My mom, separately from being my mom, was the kind of woman that I love. She was rarely the most physically beautiful woman in the room, but she was always the woman with that intangible something. It was one of the most interesting things about her to me because it didn’t have to do with what she looked like, it had to do with who she was at her core.
Four years ago today my mom was on life support and in a coma. Erin and I had a few days left before we had to make the really hard decisions. It wasn’t looking good and then something magic happened.
My mom was married three times and none of them was to the love of her life. But she had a love of her life. And that relationship is where every single one of my big, romantic, sometimes silly ideas about love came from. Their timing was always off. Always. My memory fails me sometimes but it is amazing the detail in which it recalls some things. The chemistry they had was palpable. You could feel it when you were in a room with them. I was 6 and I felt it, I find it hard to believe that anyone was unaffected by it. They both had big, glittery, personalities on their own but together they shone like the sun. Their energy made the air hum. Some of my best childhood memories are with the two of them. My clearest memories. I can make a decent argument against the questionable judgement that resulted in a slow dribble of the wrong men being foisted on my brother and me. But not him. He fixed a lot, especially for me. Bad timing and sad ending aside, it was a privilege to watch them ebb and flow over the years. Before I tell you what happened four years ago today, I will tell you, briefly, what happened over thirty years ago. I am not privy to many of the intimate details of their relationship. What I have, what I will carry forever with me, are the pieces I saw, the pieces I felt and the things they have both graciously shared with me over the years. Their relationship initially ended, my mom said, years later, because he was younger, he didn’t yet have kids, he was intensely selfish and arrogant (sorry, you know how much I love you). Eventually she met someone else. At some point he did get married and have kids, but I don’t remember if it was before or after what came next. When I was 10 my soon-to-be Evil Stepfather asked my mom to marry him. On that day he showed back up, heart in hand, wanting to make it work. It was too late she said. She got married. When I was 17 my soon-to-be-ex Evil Stepfather got caught cheating and said he wanted a divorce. He showed back up, on that day. I don’t actually know what happened after that because I was 17 and self-involved and because it wasn’t my business in any case. The point being, they have come in and out of one another’s life in mysterious ways, with mysterious timing for decades. It wasn’t always happy, it wasn’t always sad. It was always magic. Always. And you can take what you want from it but to me it is essential love story. It might not always work they way you wanted it to, it might not always be picket fences and diamond rings but it is always, always, every single solitary time better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.
Back to four years ago. My mom is in a coma and I’m sure she’s not going to make it on this particular day at this particular hour. I’ll feel differently momentarily, that’s the thing about a drawn out death, you have the luxury of time and your hopes and fears come at you in terrifying and beautiful waves pulling you under and letting you surface just long enough to catch your breath before they take you down again.
Of course I’m in communication with him; he’s happy, he’s married again, but the love of his life is in a coma. Of course I called him. Of course he came. I don’t remember where he came from, I remember it was hours of driving and I think he was on his motorcycle. He came and there was a point when I didn’t think he would be fast enough, when I didn’t think he would get to say goodbye. It became my sole focus, keeping her alive until he got there. And she did stay alive. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so glad to see someone in my entire life. I just thought, “If anyone can save her, he can.” I think she had been in the coma for 3 days or so at that point. I had begged and pleaded with her to come back, I had my kids beg her. I shamelessly used Aidan as please-come-out-of-your-coma-bait. Nothing worked. I told her she could leave, that it was okay to go and then I would put my head in her lap and beg her not to abandon me. No doctors really had any hope except for the one who had known her. And here’s the thing about my mom and me; we were in some ways incredibly similar people and other ways not at all. If I were in her position, I would want the love of my life to come, I would want him to be able to say goodbye. I would want the same if the situation were reversed. I have my own bad-timing-love-of-my-life and if he was in a coma there is nothing in this world that would keep me away from him. Nothing. I am softer when it comes to love than she ever was; I’d like to say I’ve evolved further than she had but it’s entirely possible that I’m just more stupid. So I made a decision I knew she would hate because I didn’t have anything else to lose. I thought if he could help maybe I would get her back and if he couldn’t, at least, he would get to say goodbye. She would have killed me for letting him see her looking so horrible, so weak, so on-death’s-door. I didn’t care. He sat down and started talking to her. I sat in a chair, closed my eyes and cried. I wasn’t really listening to what he said, just the tone of his voice, the sadness, the love. When I opened my eyes his head was down and she was looking right at me.
My first thought was not relief that she was awake. My first thought was “she is going to fucking kill me.” Seriously, that was my first thought after my mom woke up from a coma. I’m not proud of it, but it was the appropriate thought. If you knew my mom, you understand. I rushed him out of the room in my panic. After spending an entire night praying for his speedy arrival I wanted him a thousand miles away at that moment. He stayed as long as he could, he spoke to her, mostly while she slept. When he left to go home I was filled with so much hope, I had my mom back. The doctors were amazed. Her condition turned around quickly and I think, within 24 hours, she was off the ventilator and breathing on her own.
This isn’t a happy story in the traditional sense, my mom lived only another 12 days. She and he; they did not get a fairy tale, but they got a goodbye. Erin and I got to see, first hand, the magical ways in which love conquers all and he gave my mom back to us for a very important 12 days. This story isn’t about my mom dying, it’s about how my mom lived, about how hard she loved. This story is about magic and love and fate. It’s about the decisions we make and the decisions we avoid that change everything forever. This story is about timing and chemistry and biology. It’s about connecting and feeling and deciding to be brave. Love is complicated and overwhelming and often too much. But in the end it all comes down to love.
Did you have it? Did you let it in? Did you give it? Was it worth it?