What Is Fear When Death is Certain?
Spoiler alert. This blog post is super emo, but I promise I didn't plan for it to be.
A month ago I created an awesome marketing plan that I wanted to put into action at the beginning of September. It included a nice blog with news updates, retailers, events and other good stuff....but about a week later my mom got really sick and after spending 5 days in the hospital, she passed away on Sunday, August 28 at 1:00pm.
The last few weeks have been unreal, in all the worst ways possible. My heart feels incredibly achy and empty. I've completely shut down and shut everyone out. I can't draw. I can't create. My appetite is virtually non-existent. I have these involuntary crying fits no matter where I'm at...My patience for bullshit is very low. I'm not a fan of people or interaction. I spend most my time pressing end or ignoring calls from concerned friends and nosy family.
I'm a complete mess.
And it's not like I didn't have time to plan for it. See, my mother's death wasn't random at all. It was actually very much expected. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis over 15 years ago, a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protecting covering of nerves. It affects the brain and spinal cord and basically steals your life from you. I was 16 the first time doctors told my siblings and I that my mom was going to die. We heard it every year after that...
My mom had what's called Progressive-Relapsing MS, which only affects about 5% of people with the condition. Progressive-relapsing multiple sclerosis was described in the 1996 disease-course definition as "steadily worsening neurologic function from the beginning with occasional relapses". At the time she was diagnosed, MS was still a new disease with little treatments for it. Now, with the advancement of technology, patients with MS will likely never experience what my mom unfortunately had too. She eventually lost the ability to care for herself and required the assistance of skilled nursing facilities. Her journey was a long and painful one. She was tired. And I know she stayed here much longer than she wanted to because of us...For years I imagined this moment. I waited for this moment. Not because I'm a dark person, I just didn't want her to hurt anymore. I mean we had about a million scares ya'll! I can't count the number of times where we thought "this is it". I mean we've cried oceans full of tears and personally prayed with everyone's ancestors. So on the night of August 23, when my sister texted us and said that our Mom was being admitted to the hospital, I had a gut feeling it was going to be different.
My older sister Arica can be super dramatic at times so we've learned to take what she says with a grain of salt...especially in regards to my mom's health. Because of her condition, my mom was confined to a bed. This left her more prone to getting other infections which she often did. She was a regular at most hospitals where she'd stay anywhere from 3 days to 5 months at a time so this type of call or text wasn't out of the norm. I just knew that this time it was serious. I had visited my Mom in the nursing home a week prior and she was completely out of it. Her eyes were open but she wasn't fully conscious. By this time she had already lost her ability to speak so conversations were reduced to barely audible moans and eye blinks. To see her in this state was incredibly painful, so my visits had become less frequent. We've literally watched this disease slowly eat away at her over the years and it just got to hard to watch, especially when we weren't able to do anything about it.
That night, I immediately dropped my son off at home, packed a bag with enough stuff for a few days and started the 1.5 hour drive to the hospital. On the way I decided to call my Dad who is an Internist in Austin, Texas. My parents divorced when I was 10, but he completely stepped up to the plate when my Mom really started getting sick a few years ago. He's a mediator when we can't agree. He makes shit make sense when we can't seem to, but even on this day, his medical opinion was wrong. I asked him if he thought this was it...He told me he was on the phone with Arica while my Mom was being treated by the medics. He said that she had trouble breathing but her vitals were excellent. Apparently as long as your vitals are great, then you're great...right? Nah. I learned later that medical professionals are taught not to just rely on vitals and that you can tell whether a patient is in distress just by looking at them. Nevertheless, I allowed my Dad's professional advice, experience and the fact that he's my dad to calm me down. I then called my brother Jarryd to see if he had gotten the news since he hadn't responded to the text. He said he did but he wanted to wait to hear the prognosis before he started to panic. I'm telling you guys, this happened so often we couldn't afford to worry anymore. Mom get's sick. Mom goes to the hospital. Mom gets better. Mom goes back to the nursing home...I decided to pick him up anyway and we headed to Olympia Medical Center, this shitty hospital in Los Angeles.
When we got there, they only allowed one person in the ER room at a time so each of us made ours rounds. By this time they had put an oxygen mask on my mom and she was completely unconscious. The picture was nothing like my Dad had painted. My mom was struggling to breathe and the machine was barely helping her out. She was lying in bed frail and helpless, with tears coming down her cheek. I grabbed her hand and tried to wake her up, but my efforts failed.
I completely lost my shit.
