“I will hold the candle till it burns up my arm / I’ll keep takin’ punches until their will grows tired / I will stare the sun down until my eyes go blind…I’ll swallow poison until I grow immune/ I will scream my lungs out till it fills this room / How much difference / How much difference / How much difference does it make…” Eddie Vedder affectingly asked in the Pearl Jam song, “Indifference.”
In some parallel Universe, this was all that I had to do to get my Mother back – I was bargaining with a God I didn’t believe in and a Universe I deemed cruel. I was willing to try it all – at the same time. Someone find me a lighter, I thought to myself. Let’s go outside, with a candle, where the sun shines and bring some arsenic. The difficult part would be finding someone willing to punch my ass. Inside, I had already been screaming my lungs out since the morning I received the shattering news that my mama was living with terminal cancer.
The day after her passing, I took to keeping myself as busy as possible, which included creating a video montage of photographs set to music and a scrapbook for her upcoming memorial. I chose “Indifference” by Pearl Jam as the intro song and it couldn’t have been more poignant. I think I listened to that song on repeat, about sixty times, during the course of the week and a half that I was at my mama’s home in Kansas City.
The bargaining began as soon as my flight from JFK landed at MCI, “I will stand arms outstretched / Pretend I’m free to roam / I will make my way through one more day in hell…” How much difference did it make? None. Bargaining is, unfortunately, one of the five stages of grief, also known as the Kübler-Ross model.
It still rears its ugly head from time to time though nowadays my bargaining has leaned a bit more on the practical side. For example, I pray to a God that I again believe in, asking to visit my mother in my impending slumber – if I can’t have her back physically, at least let me see her in my dreams. Gratefully, my prayers have been answered on a couple of vividly memorable occasions.
Anger, denial, depression and acceptance are the other four stages and they do not occur in any specific order. One can experience denial, then acceptance and then denial again. There is no exact science to the model – only a certainty that someone who is grieving will experience these five emotional stages.
On a personal level, as far as the loss of my mother, I still experience all of them sans denial. Denial was more prominent prior to her death, after learning that it was lung cancer and not mononucleosis – I recall guilelessly thinking that because my dad was alive for two years following his horrific diagnosis, my mother would be, too, if not longer! I inadvertently labeled this thought process “positive thinking” for some time but the truth was that I was in utter denial. In my heart, I always knew I was going to lose her sooner than later and I lost her eight months later. And no matter what anyone says, one cannot prepare for such a devastating loss.
My mother knew she was going to die, too, and it wasn’t negative thinking by any means – there are simply just some things in life that when listening from within, you just know. This is why, only a few short weeks after receiving her dismal prognosis, she secretly wrote letters to the people she felt closest to in her life, including my brother and I, her sister and a few of her best friends. She folded them all together and hid them.
During a moment, doped up on necessary excess amounts of morphine, my mother briefly mentioned, “There are letters” though, she couldn’t remember the location of them either. The lost letters became a mere rumor until a couple of days after her passing, while sitting, conversing in her bedroom. I asked my Auntie about the alleged letters to which she replied, “She said she wrote some but I looked everywhere and I can’t find them.”
I immediately got up from my mother’s bed where I was sitting and assuredly walked over to an old, antique radio box that was my great Grandfather’s. I opened it up and inside were a few folded up one page letters in between a box of envelopes and some miscellaneous stationery. I don’t know how I knew – I just did. This is the kind of relationship my mama and I always had – we both just always knew when it came to the other – our bond was intense and metaphysically spiritual.
Until this very moment, I have only shared this letter with a handful of very close people in my life and I find it only fitting that it be read in my mother’s handwriting. That is why I have attached an image of the letter instead of typing it out. After moving to Los Angeles at the age of eighteen, her and I would write letters back and forth to each other constantly, during a time when snail mail was valued by more than a few old souls.
This was the last letter I would ever receive from the most important person in my life – a woman with a heart of gold and the spirit of an army – my beautiful, intelligent, passionate and strong mother: