Thoughts, so many thoughts flooded my mind. My beautiful mom, who doesn't look anywhere near her fifty-four years of age, who works out at the gym three times a week, my mom who is so full of life, is dead? My knees felt weak. Then I asked, “Where is she”, was she on the bed, on the floor, in the hospital? I wanted to know where my mom’s lifeless body laid. I’m not sure why. “Who’s with you”, I asked. More thoughts. Is my dad by himself? Are the police there, or the paramedics? What I am going to do without a mom? I have a brand new baby. What will my dad do? She’s supposed to come over to the house to eat chili, and visit with us today. I still need my mom. Has my little sister been told? Another thousand thoughts ran through my head in just a matter of seconds.
Then possibly, the worst thought of all came to my mind, and I say to my dad, “The girls, oh, the girls, what are we going to tell the girls”? Madeline was only two months old at the time. Kaylie was four and Alyssa, my niece, was six. They loved their Nana. They adored her and she adored them. It broke my heart to have to tell them of the news.
We didn’t tell Kaylie until later that day. I had prepared myself that she may not understand, that when I told her that her Nana had died and gone to heaven that she may say, “okay”, and “can I play now”. I have to say that I was surprised when she started sobbing, and said, “I don’t want Nana to die”. She understood. She understood. She asked Mike and me question after question. Questions we were not prepared for. Questions that we were surprised a child of four years and three months could come up with. All three of us sat on the couch and cried. The first person she wanted to see and talk to was Alyssa. We returned later that night to my parents’ home. This time Kaylie was with us. There were a lot of friends and family at the house. As we walked through the front door Kaylie locked eyes on Alyssa, and she made a beeline for her. First, she asked Alyssa if she knew that Nana died, and then do you know what that sweet baby said to her? She said, “It will be alright because we are going to take care of each other”. I always say Kaylie is a little mommy because she likes to help and take care of others. This is the legacy that my mom is leaving. She reminds me of my mom in that way. My mom always had such a compassion for others, especially children.
At some point in that early morning call with my dad, I asked what happened, but I didn’t have to. I knew that she must have slipped into heaven while she was sleeping. You see, my mom hadn’t been feeling well off, and on for over a year. Mainly it was horrible headaches she was having during the night, but she also was having shortness of breath. When she felt good, it was good, and I could barely keep up with her while shopping at the mall. When she felt bad, it was bad and she couldn’t walk from the car to the house without being winded. I had witnessed bad. She stayed with us for a few days, after Madeline’s birth, to help out. I would wake up often with the baby in the middle of the night, and she would be sitting in the recliner, next on the couch, then the bed. It was awful. She couldn’t breathe, and she couldn’t get comfortable. I thought to myself, she is dying. I wish I would have taken that fleeting thought more seriously. She went to the doctor that same week and was prescribed a steroid. The medication helped tremendously She was like a new person. She felt great, and I thought all was well.
She had been to the doctor many times that year, and at some point was diagnosed with COPD. The doctor assured her that he could manage her illness, and that she didn’t need to see a specialist. You have to understand how pretty and young for her age she looked. How put together she always seemed, even when she felt miserable. I don’t think her doctor believed how sick she was. She would verbally tell him how crippled with migraines she was, but I don’t think her appearance matched with what she was saying. We still aren’t certain what she died from. She had expressed to us, long ago, that she didn’t ever want to have an autopsy. So, hard as it is, we honored her wishes. The cause of death listed on her death certificate is COPD. I honestly don’t believe that is what she died from, but we will never know, and the bottom line is that, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to bring her back.
That day, the day I received that phone call, was the worst day of my life. I can’t believe it’s been a year. It seems like just yesterday. The pain of losing her is still so fresh, so raw. I find it odd that I am still in shock that she is gone. I often wonder when the shock will wear off. Two years, maybe three? It must go away eventually. My mom’s death, and the disbelief that she is gone, is still the first thought I have when I wake up, and the last thought I have as I drift off to sleep. The thought of living the rest of my life without my mom completely overwhelms me. I can’t allow myself to think on it long. It’s a terrifying thought that I can’t wrap my head around. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t consume my thoughts throughout the day, but it is the first and last thing I think about in those quiet late night, and early morning hours.
I love and miss my mom so much, and may blog about her from time to time this week. I could list all of the ways that I miss her but, I think I’ll save that for another day.
Katie Madeline O'Steen
October 19, 1954 - January 19, 2009