My mom had visited me just six weeks before I found myself at her hospital bedside. During her visit, she seemed absolutely normal. She had a bit of a balance issue and some trouble in the tub, but I thought nothing of it. Mom was 74 and had both of her knees entirely replaced only a couple of years before.
We ate good food, had some good conversation and of course napped. Ma got settled into my new home and new city and we even toured a couple of local retirement communities. She was contemplating leaving Idaho and moving closer to me here in Vancouver.
The first clue that something might be wrong was when Mom lost her cellphone on the train platform just before departing for Idaho. She called from a borrowed phone the next day to let me know she had lost her cellphone and she asked me for my Auntie Elaine’s phone number.
“Why?” I asked.
“So I can call Elaine and she can let everyone know I won’t have my phone for a while,” she replied.
OK. Why couldn’t I just let everyone know? Odd. But then again, my Mom could be an odd duck at times. Who isn’t?
The next clue came in the form of a panicked phone call from the same auntie. She had finally talked to Mom, who sounded very confused about very basic information. This was disturbing to me but every time I got Mom on the phone, including right after speaking with my auntie, she was lucid and normal.
Finally, after planning to stop by and say hello to Mom on my way through town, and not being able to get a hold of her, I was worried. Her sleep could be best described as erratic and she was often napping or awake at odd hours. I hoped and imagined she was getting some rest, maybe seeing something beautiful or reading a good book. I hoped and imagined she was just enjoying the day.
The truth was, Mom had actually passed out on the floor of her apartment and was unable to get up. I have no idea how long she was there, trapped, while I was only steps away. Eventually someone found her. Stripped naked, literally and figuratively.
I was on vacation when I saw a “208” area code appear on my phone screen and I knew immediately that something was wrong with Mom. I’d had a pit growing in my stomach since mid-January and I knew it was time to face it.
The doctor on the phone informed me that Mom’s brain was riddled with cancer. He used the term “multiple lesions.” I would be heading to the hospital the next day, Feb. 18, to see her.
It felt unreal to know that, on what would have been my dad’s 84th birthday and 10 years to the day after I had said goodbye to him in a hospital, I’d be finding out my mother’s fate.
Mom had metastasized cancer all over her body and was dying. My parents, while 10 years apart in age, would both only live to their 74th birthdays. I couldn’t understand the cruelty. I already thought I’d been robbed of so many years with my dad. How could I be robbed of all the same years with my mom?
She hung on in the hospital for about two-and-half more weeks before succumbing to diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a very treatable cancer if found in its earlier stages. She died the day before the medical flight I had booked to bring her to me here in Vancouver, the city I now call home.
I wanted her to die here. I wanted to be with her when she died. I know she’s an ancestor now. I know she no longer has the constraints of space and time, but I still felt better knowing she was going to be close to me upon death. As if she would be imprinted here, in Vancouver with me, if she died here.
I was adopted. To be more specific, I was a transracial adoptee. I was adopted very young, but I mourned the loss of my first family for a lot of my life. I mourned them the only way I knew how — through fantasy. I fantasized about how my life would have been different if I had been raised by them. I made up elaborate stories in my head about how my parents met and why they couldn’t keep me.
And yet, simultaneously, I was given a gift — a new family. My mom especially was a gift. She was my caregiver, my security. Not all adoption outcomes are good ones, but mine was and I am so grateful.
I didn’t want to be adopted. I still wish I wasn’t adopted. But despite losing my first family, despite all the trauma of being an adoptee — especially a transracial adoptee — I felt loved. I feel loved. My parents were and forever will be Mom and Dad. My gifts.
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