My body was overcome with sweaty chills and I began convulsing as I rushed to the bathroom my mother had just finished remodeling months prior. I violently vomited into the pristine porcelain toilet bowl; mostly dry heaves, though thoughts of Panera’s artichoke soufflé were brought to my mind, as it was the single thing I had eaten in the past twenty-four hours; That, and a few undercooked tater tots. These musings were quickly replaced by an irrational fear; one that screamed so loud, it had me wishing for an off-switch. “You are alone! Now and forever!” The peristalsis continued followed by unwelcome tears.
As a child, two of my greatest fears were falling ill with the flu and losing my mother. They oddly went hand in hand in that the one person, who is always there to provide comfort, after releasing one’s stomach contents, is mom. She’s there to rub your head, fetch cold rags, offer soothing words and clean up after the mess.
There I was – twenty-six years old, kneeling on the cool, newly tiled bathroom floor, my limp arms wrapped around the wobbly basin, traumatized in the aftermath of my mother’s untimely death. My body waited about eighteen long hours, after the most important person in my life drew her last breath, to show any signs of physical effect. Before that, I was mechanical, silent, what many would describe as in a state of shock.
I never realized how much I depended upon my mama until I went to bed that night, the first time I ever laid my head on a pillow, bound for slumber, knowing that she no longer breathed, that her life was no longer more. And I’ve crudely been reminded of these realities several times thereafter. Losing my mother has forced me to figure out how to live my life completely differently, essentially relearning everything I knew to be for the first twenty-six years of my life. It has been exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
The following morning, I awoke to a multitude of text messages and voicemails from people I’ve known for years to people whose last names I could barely remember. The overwhelming support and kind gestures were nice but I just wanted to turn off my phone. I no longer felt physically ill but it was the first day of many that I awoke to remember, “Oh yea, my mother is dead.” To say it was such a slap in the face is an understatement. Every now and then, I still have the urge, “I gotta call my mama” and that is an uppercut to my right jaw and a simultaneous left hook to the gut.
Even today, I’m still refiguring things out, constantly asking myself, “what would mama do?” On occasion, and it’s been quite awhile since I’ve done this, I still pick up the phone and dial her number, with the hope, that she just might answer one day and this will have all just been a very bad dream. Or I’d like to walk up to the door of my childhood home in Shawnee, Kansas, knock and when the door opens, there she is, my mama, cancer free, standing there as if the last four years have all just been a nightmare or a cliché episode of The Twilight Zone – I’d take it.