I never said goodbye
FOUR YEARS ago I told myself that if the time came for me to let go, I’d do so. But when that time finally came, I realized how unprepared I was. How could you say to your dying mom that you were strong enough to let her go?
My mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 46. Proper medication was impossible because of her allergic reactions to antibiotics, vitamins and herbal medicines. She lost her strength and became dependent on me, my younger sisters and my father for everything. I spent my high school days juggling my academics and extracurricular activities with household chores and brushing my mom’s teeth, among other nursing duties.
I was 14 then, a high school sophomore. Immature and stubborn, I thought that by ignoring the fact that my mom was sick, it would eventually vanish into thin air like some forgotten dream. So I immersed myself in my studies and competitions for distraction and to avoid confronting reality. But it was something from which I couldn’t escape.
Some of my teachers scolded me for being late in coming to school; they didn’t understand that I had to hold my mom’s glass of milk in the morning. They sometimes insulted me for forgetting my responsibilities as a class officer; they didn’t understand that I had to spoon-feed my mom her breakfast. They told me I was irresponsible because of my late assignments; they didn’t understand that I had to help my mom sit down, stand up and lie down. They knew, but they never understood.
While my friends were fighting for their parents to leave them alone, I was fighting for my mom to hold on. While they were telling their boyfriends they loved them, I was showing my mom how much I loved her. While they were busy partying, I was busy spending time with my mom, creating memories that I knew would help me ease the pain when the inevitable came.
I wasn’t a perfect daughter. There were times when I’d complain: when she asked me for too many things, or when I couldn’t understand what she was trying to say. Sometimes, when she needed something, I’d play deaf. I’d pretend I was busy and I’d tell my sisters to attend to her. I was frustrated, not with her, but with life’s unfairness.
I was having a hard time. But I knew it was nothing compared with what my mom was going through. One night, she told us how much she wanted to stop fighting her ailment; after all, she said, she knew that sooner or later it would destroy her. I wanted to comfort her, to tell her that everything would be okay—but how? If only I could take away her suffering, I’d have done so without a doubt.
I went to college fearing I could lose her any moment. When summer came, I went home and my mom was the happiest. I could feel her pride, her love, despite the fact that she could no longer tell me. It was something more than words could explain. It was a connection only our hearts could understand. I asked myself then: Am I ready to let her go?
A week after my 18th birthday, the inevitable happened. My mom could no longer open her eyes. She could no longer look at me with eyes full of pride and love. She no longer smiled. I asked my sisters if it was the right time to tell her to stop fighting.
One night we gathered beside her bed. I couldn’t bear to say goodbye. I thought four years were enough for me to say I’d be fine. But I was wrong. Not even 10 years, or 40 years, would be enough for you to be prepared to let go of someone you’ve known all your life. But I did it anyway, despite not wanting to.
I gathered my courage and said, “Mom, we won’t be so selfish to ask you to stay. You’ve done more than enough. We’re going to be fine, we promise. Don’t worry about us anymore. I love you. We love you. We will always do.” I brushed away my tears and kissed her for the last time.
I realized then that sometimes, you’d know it’s the right decision only if you acknowledge how much pain it caused you. I chose to get left behind than to see my mom suffering because I wanted her to stay. I woke at 1 a.m. and found that she had stopped breathing. She had stopped fighting her battle. She had given up, because I told her to.
That was two years ago. The wounds are still fresh, the emptiness still gapes. I have nothing except pictures and memories of her. If I am lucky, I get to see, touch and talk to her in my dreams. But not every day is my lucky day.
I keep asking myself if I will be able to move on someday. But honestly, I don’t want to. This emptiness reminds me that she existed, that she was real. And I will hold on to anything, no matter how painful, just to have proof that I once had someone as precious as she.
The pain has not subsided. I will have to get used to it. Yes, I let her go. But I never said goodbye.
Syrine Gladys C. Podadera, 20, is a communication student of Far Eastern University Manila.
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