February 4, 2018 is the tenth anniversary of when my mom passed away. A whole decade. It's hard to believe.
I didn't originally intend on holding on to it for ten years, but I kept a bottle of my mom's favorite perfume, Chanel #5. She wore it pretty much every day and it's the fragrance that I most associate with my mom. Honestly, it's not my favorite perfume. It's not something that I would wear. When mom died, my aunt actually took the bottle home, but she never opened it and when she died, I kept it, the box sealed, until this morning.
I unwrapped it and hesitated before smelling. Perfume goes off and this had been a decade. What if it soured? Or what if it simply didn't smell the way I remembered?
I sprinkled a few drops on my wrist and it smelled exactly how I remembered, rich and syrupy, with notes of flowers that I can't place. It smells like mom. I used to give her a bottle every year for her birthday and this one I gave to her just a few weeks before the cancer diagnoses, less than four months before she died.
When I was nineteen and at Mills College in Oakland, I drove to San Francisco and bought her birthday bottle at the Chanel boutique. It was wrapped in beautiful, Chanel paper and just felt extra special. Of course, this was the only time that I have been selected for a random screening at the airport and security had to unwrap the present to check it. Luckily, a kind security officer found scotch tape and rewrapped it for me. I should note that this was before 9/11, when security was less intense.
The months between the diagnoses and when she passed were, by far, the worst of my life. I could barely keep it together, but now when I think back on that time, my bad memories are mostly eclipsed by remembering the kindness people showed me. I was so lucky to be working for great managers at Universal, who were flexible with my need for time off to take care of my mom. I never felt stressed about having to miss work. I had friends checking on me every day, calling, sending notes and visiting. None of it went unnoticed or has been forgotten.
One really special package came from my friend Amy, whom I've never met in person, but befriend through our mutual love of books via Bookcrossing. Amy heard that we had to cancel a pedicure appointment because my mom was too sick. and she sent us a home pedicure kit. I was blown away. It was one of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me.
I remember specific details about those months. I remember the last meal I had with my mom before we got her diagnosis; she met me at Universal City Walk for lunch at Tony Romas. The main reason was to give me some hand warmers that she had bought for me to take on my fall trip to Connecticut. I remember going to Starbucks after leaving the doctor's office, when we knew, but she didn't want to talk about it. We drank iced lattes and tried to pretend that everything was normal, but it wasn't.
A few weeks before she died, when she was in the hospital, I made an unfortunate outfit choice and she picked on me. She made me laugh. I had purchased these rain boots with multi-colored hearts all over them and decided to wear a denim mini-skirt, pink sweater, pink tights, and these boots. I thought it was cheerful and I needed cheerful. She thought it was garish and horrible. She was right. She was too tired, too weak to read in the hospital, so I read aloud non-fiction humor books by David Sedaris and Laurie Notaro. Which also made us laugh.
I had a reunion with my childhood friend, Karin, who worked as a breathing specialist and stopped by to give mom treatments. My mom knew her too, so this seemed like an extra blessing.
I don't remember the last conversation that I had with her. I've tried so hard to recall it, but it's just not there. She was awake when I went to dinner with her best friend, Nancy, on the evening of Friday, February 1st. We left the hospital not realizing that it was the last time we would talk with her. We had dinner at Dinah's Chicken and went back to the hospital.
I slept three nights in the hospital, only leaving that weekend to go home and take a quick shower, grab supplies. There was a couch that made into a bed in her room and the nurses were wonderful, checking to make sure that I was doing okay too. Nancy stayed with me and my aunt came down from Tustin. I didn't sleep much and I was too tired to read. I remember spending a majority of the time planning Julie's baby shower, that I was co-throwing with Fanny. I was looking up Martha Stewart-esque party ideas, as my mom's breathing became increasingly shallow and the "death rattle" came.
She passed away on Monday morning. I'm not sure when she actually died, there wasn't anything monitoring her. No flat-line. I remember looking at Nancy and saying that something felt different. I went over to mom and she was absolutely still. I used the intercom to call the nurse and as we waited for the nurse to come, I told my mom that I loved her.
My aunt, who had been sleeping at my mom's house ( ten min away) showed up before the doctor had finished. She felt terrible for not having spent the night with us and it hurts me to think that she carried that burden with her. I know she did.
