Learning to live without her

My whole family loves Young Frankenstein, not because of Gene Wilder, but because of my mom’s impression of the monster horrendously singing “Puttin on the Ritz.” Every time the song came up, she would make herself and the rest of us laugh with her strained, goofy, out-of-tune singing. That impression is one of the many, endless little things I miss hearing around the house.

The first week of October, I was home alone when I received the call that there was a complication with my mother’s brain surgery that had been scheduled two days prior due to an aneurysm spotted in a scan. I run into blank spots trying to recollect all that I felt that day. From crying on my couch, rushing to the hospital and the quiet ride back home, I thought my mom’s recovery would only take a few months before everything could return back to “normal.” It wasn’t long before months became years, and even beyond. 

During those first few months, I only saw her once. I’m not proud of it, but I don’t regret it. When I saw her that first time, the pain I felt is a pain that I don’t wish for anyone. People would tell me, “Our Robin was still there,” that they still saw her and that she would come back, but I couldn’t reciprocate those feelings, because to me, she was gone. That’s all I could think when I walked in to see her slumped to the side, bald, filled with tubes, immobile and mute. My mama was gone. 

I saw her for my second time over spring break. This visit was worse than the first because when I greeted her, she did not know who I was. My dad tried asking her over and over who I was, and she would look through me and shrug. She didn’t remember me – her own daughter. At that moment, I felt my heart shatter. I could have screamed. Instead, I stood there, silent. What are you supposed to say? How are you supposed to react? Is this what it will feel like forever? These are questions I’ve asked myself every day to which I still find no answer. 

But throughout the rest of the hour of that visit, there was a glimmer of optimism. My mom was briefly talking, slightly moving, occasionally smirking and most importantly, breathing.

While I wish the health of my mother was all I needed to worry about, the rippling effects were just as impactful. Because of the loss of one parent, I was essentially losing the other one too; he would, understandably, be at his wife’s side all day. I was soon fully informed and constantly thinking about our financial situation. Anxieties that were never meant to be mine for years had come all at once; anxieties I would have talked about with my mom. 

It’s cliche to say, but time really does heal all. Visits became easier, and eventually, I wanted to see her smile. I pulled out my phone and began to play the clip of Victor Frankenstein and his monster performing “Puttin on the Ritz.” Slowly, a toothy, crooked smile formed on her face. She remembered. My mama is not gone, like I once believed. 

I wish there were better words to say than just, “thank you,” for those who showed up, and continue to show up. For months, people donated and shared my mom’s story. Friends would stop by at my house unprompted, teachers showed new levels of compassion and pure strangers sent dinners to my house. While I don’t think anyone ever saw how much I was truly struggling, and I don’t think anyone will, the gratitude I have for those who supported my family is immeasurable. 

Though I will always live with a certain hole in my heart, I have newfound hope. I don’t know how to measure how different of a person I am compared to who I was before, but I do know that I treasure the people in my life all the more. I will not just continue to survive. I will continue to grow, to laugh, to cry, to live. I will be there to rebuild my mom’s memory and keep on making new ones. 

I love you forever, I like you for always, and as long as I’m living, my Mama you’ll be.