My mom was not a perfect person.
She may have lacked judgment, may have made poor choices. She may have done things, and said things, that were not right, influenced by the pills she ate and the madness that she developed over time.
My mom hurt her children over the years. Caused pain to her family. Her actions and choices created rifts, resentment, and anger. We would call her selfish, lazy, weak, vindictive, always a victim, never the hero.
My mom grew up in a broken home, filled with drugs, adult antics, moving place to place, and eventually abandoned by her own mother for a period of time. She was alone for days on end, eating a loaf of bread in the fridge, waiting for her mom to come home. Her step-dad drove by one day, she saw him, and fled after him on foot. She was adopted by him and felt loved. Then he remarried, had kids of his own and she felt neglected, hurt, and turned to drugs and men.
She ended up with my father, a businessman of sorts who was into the drug scene, and they had a whirlwind romance. After they married, they had my sister. Then I came along 6 years later. My dad stopped doing drugs after my 2nd birthday, and remains clean to this day.
My mother continually checked herself in and out of rehab, and eventually got hooked on prescription drugs. One of my earliest memories that I’ve retained was when I was around 5 years old. It was Saturday morning, and I was watching Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner cartoons on the TV in my parents’ bedroom. My dad was out grocery shopping; my sister was in a makeshift bed in my parent’s room sleeping near me. I heard a loud crashing sound followed by a ‘thud’ in the bathroom. I jumped up from the bed and ran into the bathroom vanity area. She was on the floor, on her back, shaking violently, making gurgling sounds, blood trickling from her mouth. This will never…ever leave my mind. I called out for my sister, who then called 911. This all happened because she stopped her Valium medication abruptly, which triggered a seizure.
My dad bought my sister and me custom shirts after this terrible experience, with our names on it, saying “Mom’s Hero.”
Years later, my mom got involved in an online romance with a guy in Chicago. She focused all her attention on him, as her marriage crumbled and fell apart, and eventually after my parents divorced, she had him move in 3 weeks after my father moved out. He was a nice guy, at least to my sister and me for the most part. She was enamored with him. He, however, did not know how to handle her bizarre, drug-fueled behavior, but he did the worst thing anyone of us could do: let it be. Eventually this drove him to depression, overeating, and he stopped taking care of himself as well.
And as usual, my mother continued to be in and out of rehab.
My older sister eventually cut ties with her. She fell in love with a German guy, and they would visit each other over the course of a few years. Eventually, she moved there to start her own life. Before she made her move, my mother would threaten to turn off the internet on my sister so she wouldn’t be able to talk to her future husband and future father of two beautiful little girls. My mom would torture my sister verbally, and I spent many nights consoling my sister as she cried herself to sleep. I’d spend the night in her room with her and we’d talk all night. The last night before her departure, we had all gone out to dinner. My mom’s face ended up in a plate of food as she nodded off at the table.
Through the years, I coped with things by smoking copious amounts of pot and convincing myself that the household I lived in wasn’t so terrible. During this time, my mom would have me take her to pharmacies, telling me that if I didn’t, I would kill her inadvertently. My mom’s death was my greatest fear. I was her care taker. I was her “hero”. I would remove finished cigarettes from her mouth and put them out. I would prop her up with a pillow when she tipped over in a drugged out sleep. I would pet her hair sometimes and fix it, watching her sleep. She would sometimes wake up and look at me with a dazed smile and say “hi baby girl…” and then drift back to sleep. I’ll always remember the cigarette holes, in all of her shirts, the couches, the pillows, from her drifting in and out of consciousness, burning things, covering things in ashes.
Days turned into months, months turned into years. I had graduated high school, barely, and was attending a community college part time, while working two jobs to help my mom and my stepdad pay the bills. One thing I would never understand is how money was so tight, considering he had a decent paying job with the government, and ironically, with DEA. I then realized later on how expensive pain medication was, especially for the amount she’d consume. I was going nowhere with my own life, and going nowhere fast. I happened to meet my now husband at one of my jobs, and after a few months of dating, he told me “you should really work on you, and your life. Time goes by way too fast, and now is when you need to make the most of it.” He was right.
I remember the day I moved out and moved up north. My husband picked me up from the apartment to take me to the airport. He knew somewhat of the situation, and didn’t care to speak with my mom. She stood out on the balcony as I loaded my suitcase into his car, and gave her a wave. She cried, smiled and waved goodbye, watching the car drive off until we made a turn down the street.
As I’d visit throughout the years, I noticed the apartment deteriorating. My mom was losing her teeth, her hair was thinning, she was gaining weight, and my stepdad was pretty much the same, except tired and heavier. My mom had quit smoking, but became addicted to chewing nicotine gum, and of course, she was still addicted to her pills. Even if she denied it. Which she would insist regularly, as she slurred into the phone and tripped over her words. She still had a problem with them. I noticed the nicotine gum was smeared into the carpets of the apartment. The walls were yellowed from previously smoking, and mold began growing in certain areas.
