January 19, 2017
Me: Can you believe that 10 years ago at this time I was on my knees in the living room of the Exodus House praying and commanding Mom to come back to life? All of us were – forcing ourselves not to cry and instead praying. Can you believe me, the person I am now, the one lying next to you, was so dumb?
Me: Do you think her body is all eaten up by bugs by now?
Brandon: Nah, probably not.
Me: Her casket was cardboard.
Brandon: Oh… Then Yes.
Me: You know, we were really poor and since we were like SHE’s NOT DEAD, ONLY SLEEPING, we didn’t see the point in a proper casket.
Do you believe she’s just gone, vanished? Like do you believe people don’t have souls and once they die, they die?
Brandon: I’m not sure. We can’t really know.
Me: Because people talk about feeling their past loved ones all the time, like around them. I never feel her, never.
Brandon: Maybe they’re limited to a certain amount of time to visit like that.
Me: But I never did, not even then. Then again, we didn’t even believe she was dead so maybe she tried but we were too dumb to notice.
I really hope she still exists somewhere, just so she can look down on us and feel like a piece of shit for doing this to all of us.
She knew she was going to die, she could’ve told us. She knew Bill would go crazy and not let her go, she said those very words to his brother. She could’ve worked to get the kids put in someone else’s care, or at least give us or Ruth some sort of custody over them. She knew it would be bad once she died and she did exactly nothing. She could’ve prevented most of the pain and suffering all of us went through the last 10 years. We would’ve had to deal with the loss of her, but people deal with loss every day, we could’ve handled just that, but she could’ve prevented the rest of it.
She could’ve said goodbye.
HAHAHAHA, I just said I hope my Mom still exists just so she feels like a piece of shit.
Brandon: Oh dear.
Me: I’ve got to go write.
My mother was a real beauty. She had long dark hair, deep green eyes, and the softest freckled olive skin. She was admired by strangers every time we went out in public; I don’t even think she was aware. When I was little I wanted to look exactly like her. She laughed fully, loud and committed. It still rings in my ears as if an echo of something I heard only seconds ago. She instinctively knew whenever I needed her touch. She would hold my hand or wipe the hair from my face, even while in conversation with someone else.
She was an excellent cook, not just because it was “mom’s cooking,” but she taught herself the proper way to do things. Everyone in the family, everyone at church, basically everyone we met ended up talking about “Lana’s cooking.” In one of our churches, she ran a little café off the sanctuary where people would sit after service and have a cup of coffee and a slice of her famous coffee cake. I suppose my love of cooking came from her. The year before she died, I made homemade raviolis for the very first time. When Mom tried them she said, “You may surpass me in the kitchen, Kayla.” I was so honored and proud.
I adored my mom, worshipped her really. I thought she was perfect. When she first left us with my dad, I thought I’d never forgive her. I did, though; I needed her too much not to. She betrayed me, and she betrayed my dad several times, once by sleeping with his best friend. She got pregnant by another man. She disrupted our entire lives by hanging around people who could not be trusted and they came around the house saying threatening things. She left me and Krystal with our dad who at the time felt like a stranger to me. I believed the awful things she said about him. I believed her exaggerated stories of him controlling her. Somehow, after all of that, I ended up on her side.
The years that followed that upheaval weren’t any better. She uprooted us time and time again, jerking us in and out of homes and schools. In my fourth-grade year, I attended 4 different schools. It became normal to us. We didn’t even blink when we found out it was time to pack and move all our belongings again. I’ll never forget when Hope was 5 or 6 and we had lived in the same house for almost a full year, she said, “isn’t it time for a new house now?” We did move, just a few months later. Mom was chasing the church and running away from herself. When she married Bill, they kept running. They justified every move by saying it was God’s will. I didn’t realize until I was older what awful parenting this was. Krystal and I are so very lucky we were gifted students and managed to keep up between all the schools and with all that instability. Now I wonder if Mom ever even considered how it affected us. If our grades had suffered, would it have been a wakeup call to her? Would she have put us first and reconsidered? Unfortunately, I don’t believe she would have.
