A year ago, my family and I spent our very last road trip together as a complete 4 person unit. My Mom’s lifelong dream was to venture out to California and bask in the beauty and strength of the big, red Sequoia trees. Her dream came true last June when my Dad’s company flew them out to California to visit the trees. While ascending the winding roads through Sequoia National Park, my Mom started to feel light headed and unwell so my Dad brought her back to the cabin. The cancer was revving up its destruction and decided this was the time to make itself known once and for all that it had total control of her body. Things took a turn for the worst, she landed in the hospital and I received a text at 6am from my Dad that said my Mom was in the hospital and she probably wasn’t going to make it through this time. I was absolutely frantic. I had work today. What do you mean she isn’t going to make it? She’s a survivor and a fighter, she always makes it. How could this happen during her dream trip? I’m in New Jersey and my Mom is dying in a hospital bed across the country. Should I go? Should I stay? I have to see her again, this can’t be happening. My Dad insisted I stay put, that she would be gone before I made it there. No way in hell was I going to stay put. I needed to see, hug, talk to her and hear her voice one last time. I followed my instincts, turned off my emotions and launched into flight mode…literally. I booked a flight and left for California within a few hours of that text. It took a tremendous amount of focus and staying present to get through that 12 hour journey of flying, layovers and driving to the hospital without falling to pieces. I couldn’t. I had to get there ASAP and getting stuck in thoughts of a future without my Mom would surely slow me down. Throughout the flights and driving, I like to believe my Mom could hear my thoughts as I begged her to please hang on, please don’t go, please let me be there with you. And she did hang on. Seeing her in that hospital bed was a punch in the gut. I couldn’t breathe. She was in and out of consciousness but she opened her eyes to see me. The doctors had 0.0001% belief that she would make it through the night. I laid in the hospital bed with her, playing her favorite music, caressing her face and telling her how much I loved her. Despite the doctors grim outlook, my Mom wasn’t ready to die and certainly not in a hospital bed in California. She fought like I’ve never seen anyone fight before to keep the cancer at bay for just a little longer. My brother flew out a few days later and we rotated in shifts to stay with her, although I was reluctant to sleep for fear I’d miss a single living moment with her. I’ll never forget the hours laying in the chair next to her watching her every breath and when she told me I was her angel. As she improved, the hospital could not clear her for flying as it would require a flat bed, nurses to administer pain medicine and the risk of her dying mid-flight was too high. The only way to get Mom home, to fulfill her wish of dying in the home she raised us in, with her little Pomeranian Laurelei by her side, was to drive back. The impossible became possible when we rented an RV with 1 day notice to drive from California to New Jersey. We were going on a road trip.
Growing up, we took road trips to Key West Florida (~21 hour drive), where my Poppy used to live. My brother and I would spend that time fighting or hollering we wanted to stop at South of the Border. The colors were enticing, it looked like an amusement park.
My parents bought an RV home a few years ago with the intention of road tripping around the country when my Dad retired in several years. The future came early when we RVed from California across the country under distressing yet poetic circumstances. We hadn’t all been together on a road trip since I was a teenager and yet here we were, speeding through the rolling hills of New Mexico, gazing at the Arizona Red Rocks, watching for tornadoes in Oklahoma, and passing through the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, to get my Mom to her final resting place. It was a challenging trip, with my Dad and brother alternating driving while I cared for my Mom in the back. We made it to NJ in 3 1/2 days on June 12th, my niece Kadence’s birthday. It meant everything to my Mom to make it home to see her grandbaby turn 6. It was exhausting, sad, beautiful, and surreal all at once. Despite an awful predicament, everything worked out in our favor.
A year ago, my Mom was very sick but she was still alive. 3 months from now will mark 1 year since she died and time is not healing anything. I miss and feel her absence more than ever. Life is all about “firsts”. Whether its parent/child, lovers, or friends, there are a whole slew of firsts in relationships. First word, first kiss, first sleepover talking all night sharing secrets. When a close relationship ends in death or distance, everything turns into lasts. The last time we talked, the last hug, the last visit, the last laugh, the last memory. The void and loneliness grows larger and larger as you experience new firsts in your own life without this person to share or experience it with.