I sat there for about ten minutes sobbing uncontrollably, apologizing for not being there sooner. I wanted her to know how much I appreciated her for being there for us...and raising us up even when she was sick and in pain. I cried and begged and secretly prayed for God to give me more time. I told her what I had been up to, and that my cards had just gotten into Lula Mae. I wanted her to be proud of me. I showed her the video I made of my son Punch saying how much he loved her. I told her how he was going to start pre-school at Harriet Tubman the following week and how excited I was to make his lunches everyday....I just didn't want this to be it. As much as I thought I was ready, I wasn't even close.
Shortly after we arrived, my mom was moved to the ICU and put on life support. We were told that she would never breath on her own again and that the machine was the only thing keeping her alive. Now we all knew that this wasn't what she wanted. In fact, she had already signed off on her DNR and specifically said that she didn't want to intervene with God's plan...But what the hell were we supposed to do with that information? You want us to pull the plug on our Mom, sir?! Nah. Nope. I'm straight. We became babies. Big babbling babies that needed a parent. It was a heavy decision to make on our own so my Dad got on the next thing smoking and was at the hospital Wednesday morning to assess the situation for himself.
The next few days after that became one big blur as we prepared for the inevitable. My mom was taken off life support and was left with a basic oxygen mask. We denied all medication that could have made her better but would have essentially kept her in the same state. They started her on a morphine drip so she wouldn't feel pain. We fought and argued with staff and security about their bullshit "1 person per room, visiting hours end at 9pm" policy. Friends and family came to pay their respects and offer their comfort. We congregated. We cried. We sang. We ate. We danced. We prayed. We told stories and reminisced. We celebrated the life of a truly phenomenal woman...and when it was time, Arica and I cleaned her up so she could make her entrance in style. We washed her body with her favorite scent. We put her hair in a nice up-do. We painted her nails and did her makeup. And then the three of us sat next to her side and watched and waited as her breaths became less and less frequent. Even during this time, my Mom refused to go. It was like she knew that if we were to watch her take her last breath, then we likely would have never recovered from it (it was rooouuuughhhhh ya'll). Eventually it became too much for us to bear, so my Dad happily sat in our place. After spending 5 long days and nights in the hospital, we finally went home.
Between planning her funeral, being a mom, running a business, starting school and trying to have a life, I feel like I'm a hair away from going crazy. My life source, my mother, my Queen, my all things everything no longer occupies a physical space in this world. And that is incredibly painful...Luckily for me, I know that pain is a temporary feeling. With it comes strength, healing, understanding, patience, and appreciation amongst other things.
It was in those last days with my mom that I began to realllly appreciate the small things that we take for granted in life. We as humans get caught up in some of the most ridiculous shit and we forget to take care....take care of ourselves. Our lives. Each other. We have this absurd tendency to put the most meaningless shit under a microscope and blow it up to max size. Assuming that it takes priority and precedence over US (our mind. our body. our soul). These parasitic thoughts then begin to take over...That's when we feel like we can tell people what to do with their space, their time and their emotions. We have expectations and assumptions. We become judgemental and prejudice. And we get so wrapped up in this cycle that we forget to simply LIVE....and take advantage of the small things in life! (ie. breathing, walking, TALKING, touching, hugging, feeling, BREATHING, running, kissing, drinking etc..just imagine not being able to do what you're doing right now. Ever).
I'm in avid believer of reincarnation. There is no way that I haven't been here before and I refuse to think that THIS life is it. Our souls are immortal. The body will eventually break itself down and return to the earth (from which it's made) but energy (from which our souls are made) cannot be destroyed.......While I'm here in THIS current body, I am going to make the fucking best of it. What is fear when death is certain?
If you're still here, thanks for listening/reading my essay lol! I know it was LONG! But it was incredibly refreshing...I was going back and forth with the idea of telling my audience, but I wanted to be transparent with you guys. This company was built on the foundation of FAMILY first, and it's a peek into my life. The characters I use are real. The situations are real. The emotion behind the brand is real and that's the ultimate goal here. I wanted to offer a product that people could honestly relate too. Can you imagine how many card ideas I've come up with for my new bereavement category that's launching sooner than you think?!? Starting with the "shit you shouldn't say when someone dies" card. Nah but really, this is just a part of the process you know. Life is where I get my ideas from.
I say all that to say....just live ya'll. Love. Appreciate. Apologize. Forgive. Forget!!!!! Have fun. Be bright. Be vulnerable. Be understanding. Have compassion. Offer support. You just never know what card you'll be dealt.
Peace and light!
Tara Ahman James