It’s hard to believe itʻs been this long, but on this date ten years ago my mom died unexpectedly. She’d been in the hospital for a week with unmanageable high blood pressure/low heart rate, and on the 3rd of July, her doctors installed a pacemaker for her. The next day she was transferred to a rehab place; we expected that she’d be there for a couple of weeks and would then be able to go home. We were happy about that. During long discussions, three of us siblings talked about how to manage her care once she got home, but several hours after getting to rehab, she had a massive stroke. She was rushed back to the ER; my brother and sister, who were there, hours later made the decision, which Mom had stated she wanted should the situation arise, to remove her from life support. You can read the whole story here, and the story of our road trip back to California six weeks later for Momʻs memorial service here.
Ten years ago. For a number of years I mourned that I didn’t get down there in time to say goodbye. I grieved hard, and shed many tears. Time and good therapy, however, have smoothed out the sharp, jagged, edges, and I have come to realize that maybe it was best that Leilani and I didn’t get there till the next day. We were able to pick up my dear sister-in-love on the way down, we were able to get a good night’s sleep before making that long, twelve-hour drive, and Leilani’s wonderful husband took the time to make a run to the grocery store and make up a care package for our road trip.
But more than that, I’ve realized that I had an idealized picture of what would happen if I’d made it there in time. I’d thought that there would be a healing moment of reconciliation between Mom and me, that I’d be able to let her go with that knowledge, and that all the stuff between us would be resolved. I thought I’d be able to tell her I loved her and she’d be able to understand me. I know now how unrealistic that expectation was.
For one thing, my mom wasn’t really responsive or conscious. I don’t even know if she would’ve been able to squeeze my hand in acknowledgement of my presence. The only thing that could have happened is that I would’ve been able to tell her again that I loved her (which I’d done on the phone several days before). Even if she couldn’t have heard me, at least I would’ve been able to say it. But in all honesty, that wouldn’t have been enough. I wanted a perfect moment, where all the hurts and misunderstandings were cleared up in one glorious, healing, conversation.
I’ve also learned that it’s very possible that nothing would’ve gone the way I’d wanted it to. Her stuff may still have gotten in the way. My stuff may have gotten in the way. Her discomfort could’ve overridden everything. It could’ve ended up as a negative experience for me. I could’ve come back home even more hurt than I already was. I’ve done some really hard work during these ten years working through all this.
In the end, the most important thing that I’ve figured out, with help, mind you, is that I can trust my Papa God with his timing, even though my (unrealistic) hopes weren’t realized.
One of these days, when there’s no chance of starting a fire anywhere, I will send up a sky lantern into the sky and I’ll say goodbye to our complicated and disappointing relationship. I’ll say goodbye to hopes not realized, to now-impossible reconciliation, and to thinking that somehow, if I’d just said or done the right thing, things would’ve been different. Maybe I’ll even make a floating lantern, too, and set it out to sea. Mostly I feel sadness for the things that could have been, but weren’t.
But on this 4th of July, as with all of the ones I’ve had since 2008, I will light a candle for my mom, or take a sparkler out on the lānai, watch the fireworks light up the sky across the valley, and thank her for the things she did do well. I will say once again, “Aloha ʻoe, Mom…I love you.”
July 4, 2018 sunset