Last summer I received a world map in a Doctors Without Borders mailing. I spontaneously looked at it and asked, where do I want to move to next? The first answer was Honolulu, Hawaii! I had thought about moving there a few years ago when I was still living in Oklahoma. I remember looking at Google maps, and not being able to pronounce the Hawaiian street names! It just felt overwhelming, like it wasn’t the right time. So I gave away my ukulele and moved back to Minnesota, where I’m from.
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.
Then in August, I found out there was a housing deposit being held for me on the Texas Unclaimed Property website. It was a sign that it was time for me to move out-of-state again! The money came back to me! This was the first place that I lived when I first moved out-of-state in June of 2000.
I applied and was accepted to the University of Hawaii for this Fall 2013, to obtain my second Bachelor’s Degree in English and creative writing. At the end of January, before I knew I had been accepted into college, my mother suddenly reappeared into my life.
It was a Sunday evening, and distant relatives were calling to tell me that my mother is alive but very sick, and I need to go see her in Regions Hospital in St. Paul. I went the next day. I knew that I didn’t have to go.
The last time I saw her was on a city bus in Minneapolis the spring of 2000, before I moved out-of-state. She walked right by me without seeing me again, which seemed to happen almost quarterly throughout the 1990’s. My therapist said it was from her severe mental illness that was never treated. She was in her own world and just never saw me. When this first started happening, in downtown Minneapolis, I was absolutely terrified. I became a small child all over again and froze! Then when she had passed by me, I felt feelings of intense anger followed by sadness. That was my mother and she didn’t even see me!! How very sad…there was nothing I could do about it. I felt so very helpless and alone. I used to fantasize about tying her up and forcing her to get psychiatric help. When I lived with her, she would tell me that she was too smart for those MMPI tests, and would constantly blame me for the constant fighting and chaos at home. In the early 1990’s, I tried to have a meeting with her and my therapist, to see if we could have some kind of a healthy adult relationship. She didn’t show up to the appointment. She said she got stuck in the bathtub! My therapist had told me that there was a good chance she would not show up. I had thought this would happen, since her mental illness caused her to isolate. She would make any excuse to not go out, even if it was to see the daughter she hadn’t seen in years. I was very sad, and knew that was the last time I would try to have a relationship with her.
I would check the death records every few years while I lived in the south for her name, and even tried to find her online. I figured she was in a nursing home somewhere in Minneapolis. It wasn’t a complete surprise when I received the phone calls that Sunday in January telling me she was still alive! I knew right away that I wanted to try to go see her, that I wanted closure. I was fully aware that I may not get to see her, or that she would be so sick that I wouldn’t be able to talk to her.
Once at the hospital, I noticed I was nervous and calm at the same time. When it comes to being around my mother, the calmness was a new feeling for me. I sat out in the waiting area once I arrived on her floor. I saw a couple of women, nurses or aides, going in and out of her room. I couldn’t believe that after so many years of wondering whatever happened to her, my mother was in that hospital room! I didn’t exactly know what to feel. Then the social worker came over and told me that she didn’t want to see me. She said she remembered me, but she was tired and said “there was turmoil, always turmoil.” I told her that was in the past. She suggested I write my mother a note. I wrote:
The turmoil was in the past. I want to create peace before your passing. There are family members who want to contact you. I gave her my phone number and signed it.
I found out later that my Aunt and cousin were able to see her that night, and she was holding the note I left for her during most of their visit! It must have meant a lot to her. I am glad I wrote it. It created closure for me. I went back the next day, not knowing what would happen, but knew I needed to go back and try to see her.
I was surprised when the nurse said I could go in her room. 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 up 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. Who let her get in this condition? Wasn’t anyone looking out for her? 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, attached 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.” And 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.
I asked to see the hospital chaplain after I saw her. I needed closure. I don’t remember the words in his prayer, but he asked God to send healing to our family and prayers for me on my journey to Hawaii. I teared up a bit. I did feel healing and closure! He gave me a hug and then I saw him walk toward my mother’s room. I went down to the gift shop and looked at the flowers and bought some chocolate. I really needed some chocolate after what I just did!
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. Thank goodness…I have taken my power back. What a relief!
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. I really believe that my coming to see her, and the other relatives who either saw her or talked to her on the phone gave her the peace and closure she needed so she could just pass on.
It was just before Easter that I received the acceptance letter from the University of Hawaii. The timing has been very interesting. My mother reappears and then dies before I am about to leave Minnesota possibly for good, so I could say goodbye and have closure. Now I am waiting for my financial aid and need to find about $2000!