Recently I asked my siblings to describe their favorite or strongest memory of Mom. Two of them said the same thing I was thinking, “the strongest ones aren’t very positive memories anymore.” But there are still a few good ones.
Krystal described a time when Mom was still single and trying to raise four kids. We were broker than broke. She borrowed Bill’s tiny, duct taped Chevette (he was our neighbor, not our step-father at the time), and all of us piled in it and drove to Dairy Queen. With our very last $3 Mom bought two peanut buster parfaits and all four of us plus mom shared them in the car. We were so happy and laughing. Mom was very aware of how much we missed out on and was constantly scraping up pennies to try and make us feel special or give us treats.
She also reminded me of the very last Christmas season with Mom. She was very sick at the time but was determined to go out Christmas shopping. She loved picking out gifts for people, even if we couldn’t really afford them. We went to Big Lots and Dollar Tree. We took turns pushing her in the wheel chair. She was so embarrassed of being sick, of feeling sick, of looking sick, but we lightened the mood by talking about how fun it would be to ride around in the electric scooter at Walmart. I remember looking at her when she was in the toy aisle trying to find the perfect Littlest Pet Shop animal for Hannah. Her face and her whole being were completely lit up. She shined when she was thinking of others. In that moment, you couldn’t even tell she was unwell.
Josiah was so young when she died and then afterwards was not allowed to talk about her or look at pictures of her at all, so he has almost completely forgotten her. When I asked him about his memories, he said, “Food. I remember all the food.” He does have one memory he’s held onto, a time towards the end of her life. When she was sick and we were believing in faith for God to heal her, we started buying special foods that were just for her, antioxidant rich foods or anything we’d read about helping to prevent or reverse cancer: blueberries, olives, acai berry juice, etc. All these things were way out of our oatmeal and rice budget range, so we only bought enough for Mom. No one else in the house was allowed to eat them. Josiah remembers Mom often sneaking him some of her special snacks when no one else was around. She was a giver, giving even when she shouldn’t, giving until she had nothing left.
Hope remembers when they got the kitties. One minute Bill was dead set against it and told the kids they were not having pets, then Mom whispered something to him and they ended up coming home with Steele and Ebony that same day. She was always able to do that. Hope reminded me of the running joke that came out of that day, “Mom could persuade him to get an elephant if she wanted to.” We were not allowed to ask one parent and then ask the other if we didn’t like the first answer; we got in trouble for that. The lesson she learned that day was to always ask Mom.
She also recalls when Mom was sick and we weren’t really allowed in the room with her in case we let doubt in. Somehow Hope managed to get some alone time with her. She sat in front of Mom while Mom braided her hair and Hope talked about Dragon Rider, the book she was reading at the time. The moment is so special to her because she had Mom’s full attention, and in a house with 12 people, that was a rare luxury. “She really listened. She took me seriously. She told people not to treat me like a baby.” Mom knew what Hope needed when no one else did.
So many people tell me it gets easier with every year, it’s been ten. The pain of missing her is ceaselessly there, sitting just below the surface waiting to be prodded into eruption. Maybe that’s only because we never properly grieved her. Maybe it will be easier someday, although I can’t imagine it. Today, it simply hurts.
I’ve chronicled a lot of my own memories here through my writing. The most difficult part of processing them over the years has been learning to see her for who she really was, learning to see through the eyes of a person and not only the eyes of a daughter. Many of the decisions she made that seemed okay to me at the time are now shown to have been terrible ones, for herself and for us. Considering the past as an adult is like holding a light over the memories I held most dear and seeing the dark shadows surrounding them. I wish she was here so I could tell her how angry I am with her. I wish I could tell her I forgive her. I wish I could tell her I see her now. I wish someone would’ve seen her when she was alive. I wish she’d sought help in the right places. I wish she had been stronger.
My mother was far from perfect. She was complex. She was human. She was smarter than she ever knew, a self-taught cook, an unfailing giver, an unwavering friend, a careless lover, a striver for perfection. She was a humble human being who constantly doubted herself. She was a mom before she had the chance to be a person. She was undeniably lost, and an utterly beautiful mess.