I stayed up all night at my mother's bedside while she slept. The ICU nurses were kind enough to let me stay past visiting hours, understanding how far I've traveled and how long I've been away. Many thoughts ran through my head as I watched my mother sleep. Mostly I thought about past memories of growing up, of always having my mother around. She was there to guide and encourage me when I was lost; scold and discipline me when I got out of hand and did something terrible; comfort and support me through some of the hardest times of my life. And now, I was preparing myself for the possibility that I may not have her in my life anymore.
She was still sleeping that morning when two of my elder sisters showed up. I left them at the hospital and caught the bus home. Looking out the window, I was taken aback at how much the place had changed. The roads were wider and there were a lot of new business ventures. At the same time, I saw some old failed shops, abandoned and falling apart. Still, new buildings and new homes outnumbered the ruined ones. The place was bigger than I remembered. New towns were springing up. Progress, I suppose.
When I walked home, I was greeted by a niece. I was surprised, given that she was still in grade school when I left. Now, she was in college! How fast they grow. As I got near my Mom's house, I was greeted by my eldest brother. He lived next door to my Mom. I was feeling very conflicted when he hugged me. Part of me was hoping for the best. But I was also enraged, feeling disgusted that he would dare put his arms around me. He was Judas, and I could feel the Romans hammering nails into my flesh. I did not get along with my eldest brother. For the longest time, he caused the most problems in my family. He was so greedy, always wanting more just because he was the eldest. Somehow, in his head, he was entitled to a bigger share. And when he didn't get what he wanted, he would always get into arguments with my mother. There were times when he just took things from her without asking, even breaking into her home. That's called stealing.
He was such a terrible person. On the outside, he seemed so charming, always joking and laughing. But look a little closer and you'll see that his smile is fake, his laugh is forced, and his eyes were scanning you for anything he might want, his brain scheming away. I'm not exactly sure why he turned out that way. But he lost my trust a long time ago when he lied to me and stole from my mother. Over the years he's done some other despicable things that hurt my mother. But she always forgave him, helping him when he got himself in a mess, which happened quite frequently. I didn't understand why she kept taking care of him, forgiving him when he just kept on doing hurtful things. She told me that when I have children, I would understand.
But I didn't understand, and I told her that I would never let my children take advantage of me like that. But I realize now that I'm not my mother. I didn't have her ability to keep forgiving those who had hurt me; I didn't have her big heart or her incredible strength. I mean, you had to be a strong and patient mother to deal with such monstrous children. I thought it best to keep the peace for my mother's sake. I was calm and did not let my anger overtake me while I spoke to my brother.
Before I headed into my mother's house, I looked at her garden. My mother was quite the talented gardener. She had a gift for nurturing life. Various plants and flowers were thriving in front of the house, beautiful brilliant colors blossoming, dancing in the embrace of a light breeze. But I noticed the gardenias weren't flowering. They were always my favorite because of their beauty and their scent. Somehow, the garden felt a little less magical without their white, fragrant blossoms.
For the rest of the week, I spent nights at the hospital. My sisters spent days there. I used that time to tell my mother what I had been doing as well as catching her up on any other family news. At home, I got to reconnect with my nieces and nephews, and I got to know some new ones who were born while I was away. It felt so natural being with my nieces and nephews; most of them were about my age or younger. It was like I had never left, as the feelings of closeness were still there. We laughed and joked like the old days. And it felt good. But along with that familiarity was the sense of strife still so prevalent in my family. It was barely hidden amongst the conversations my siblings had with me, when they would say bad things behind each others back. I suppose some things never change. But I sure as hell wasn't going to let them drag me into their own petty feuds.
I wasn't the last one to come home to see my mother. That honor belonged to my other sister and brother. The morning after they arrived, we all went to visit my mother. It was quite a sight having all my siblings together, visiting my mother. This was the first time that I can remember all of us ever being together. Seriously, growing up, there was always a sibling or two missing from our gatherings. But this was the first time that I can remember all of us in the same place at the same time. What was even more miraculous was that we managed to behave and not get into any arguments. And my mother seemed to delight in this. She was full of energy and was more communicative than she had been earlier in the week. She still couldn't talk with the ventilator tube in her mouth, and she was still too weak to write. But she could shake and nod her head to yes and no questions; she could roll her eyes; and she could smile and even moved her lips, though no sound was made. We could understand what she was saying.
That night she was the only one left in the ICU, so the nurses let us stay longer. It was just my eldest sister--the only sister I still spoke to--us three youngest boys, and my niece and nephew who stayed to visit my Mom. We joked with my Mom, and she seemed so happy, smiling and rolling her eyes as we poked fun at each other. It felt good. And when we left at 11:30 pm, she seemed to be in such good spirits. We stood outside the hospital, waiting for the rain to stop. The rain was pouring down heavily that night, and I welcomed the coolness. It seemed to lift the heaviness that surrounded me and it drove away the exhausting humidity. It felt like the burdens and worries I had carried since my return were being washed away; it was a good feeling. I sighed relief. I felt renewed.
15 minutes later, my sister gets a call from the ICU. We headed back inside. The nurse said that my mother's heart was slowing down. I took her hand and felt her pulse. I could barely feel it. Her face was much different than when I had first seen her. She seemed to be at peace; she looked so relaxed, almost content. The nurses asked if we wanted to call a code and start CPR on my mother. But I told them no; we had all agreed earlier to keep Mom on a Do Not Resuscitate order. We wanted her to go peacefully. And as we each took an arm or held on to her, her heart beat slower and slower until we could feel it no more. My mother was gone. She had passed away. I had let her go and I was now an orphan.
It was a strange feeling. I thought I would cry, but I didn't. Looking around, I could see my brothers and sister crying silently. My niece and nephew were also crying, tears streaming down their faces. And my heart ached at seeing them cry, feeling pain. I did not like seeing them hurt. I thought I would break down and fall apart when this moment came; but I didn't. A deep calm, a perfect stillness had taken over my body. Though I was heartbroken and feeling sorrow, I was also feeling an immense sense of relief. My mother was no longer in pain. She was finally at peace.
I felt like I was running on automatic pilot, calling my other siblings to let them know what had happened. They arrived and sobbed mostly while I stayed calm. I felt detached from the emotional chaos surrounding me. We held a small service at the church; it was the public affirmation that my mother was gone. I still hadn't cried, but it rained heavily on the way home. The heavens did the crying for me. And I realized that just as the absence of the gardenias made the garden less magical, the loss of my mother had made life less special.