Have you ever touched a dead body? I have. I brushed my hand over the skin of her face and through what little hair she had; her beautiful, soft, salt and peppery hair.
My hand smoothed out over her scalp, resting atop of her head. It feels empty. It’s a stark contrast from how it had felt just hours before, when she still had life in her. The head feels heavy, yet hollow. It was an eerie reminder how much of a powerhouse the brain is.
Her skin was clammy, rubbery, and dull from undernourishment, sweat, and the constant pain killers that had been pumped into her. I wrapped my hand around her wrist. It’s much more slender now, from how it used to be, just months ago. She had lost so much weight, so much muscle. You could tell just by looking at her weak arms.
Slowly, my hand traced hers, and I entangled our fingers together one last time. That was the last time I’d ever hold her hand.
The whole time I had slept, I didn’t realize she left me. It had only been a few hours, maybe three. I can’t remember now.
I remember being hysterical just hours earlier. I knew this was coming. However, no amount of preparation can brace you for the death of your mother. For months I knew, at least in the back of my mind. It didn’t change the fact that I wanted her to fight, encouraged it, even if to just delay the inevitable.
I remember my dad, fighting to keep his composure, trying to be strong for us both. I, on the other hand, was nothing short of manic. I sobbed, I wept, I cursed, and I begged. I said “I love you,” so many times, that I couldn’t even give you an estimate.
I actually had to be given a Xanax just to calm down. It only succeeded in making me tired.Before I went to sleep, I pushed the recliner next to that bed and stretched out, facing her. I huddled as close as I could, and held her hands. They were so cold, icy, but even then, I could feel the life in them.
After the nurses woke us, however, the roles switched. My body tingled and my heart sank. I didn’t dare think, but I knew what was coming. I knew what was going to be said. Before the nurses even confirmed our loss, a wave of relief washed over me. It was calming, almost eerily so.
They gave their condolences and my dad broke down. Now he was the one sobbing, begging while I stood there. As dad did for me, I wrapped my arms around him, trying to console him, us, as he wrapped his arms around her body.
I cried, but nothing like I did before hand. I was mostly collected. Maybe I had cried too much. Maybe I was more relieved now than hurt; relieved that she was no longer suffering, that she could rest now. Or it could be that I was in shock. I don’t know. A part of me even feels like it was she that comforted me and gave me that strength, that peace of mind.
A part of me was glad that she had passed. She was never going to be able to live anymore or enjoy life. Cancer or not, that injury would have kept her in so much unbearable pain, being conscious would had been hell for her. She didn’t deserve that. No one deserves to live like that.
She didn’t deserve to die like she did either.
I remember, a few weeks before she passed, she asked me something and it broke my heart.
You see, every doctor or nurse that she came by, she would ask if she was going to get better. They couldn’t lie to her, but even with their gentle replies, it wasn’t enough. She would continue to ask.
One day, I was helping her get back into bed. I was having a hard time getting her off the bedside pot.
Then she asked me: “I’m not going to get better am I?”
You just don’t know how much that killed me inside.
“We’re doing the best we can Mom. We’re doing our best to keep you healthy and comfortable,” I wrapped my arms around her, holding her, petting back her hair. That whole time my heart wrenched in pain and fear.
I’m afraid to even fathom the thoughts that crossed her mind and the emotions that toiled at her heart.
I was going to lose my world. She was going to lose everything she loved and worked hard for. She was going to leave her family, and that’s something she did not want to do.
So there I was, clutching at the lifeless body that was once my mom, holding her hand, and leaning over to embrace her one final time.
I placed a kiss on her cheek and then her forehead.
I told her I loved her, that I missed her already, that she didn’t deserve this.
It might not have reached her ears but if there is such a thing as spirits, I hope hers heard it. I hope she can see how much we love her and how much we’re hurt now that she’s gone.
Letting go of her was hard. I didn’t want to leave. I would have stayed and held her hands, if I was able to.
Then again, as I think about it, even if I was allowed to, I wouldn’t, not for very long at least. I have a father to support and console. He needs me now, more than she does.
She’s not the one suffering now. We are and now, I am the calm one. I will be the pillar he needs.
I can’t leave without another hug, without giving her one last kiss, yet again.
Once more I caressed her cheeks and smoothed my hand over her hair.
Despite how empty the body feels, she looks peaceful, relaxed even. That is some comfort.
Hand in hand my dad and I left, our faces wet with tears and our hearts heavy with the pain of loss.
Yes, I have touched a dead body.
The owner of this quivering, yet warm hand may be the next dead body I touch. Right now, I can feel the life within him. To me, that life I feel, that energy, that’s the soul.
One day, this hand is going to be cold to the touch, his head heavy and hollow feeling.
It’s only a matter of time. We all suffer this fate. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier.
Yes, I have touched a dead body.
This won’t be the last, nor was it my first. I lost both surviving grandparents from cancer. My Dad’s Mom, and my Mom’s Dad. Now, I have just lost my mother.
This man I call dad may be next. I hope though, that it won’t be for a very long time.
Death, it does not discriminate. It can take away the ones you love and the ones you hate, at any given time.
If you didn’t appreciate what you had before death snatched it away, you will after.
I am twenty-four and I just lost my mother.
All my life, I have watched my loved ones grow sick and pass away; however, it’s a different game when it’s your mother. It’s a different kind of pain.
It doesn’t matter what age you are. Young or old, it still feels tragic, because it is. Losing someone while you’re young just means that you had less time to spend with them than someone who is older.
Regardless of your age, I suggest you look around you. Remember their faces. Remember how they feel.
When they’re gone, all of that changes. Everything changes.
Yes, I have touched a dead body but now I touch a living one. I’ll take care of him, like she took care of us. I told her I would take care of dad, of us.
I don’t plan on letting her down.
** Editor’s Note: Death is hard. So is watching a loved one suffer from this terrible thing we call cancer. To help find a cure for cancer you can volunteer, help with a Relay for Life or just donate extra money. Anything you can do can help find a cure so that one day, people may not have to go through this. For more information go to www.cancer.org/Involved/index**