I remember funny things about that morning. We waited in the hallway, while the nurses dealt with mom's body. When I went back in the room to get my stuff, I couldn't look at her body. I felt repulsed. It was no longer her. I didn't want to be with my aunt or Nancy. I should have stayed with them, they were hurting too, but I just wanted to go back to my apartment in Pasadena. It was a sunny morning and my eyes hurt when I drove home. I didn't have sunglasses. Divorce was inevitable and I pushed my husband away when he tried to console me. I didn't want him at the hospital and I told him to stay at work that morning. To be fair, he tried. I know he cared for my mom and felt hurt too, but I didn't want him as part of my hurt.
I got home and cuddled with my cat, Nicolette, on my bed. I was so tired. Too tired to sleep. Whole body tired. I also felt overwhelming relieved that it was over. Mom had suffered so much in just a few months and the not knowing how much worse it might get, made me suffer too. I felt relieved. Julie called me. She had found out through her parents, who found out through my aunt. She wanted to leave work to come be with me, but I said it was okay. The following weekend she treated me to a day at Burke Williams, where we got massages and took fancy baths in tubs that were side-by-side. They put cucumbers on our eyelids and then gave us a bowl of fruit to eat while in the tub. We started cracking up, because it wasn't so easy to eat fruit with vegetables on our eyelids!
Less than an hour after going home, I got a call regarding organ donation. Mom was an organ donor, but I was shocked with her emaciated, cancer-ridden body, that anything could be of use. It turns out they could use her corneas and I spent an hour on the phone answering medical questions. Mom was organized and she had created a medical folder with her complete medical history, including everything regarding her cancer. I started laughing on the phone, which surprised the medical guy, but I told him that my mom would have been so happy to know that her organization skills were paying off! I could easily answer all of his questions by using the binder. I know she would have been happy.
Fanny came over to be with me. We made yogurt parfaits and sat chatting in my living room. She shared news with me, some of the happiest, most important news that anyone has ever shared with me- she was pregnant! The baby, Rachel, came the following September and she is very special to me. I love being a step-mom to Zoe and Felix, and "Auntie Karen" to all of my friend's kids. I have a lot of kids to love in my life. But I have to say, that Rachel is extra special in my heart and part of that is because I learned about her on that morning. It was the happy news that I needed to hear. Mom would have loved her too.
Mom was a volunteer with the Glendale Police Department and they wanted to help with her Celebration of Life. It ended up being a bit of a big deal. We rented the banquet room at the Elks Lodge and hundreds of people showed up. The chief of police came and so did the police dogs. My mom helped raise money for the police dog program and became close to those officers, K-9 and human. They even got special permission to bring a dog into the hospital the week before she died. This is the last picture I have of my mom. I don't like thinking of her this way, so sick, but I know that she was happy that they bought one of the dogs to visit. It was a really special moment.
We didn't have an actual funeral. Mom had made arrangements for a cremation and burial plot for herself, back when my dad died in the early 80's. Forest Lawn was actually rather shitty to deal with and it just seemed ridiculous to pay thousands of dollars extra to schedule a time to watch her urn be placed in her slot. I declined. I actually went back to work on the day she was supposed to be interred. It was Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day is my favorite holiday. Even with mom having just died and my marriage falling apart, I was still happy for Valentine's Day. I received multiple flowers from colleagues ( for my mom, not Valentine's Day- That would have been weird) and I had a really great first day back at work. Life was moving on.
I was worried that this tenth anniversary would be horrible, but then I realized something about the date that shifted my thinking. The tenth anniversary of my mom's death, falls on Super Bowl Sunday! Super Bowl Sunday is a magical day of the year. I don't care about football, although my mom did. Super Bowl Sunday is magical, because everything else is empty. It's the best day of the year to do just about anything. I'm hoping, that in honor of my mom, who loved movies, that we will go to a theater and bask in the emptiness of the cinema. I'm really not sure what we will do, but I'm considering it a gift that the tenth anniversary is also on the most magical day of the year. What ever we do, I will be thinking about my mom, missing her and celebrating her by doing something that she would have loved.
I might even splash on a bit of Chanel No. 5.