Three years ago today, my mother passed away.
She died at home. My father held one of her hands, and I held the other. I didn’t cry in all the hours leading up to it, and I didn’t cry immediately afterward.
An hour later I posted on Facebook, “Bye Mom.” Finally the dam broke, and I cried harder than I’ve ever cried in my life.
I hated myself for that. It took a fucking Facebook post.
Eventually I found a reason I could accept: until that post, I hadn’t acknowledged she was gone. Even as her body lay cooling in the next room, I thought she’d be fine.
I couldn’t accept it because I wanted to talk to her again. One more time, in person. Because the last time, I don’t think I said what she wanted me to say. What she needed to hear.
– – –
The day before, I was in New Zealand. I had a tiny 40-square-foot apartment in Wellington. I’d been pounding the pavement in Miramar, questing for a job on the upcoming Hobbit films. An exasperated receptionist at Wingnut, hounded to the breaking point, told me they’d begin hiring tomorrow. I could check back then.
Then my wife called. My mother, who had been battling breast cancer for ten years, was in the hospital.
I had to come home, and our bank accounts were empty. My mother-in-law paid for a plane ticket and I left Wellington, not to return for a year and a half (incidentally, for the world premiere of the first Hobbit film).
– – –
One month before that — to the day — I was in Los Angeles, preparing to leave for New Zealand.
It was the adventure of a lifetime. I’d been vlogging for weeks about my desire to work on the Hobbit. A modest following had grown around my videos, all of them wishing me well. My wife and I spent all our money on a camera and a plane ticket — just one. She’d wait for me in Los Angeles until I had a paycheck and a decent place to live, and then she’d follow with our daughter.
On that last day, my mother asked to talk to me. Alone. I knew why, at least vaguely. But that didn’t mean I had to acknowledge it.
She wanted to talk because it might be the last time.
Our conversation rambled. At her insistence, I recounted my plans for Wellington.
She wanted to know how long my wife and daughter would have to wait. I didn’t know, but I hoped less than a month. She pursed her lips. A month was too long. But what could we do? I’d already borrowed thousands to pay for my trip. We couldn’t all go. She pursed her lips, but she didn’t say anything.
Mom led a wild life. She’d lived more fully, fought more savagely and fallen much further than I’d ever dreamed of in my sheltered upbringing. By the time I was born, she and my father were wealthy, and I was raised on privilege and private school.
Since then, their money had dried up. And I think she was worried I couldn’t make it on my own. That I’d always end up dependent on them. That without their money, which no longer existed, I couldn’t survive.
So I think she was happy to see me journeying across the world with nothing but a hope and a few bills in my pocket.
She said what she needed to say. She told me that she loved me. That she was proud of me. That she knew I’d reach my goals one day. She said the words, “even if it happens after I’m gone.” But that line of conversation was dangerous. I shied away.
I didn’t cry. She didn’t either. Not then. She stretched out her her thin, wasted arms for a hug. In case it was the last time.
– – –
Prophecy must have touched her that day. She didn’t say a word between the time I returned to Los Angeles and the time she passed.
Silent as the tears I couldn’t shed until it was too late for them to mean anything to her.
I know she’s having new adventures. I know she’s happy, thriving, filled with a new joy.
But I still miss her. I wish I’d been there for that final month before her health failed. I wish we’d had that last conversation, the one where I said, “Yes, I know this is happening. Yes, it makes me sad. But yes, you can go.”
I’d have given anything to be there and say those words.
And I’m also glad I was in New Zealand. Because ultimately, that’s what she wanted for me. Until then, I’d never done anything daring with my life. That was the stupidest, most foolhardy, most insane adventure I’d ever taken in my life. I think she was happy to see it. I think she was happy that, win or lose, her son was not average.
A young husband and father. A struggling artist. A terrible financial planner. Often an absent and disinterested son.
But in the end — her end, not mine — an adventurer.
I hope that’s what she wanted. It’s all I ever gave her in the end.
I hope I’m what she wants.
I wrote a short story loosely based on my experience in those final days. It’s more for me than for anyone else — but if you’ve lost someone in a similar way, it may resonate with you. You can find it by clicking here.