I eventually moved back to Florida because my husband’s father was ill and needed help wrapping up his apartment. I still refused to visit my mom’s place more than once a year, coming up with excuses, avoiding getting sucked into that world. My stepfather would call me every few months and tell me she was in the hospital and I should come by, trying to guilt trip me. I eventually told him that I was old enough to avoid the constant manipulation and that if he really wanted to see her get help, he should man up and send her to rehab himself. He stopped calling since then. I was proud of myself.
My stepfather died in September due to complications of pneumonia and heart failure. My mom was leaving me voicemails telling me he was dying, and I had already decided that she was trying to stir up drama, as usual. Until I got a voicemail, and her tone was serious, and she sounded sober. That voicemail had me go down to the hospital where my stepfather was. He was hooked up to machines, and the nurse told me he was awake but couldn’t speak due to the breathing tubes. I stared at him from the other side of the hospital room, arms folded. It was just him and I alone in this room. I looked at him, and with tears said “I know you tried with her. You did the best you could. I do love you. Thank you for taking care of her. Thank you for everything you tried to do.” and walked out of the room. My mom left me another voicemail 2 hours later, and said “he passed away.”
The next few weeks, I did my best to stay in touch with my mom. I still didn’t bring myself to go to her apartment. I knew she was alone. She was terrified of being alone. She would also never leave the house unless my stepfather took her somewhere. After he died, a nice neighbor of hers who was a cab driver would take her places. A co-worker of my stepfather would call my mom every other day and check in on her.
In October, Hurricane Matthew was approaching, and the day before it was supposed to hit, my mom was admitted into the hospital due to chest pains and anxiety. I knew she just didn’t want to be alone during the hurricane. She called me from the hospital, and told me they were releasing her the next day, and they wouldn’t keep her during the storm. She asked me to pick up some candles and batteries for her apartment. I hesitated, obliged, and went to the hospital to pick up her keys to let myself into the apartment.
When I saw her, the vast majority of her teeth were missing, she had gained even more weight, her hair had turned grey, and yet her eyes lit up like she saw fireworks when I walked in. She wrapped her arms around my waist from the bed and said “you look like Christmas morning.” I nervously laughed, and petting her head, made jokes with her about her needing to fake an injury so the hospital could keep her longer. We laughed. We didn’t talk about my stepdad passing. We didn’t speak about anything. We just laughed. I took the keys, told her I had to run. She told me to keep them, which was my stepdad’s set, and she thanked me for getting her supplies and told me she loved me. This was the last time I’d see her again.
After I bought supplies, I went into the empty apartment and the smell was overpowering. My nose burned with smell of cat urine. I saw the black mold on the wall spreading into the air vents. I saw a roach scurry under the kitchen counter. I was mortified.
The next day, my mom called me when she was home, and I explained to her that the state of the apartment was horrible. I asked if she noticed the mold on the wall, she replied meekly ‘no.’ I told her to turn around and look at the AC vent and she just sighed “oh..no.. I see it…” I felt that familiar, pathetic hope build up in me again, as I told her it was time for a fresh new start. It was time to rebuild her life, that it wasn’t all over now that my stepdad had passed, that it was never too late to start again. I don’t think she took me seriously.
A few weeks later, she went to one of her drug-pushing doctors, bought more pain pills, and died.
My mom died, surrounded by hundreds of pills scattered about the floor.
My mom died not knowing she had two granddaughters from my sister.
My mom died by herself. In my old room.
My mom died naked, on the floor.
My mom died, leaving a note to call me in case of an emergency, with my phone number.
My mom died, and my husband and police found her.
My mom died.
This was the thing I feared the most my entire life. My mother’s death. I stayed with her all these years, thinking I could prevent it. That I could get her to change. That I could fix her. But I couldn’t… the only person who could fix her was herself. I tried in vain. Because despite everything, I knew she had a good heart. That she was a good person. She just made the wrong choices, and it was too hard to make better ones. I know she loved me and my sister. She only wanted what was best for us. She told me on the phone a few days before she died, that all she wanted to know was that if I was happy. That this was the best gift to give a parent is to know that their kids were okay.
Right now, part of me wants to scream, to tell her I am not happy, that what she did by just giving up hurts me to the core and that I feel I wasn’t good enough or important enough for her to keep trying. But the other side of me, perhaps the more sensible side, says it was time, and it wasn’t my fault. She loved me, and that had nothing to do with how and when her life ended.
If I can tell her one thing, right now, and know that, 100% she is listening to me, I would say:
I forgive you mom. I love you. I love you so much. I know you cared about me and loved me too. I miss you, the real you, that I would get a glimpse of now and then. You were funny, caring, gentle, creative, and had a beautiful soul. I love you forever and ever. I forgive you mom.
I hope she knows, wherever she may be, that I feel this way.
The ease of access to dangerous pain medications is appalling. The way reckless doctors abuse their patients, sending them in and out of their offices with a prescription like the welfare office, plays a big part in the crisis we see in America. I’ve noticed on television, they play endless medication commercials, and in other countries, they have never heard of such a thing. We have let this go on for too long.
Too many fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and mothers who are emotionally and mentally weak are being used as pawns in a dangerous and sadistic pharmaceutical chess game. It needs to end. No one should lose their family, or childhood, especially to this.