The Last Day

Today I’m 47 years old.

I’m now as old as my mom when she died.

I’m conflicted about this day. This blog didn’t turn out the way I’d hope it would when started it a year ago. I let it falter. However, it did have an internal effect on me.

I thought a lot more about my mom than I have in previous years. You see, I’d sorta relegated her to holidays and birthdays. In the past, it’s proven dangerous for me to think of her on a daily basis. I slip too easily into a depression. So, I only allowed myself to think about her, on those days I went to visit her grave. Sometimes she’d find her way into my writing but that was different from thinking about her. When I write about her, I find new memories and somehow in the creative act, I can integrate those experience more easily than I could if I allowed myself to sit in the living room crying and staring at her pictures, trying to recall the sound of her voice.

When I came across the information about mom’s pharmacist possibly cutting her medication, it floored me. It still does. It opened a door to “what if.” I’d walked a maze of “what ifs” in the first ten years after she died. I held tight to my grief and to those “what ifs” as if they could somehow keep her alive enough for me to … to want to get up the next day … to want to take the next breath. I led myself out of that maze by focusing on social justice and honing my craft as a writer.

Don’t get me wrong, I still needed that grief. And there were times I’d still find myself missing school and work. Though the duration of those absences was shorter. I soon began to anticipate these episodes and could use saved vacation days or work ahead on school work. As I became more adept at managing my depression, I learned to stay away from triggers. I learned to hold in my grief for graveside visits on holidays and birthdays.

When I took on this project, I wanted to find a way to explore a way to recall those times without fear of finding myself in that claustrophobic maze. I wanted to be able to visit my mom’s grave without completely losing it. Truthfully that’s why my visits were starting to become fewer and fewer.

While I failed to use this blog to document my experiences, I did have some wonderful things happen that I wouldn’t have been open to if not for taking these steps.

I became a Macondista. I applied for and was accepted into the Macondo Writers Workshop. There I met supportive and nurturing Latino/a writers. Since so many of the Latinas at Macondo where mothers, that energy was comforting and filling. I submitted work for publication, some was published some wasn’t. I’ve started new writing projects and collaborations. I accepted a leadership position in two writing organizations: the Latino Writers Collective and the Fabulous Queer Writers. I’ve been honored to meet, and call friends, writers whose work I’ve admired for years. I’ve also been fortunate to know new and emerging writers.

I thought my year would be filled with experiences that paralleled my mom’s journey but when that didn’t happen, I was disappointed. However, looking back, I did have some of those. This  year I was terribly and annoyingly sick. Nothing serious like cancer but just a series of colds, flu strains, stomach viruses, aches and pains of the body, in addition to the still lingering foot issues I’ve had since I broke my foot in 2013 and had to use crutches for almost five months and a walking boot for eight months — well into 2014. For the first time in my life my body prohibited me from doing the things I wanted. I thought about mom and how she was always in pain and had to surrender to her failing body.

I slipped into depression because of this inability to control my physical body. I also gained weight which further added to my depression. I missed a lot of writing deadlines for some REALLY good projects. I thought about how mom loved to go visit churches and prayer groups and how she missed some really good fellowship opportunities.

I don’t mean to compare my aches and pains to that of a cancer patient in her final stages, I was just open to new information. In all my years of grieving for mom, I never really thought about her daily struggles. I never thought of how difficult it was for her to bathe until I couldn’t. I never thought about her pain and ability to self hear until I literally had to crawl up the stairs to bed and do the same.  I never thought about her loneliness until I cursed my walking boot and threw it across the room because one of its straps had broken. I wasn’t able to use it and therefore couldn’t go to a reading where I’d be with friends, which I desperately needed.

This year when good things happened it was terrific and brought ecstatic smiles and laughter. When bad stuff happened it was tragic and it brought me to tears. This year I was quick to anger and felt my soul shift to a negative default when I opened my mouth. Being nice, being happy, being civil was an effort. I’m certain my mom experienced a similar temperament shift but I didn’t see it. Maybe my sisters did because they were around a lot more in her final days.

Last year at her grave I cried and told her that I couldn’t keep coming there every year and having a meltdown. It was killing me. So I woke this morning knowing — really knowing — that it wouldn’t happen today.

Well, I was right. It didn’t  happen today because the cemetery was closed.

I wanted to be pissed off about it. I wanted to feel bad. I wanted to cry. I wanted to have some drama. I wanted to demonstrate somehow that I was in pain because that would mean I cared, right? But I didn’t do any of that. Sure, I was upset that the cemetery was closed — on a Sunday. That’s just weird.

Yes, today was significant but this unexpected change doesn’t diminish my love for her.

I’ll go tomorrow. I won’t just pull stray grass and brushing dirt off her marker with my fingers. I’ll pack grass clippers, a container of soapy water, and sponges into one of those canvas bags I get from all those writers conferences. I need her site to be clean, bright, and well maintained. Then I shall offer her fresh roses and read the poetry she inspired.

The Last Year project

Delia R. Morales

Today is my birthday. I’m 46 years old.

I did what I do every birthday since my mom died, I went to her site and talked to her. I usually take her a rose for every year I’ve been alive. This year I could only afford two dozen roses. I felt really shitty about not being able to buy all the roses because just last week I bought a new laptop after my old one gave out on me.

As I cleared her site, clipped overgrown grass, brushed away leaves, and cleaned her remembrance marker, I noticed her date of birth — 1945.

Wait. 1945?

That means she was 47.  

She was 47 when she died? How did I forget that? She was 47 and I’m 46. In one year, I’ll be the same age as her when she died.

It occurred to me that in some weird way it’s like I’m living her last year. That’s when it all hit me.

I broke down.

The firs few years after her death, I’d break down for no reason at all. I’d be in the grocery store or in my car reading a chemistry textbook for class and I’d just break down and cry. So you can imagine the break downs I’d have driving to her site. After a few years, I could hold it off until I saw her marker at the cemetery. It’s taken another few years to be able to do simple things like clear the snow or the leaves from her site before my grief overpowers me.

Today’s breakdown was bad. It was like those first few years bad.

I kneeled on the cold wet ground looking at her marker. I started to think about what it would be like next year when I turned 47.  That’s when I started sobbing.

“I want this year to be the last year I come here and cry like this on my birthday,” I wept. “I can”t do it anymore. It’s killing me.”

“I want to come back next year and celebrate the best year of my life,” I said  wiping my eyes with cuff of my jacket. “I want to come back next year knowing that you lived it with me. 

“This is the last year,” I whispered. “I need you to help me.”

So my friends, this is the beginning of #TheLastYear. I don’t know what direction this project will take or what will happen. But I do know that I can’t do this alone. I need your help, too.

miguel