August 20th, 2012.
The sting of bone on linoleum. I suppose that’s the moment I realized that nothing was ever going to be normal again. I always assumed the idea of actually falling to your knees in grief was a contrived act of attention-seekers, something you did when you knew someone was watching.
On this night, no one was watching. Well, maybe the nurse. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her as she closed the door. She had a look of concerned sympathy, the look of a good person who wants to tell you everything will be ok, but they know it won’t, and a sense of professionalism prevents them from saying anything at all. But they know. Perhaps they’ve gone through it themselves, or maybe it’s just seeing it almost every day at work that gives a learned understanding, kind of a grief by osmosis. How they can sleep at night, I’ll never know.
She closed the door because I had, for lack of a better phrase, finally lost it. It was near 1am, I was about to go home for the night, and I had just finished my now-nightly ritual of taking off Mom’s glasses, cleaning them, and putting them back in their carrier for my Dad to put back on her the next morning. Up to this point, every moment of the last nine days happened so fast, I didn’t have time to fully grasp what was happening, and even if I did, I had things I needed to do for the family. Someone needed to plan, to schedule the flights, to study what exactly this cancer was and what we were dealing with. I’ll never really know if any of that really needed to be done, or it was just my way of coping. But in this instant, I had no distraction. There was nothing in the world except for what I saw right in front of me.
My Mom was dying. She was in pain. The woman who was there for every single fucking thing that I had ever needed her for was going to die. And there was absolutely nothing I could do. In my early twenties, before I understood my anxiety and panic problems, she would spend hours on the couch with me, just holding me, being Mom, being my one constant in this world I could count on. Now here we are, some 12 years later, and it’s my turn, and all I can do is hold her hand while she grimaces in pain. For the first time in my life, I had no inclination what to do next. Helpless. Lost. When that realization hits you, well, you just fall. You really do. You fall down and you cry.
And you know what she did? This woman whose body was filled with tumors from her liver to her neck? Who couldn’t sit up in her bed because it hurt too much, who was suffering from the pain that the doctors’ tardy prescriptions couldn’t keep up with? She lifted her hand, with all the IV tubes sticking out of it, and she patted the back of my head that now lay on her bed. She never opened her eyes that night, but somehow, she had this supernatural way of still being Mom. Unbelievable. Here I am, a mess because I can’t figure out a way to help her, and she still finds a way to help me. That was Annette Tank.
We had some better days after that, and some worse ones, and 14 days later, she was gone. I think she wanted it that way. Mom was a thinker, and for the week before her passing, whenever she was awake, I could see her just looking out the window putting all the pieces together. I think she came to terms with life and she was ready to go. Good for you, Mom.. this whole cancer thing was bullshit anyway.
Annette Tank was a badass – she never gave up seeking her path, and never backed away from a fight to get there. Hell, seven days before she passed, she wanted to get up and go to the bathroom. I told her she couldn’t get out of bed, and we had to wait for the nurses. She put a finger in front of my nose and said “David Scott, I will slap you in the face”.
So today, I’m going to be sad, and I’m going to cry, and I’m going to be jealous of everyone that gets to hug their Mom. When I’m done with that, I’m going to pour a glass of red wine, I’m going to hold it up to the Eiffel Tower, and I’m going to tell Mom – wherever her spirit is out there – that she means more to me now than ever.