced nurse, croaked to my dad “call the squad”. My heart sank. These words were the last I and my sisters would hear, because she stopped breathing in our living room. She was taken to the hospital, where her very last words were to my grandma. My grandma told me all she could manage to say before she passed was how she didn’t want to die.
It was later determined that what took my mother was a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the lung, thought to be a complication of the advanced cancer. What made this more tragic was how sudden her death really was. Despite being very ill, she remained upbeat, still smiling everyday. It even seemed as though she was getting better. When she died, that hope I had relied became my worst enemy, and it took a long time to restore my faith.
Being an even tempered middle child, I was used to not being the center of attention. My older sister struggled with behavioral problems in her childhood, and my younger sister is significantly younger than I. Even after my mother’s death, I remained numb. I spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts. I hated and still hate crying in front of other people, because they always try to get you to stop by “comforting” you. Sometimes, you just need to cry until you run out of tears.
The effects of suppressing my feelings emerged when my older sister came of age and moved out of the house. I was 16, and busy. With school, a part time job, and several extra curricular activities, and a house and kid sister to help take care of, I didn’t even have time to deal with my own feelings. I’m not sure when I finally let go, but when I did, it wasn’t pretty. I turned to some drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, promiscuous sex, and I defied my father at every chance I had. I became a master manipulator and creative liar, so much so that I began to believe my own lies. I also had terrible nightmares, night terrors, and other sleep problems like sleep walking and sleep talking.
This is when I began seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist. I hated the medications I was given. One made me sick and forced me to pull over every day on the way to school to get out of the car and vomit. One made me gain 50 pounds over the course of 6 months. The only pill that I believe actually helped me is a commonly prescribed anti depressant used to help patients sleep peacefully. What helped me the most were the sessions with my therapist. I could remove my filter and talk indiscriminately about anything. I was finally getting the attention I needed, but I only wish it had begun 2 years earlier. My behavior and grades improved, and I mended the strained relationship between my dad and I.
As an adult with a small child of my own, a day still doesn’t go by without thinking about what it would be like if my mom were still here. The logical side of me quickly puts those thoughts to rest, because the past can’t be changed, and the only real way to move forward is to live in the moment.