It was a frigid January day. We were in the middle of a cold spell and I was suffering from chronic nose bleeds. “Just lie down on your back and relax!” the school nurse would insist, as I’d glare up at her, feeling the blood slide down my nasal passage and down my throat. Needless to say, when I woke up that morning with my nose already fresh with blood, my mom didn’t hesitate to let me stay home from school. To this day, I’m not sure if my mom actually was concerned about my health, or if she just wanted my company. I guess I’ll never know for certain.
I only remember that day in what seems like suspended moments of reality, that when bounded together create some sort of warped memory. It’s funny how time plays tricks on what you remember. In fact, I read once that the more you try to recall a specific memory, the more your imagination distorts the memory. When I learned that I was crestfallen, because my memories are all I have to keep my mother’s legacy alive.
I was sitting on the couch that morning in an absent-minded daze watching Winnie the Pooh. My memory then jumps to me walking over to my mom in the kitchen. All morning she had been trying to clean the house, but here she was sitting on a kitchen chair, shoulders slumped, face expressionless. And I don’t remember how, but next thing I know my mom buried her face in my shoulder and just bawled, and bawled, and bawled. I held her head in my arms, unsure of what to say or what to do. It was the first time I had ever seen my mom cry. I turned my head in silence and continued to gaze at Winnie the Pooh. We stood there for quite some time, at least 15 – 20 minutes. Eventually my mom’s crying subsided, and next I remember following her upstairs to her room. As I was watching her through the doorway, my mom turned to me and confessed, “Grace, I’m not ready to die.” I don’t remember ever responding.
She died a few weeks later.
Fifteen years ago today my mother passed away on a sunny Thursday afternoon in February, surrounded by her close family and friends. As time just speeds by me like a whirlwind, I desperately try to hold on to all I can of what I can remember about my mom. However that memory of my mom, realizing in front of me her limited mortality, has haunted me all my life. In that moment she reminded me of that blog post by a woman named Meredith, a mom suffering from metastatic breast cancer, wrote for her daughter Niomi, as she was trying to come to terms with the fact that she would probably never witness her daughter date boys, or have her period, or get married. She was attempting to cope, knowing damn well that her daughter would grow up without her mother. I think my mom was coping with similar emotions, and those emotions were ripping her apart. And as much as witnessing her breakdown tears me to shreds, I can only be gracious that my mom was able to be strong enough to show me her vulnerability. My mom was tough as nails.
To be honest, my eyes are quivering in tears and my heart rate is racing at the thought of publishing this post for all of you to read. I’m fighting back my nerves to unveil this story because I need to reveal the roots of why I abhor the messages of hope and optimism surrounding the pink-ribbon breast cancer awareness movement. I can’t expect the majority of you to relate, but I need you all to try and understand.
Sometimes on car drives home from work, or when I’m sitting outside the front steps of my childhood house, or when my body is drifting off to sleep at night, I try to imagine what my mom would think of me now. I’m not sure if I embody the woman she imagined me becoming, in her moment of weakness in the kitchen. I can only hope I am the strong and self-assured woman she would have wanted me to be. I can only hope that her courage is what’s prompting me to continue writing and fighting for what I believe to be just. I can only hope, because I guess I’ll never know for certain.
Rest In Peace Susan Marie Shevlin Slawski, you’re gone but you’re never forgotten.