I looked at the Doctors Without Borders world map the summer of 2012 and wondered, where do I want to live next? Honolulu, Hawaii was the answer that came. When I was in high school, I remember sitting on my bed, reading teen romance books and dreaming about someday as an adult getting away from my abusive and neglectful mother and living by the ocean where I could write. So I could be free. I saw myself in an upper floor of a house, perhaps a vacation home, with pen and paper, overlooking the beach and ocean. It was a dream that helped me escape from the frightening, controlling, and abusive mother with whom I lived until I was 20 years old.
I applied to the University of Hawaii to the undergraduate program in English and was accepted in the spring of 2013. At the end of January, I received phone calls from relatives telling me she was dying in a St. Paul, Minnesota hospital. I went to see her so I could have some sort of closure.
As soon as I saw her, I stopped and froze. I said to the aid in the room, I don’t believe that is my mother! She was all shrunken and pale, almost blended into the white bed sheets. She used to be 5 foot 7 inches tall and weighed 200 plus pounds. I couldn’t believe how thin and frail she had become over the years. The air was warm, filled with the heaviness of the unresolved emotions from the past. I turned around and almost walked out of the room, but stopped myself, breathed deeply, and said, “OK, I can do this.” She was sleeping with a mask hooked up to a loud breathing machine. She had advanced COPD. I said “Mother, it’s Jane. I brought you a picture of me. I’m leaving it on your bedside table. I wish I could have had a healthy relationship with you. I wish I could have known who my father was. I don’t know what else to say. So this is goodbye.” I walked out of the room. I believe she really did hear what I said to her. It also felt like there were angels in the room protecting me.
It was after I was home that I realized the fear was gone. The debilitating fear I had when I used to live with her and that lingered for years after I had moved away was gone! It wasn’t because she was old and frail and near death, but that I had released my fear from the past. I felt strong and whole now even when I was in the same room with her. I had taken my power back.
She unexpectedly died alone in the hospital 5 days later, February 3, 2013. She never made it into hospice care. The nurse said she looked peaceful.
Hawaii was beautiful and I found the ocean soothing, but I could not find permanent housing. I was there from August through January. I followed my dream to live by the ocean even though I was scared. I am now in a homeless shelter in South San Francisco next to the airport. Seeing and hearing the planes fly overhead reminds me of beginnings and endings. I am sitting on the launching pad, getting ready to take off. I have graduated from being a victim to feeling powerful.
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