Today, it’s been two weeks since mom left this world. Things happened very fast. Within less than 72 hours, mom transitioned from being alive to getting in a comma during sleep to having a heart attack during a comma to a viewing ceremony.
Thanks to technology, I was able to video in and see her one more time during the viewing service on 10/20. For sure, the last two weeks have been emotionally charged. It’s been challenging alone– thoughts and memories fly in high and wild. I need to be around people, and in this case, in public around strangers until late at night, which tires me out. Honestly, I’ve been getting the bare minimum done. It feels like something/someone pushed break paddles in almost all aspects of my life. My grieving process is unique to me and as a coach I know it’s best I am present with it, feel what I have to feel, cry when tears come, and do not judge myself.
One of the hardest parts has been the inability to call her, hear her voice, and see her face. I used to call her at odd times during the day and night. I’d call her on my way before or after a workout, when I was stretching after workouts and runs, when I cooked, went grocery shopping, driving, on my way to my weekend side hustle jobs. You name it. I introduced mom to many people and places—Amen to WhatsApp for free video and audio. The last person I introduced her to was my friend Philip who I was staying at the beach on my birthday. She always put a smile, said hello and start short conversations which I translated for her.
Countless times, whenever I felt alone, I would grab the phone and call her. I was checking on her but also checking myself in. Many times, we were company to each other. It was good to hear her voice. She is not there anymore. No voice, no face. What remains are thoughts and memories. Yes, I’ve ‘talked’ to her since she’s been gone. There have been moments I asked her to bring me peace of mind so I could focus and get a few business-related things done.
All I am saying…this shit is hard. Despite how I’ve been feeling and the ways I am using to cope with this process, I feel that mom is smiling and at peace ‘upstairs’. I hope she can feel love from her own children, children she helped raise, family members, neighbors, and friends we made over the years at the “Cantinho da Vo Celia”.
Thank you again to everyone who replied to the sad news on Facebook, called and messaged me. I read and received each message with immense gratitude. Writing helps. It’s quite interesting how reading your replies brought me so many tears for your empathy and sympathy.
Last week I told a friend who lost her mom recently as well that I could now understand what she went through. It is clear to me know that there was nothing I could do to prepare me for this moment.
The viewing ceremony for her 24 hours after passing. Thanks to technology and my sister, I was able to attend parts of the ceremony and was able to see/talk to my siblings and a few family members, and mom’s friends.
I am sharing a few pictures of mom that what most people would say are too sad. I captured a few images because mom looked like she was in deep sleep, beautifully dressed, make-up is done well, and looking very peaceful. No freaking discomfort or pain.
Seeing mom one more time was emotional but more important and necessary than what I had expected. I needed that. The hard part of the ceremony was when she was in the closed coffin. It symbolized the end of her life here with us. Tears are coming down as I write this. Definitely, not an easy moment to be part of and remember.
My sister lives across the street from mom’s. She told me many people have stopped by and shared their sentiments, gratitude for mom, and ways she touched their lives. That tells me that…
Mom lived a life worth telling. Her actions spoke louder than her words!!!
Mom wanted to be cremated. Her ashes are now in her bedroom. While I want my ashes to be thrown in the ocean so I can swim with dolphins, mom wanted hers to be spread in nature. That makes sense. She loved gardening. Her ashes will be used for growth. That’s how I choose to think of her.
Since neither I nor most of mom’s siblings, were not able to make it on time for the viewing ceremony, my siblings and I started to exchange ideas of holding a celebration of mom’s life. We will keep mom’s ashes until I make it home so we are together to throw a family party.
If it was entirely up to me, this would be a 3-day celebration:
>Day 1, we will drive 2 hours away from home, Gramado/Canela, with beautiful mountains and nature, and spread her ashes there.
>Day 2, we would go river fishing. And just like during childhood, I would go to the backyard, look for a tree with deep and moist terrain to get the worms. We never ever fished with fake stuff.
>Day 3, we would gather for a feast. We would be together under one roof and cook mom’s favorite dishes, which were my favorites too, tell stories, and laugh.
She will be super upper happy to see us all together, especially if we were able to gather her siblings. Mom and all of us had a wonderful time together in October 2019 at my nephew’s wedding.
I like to reflect on life occurrences. I believe there is value in digging into the possibilities of why and how things happen and their respective outcomes. I try my best to see the silver lining in things. That has not always been the case though.
When I was a young adult and still living with mom and even years after I had moved to the US, mom used to tell me I was too ‘negative’. I needed to think more positively about things and outcomes. I had always told her I was a ‘realist’. Fifteen after I had Brazil and was in the early stages of changing my health, lifestyle and career 180º, I realized mom was absolutely correct. It seems like moms are always right?
Just like she used to scream at me saying “You will get diabetes if you don’t stop drinking cans of condensed milk”—yeap, I used to ‘steal’ cans and drink it from the can. She used to find them under my bed the next day. I swear to God, I had no idea what ‘diabetes’ meant growing up.
When I learned I had prediabetes 9 years ago, her voice popped into my memory loud and clear. Eventually, after I had reversed my condition and got a hold of my sugar addiction, I told her all that had happened. She felt relieved and impressed with my commitment to change. I never told mom years I struggled with an eating disorder—it all happened after I left Brazil anyway.
Mom had no idea that many questions I asked her about her eating habits from a young age to years into adulthood and her relationship with food had anything to do with me. All I was trying to understand was where this crap I have gone through had come from. The conversations with my sister and mom helped me understand the potential reasons for my addiction, eating disorder, diets galore and rollercoasters, and poor self-esteem, confidence and body image. My thought was I didn’t want to worry her about stuff going on being thousands of miles away.
The good news about my personal health is that’s part of my past. My health and healthy aging epiphany happened 10 years ago and it’s been an amazing journey. As I look back, both mom and grandmother were my greatest teachers to doing the work I do today as an integrative health practitioner and fitness coach. I hope that both of them, now reunited in heaven, can see that.
I was thinking about a few things that happened recently…
If you are like me, you believe that things happen for a reason. There are a couple of things that happened before mom passed that reinforce these beliefs.
When mom called me on my birthday, one week before passing, she wasn’t feeling great. What amazed me is that it feels like mom waited until I was done vacationing in FL to leave this world. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
I’ve been going to Fort Walton Beach for over 15 years. The number of times I had planned of being productive during these trips has been many. However, I rarely succeeded in following my plans. This time was different. I stay committed to studying/preparing for the last two case studies/practicals for my Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner “FDN-P” certification. I woke up between 6 – 6:30am daily and worked on the cases for 1.5-2 hours daily. I was able to complete one entirely and 70% of the last one. Plus, I hit the gym 4 out of 6 days I was there too.
I think that level of unprecedented discipline I was displaying was meant to be. I had these last two sessions scheduled for 10/20 and 10/26. When mom passed away on 10/19, I decided I was NOT going to postpone the sessions. As far as I can remember, mom never postpone anything or didn’t work because of emotional/mental/physical pain and discomfort. She kept going. So, I decided I was going to keep my commitments to honor her.
There is no way I would have been able to attend, complete, and pass these live tests if I hadn’t worked on them in FL. The Universe was guiding me. Thank you. Mom, I hope I made you proud. Written and verbal exams are the next steps. Unfortunately, last week was challenging, and couldn’t make progress. Every day is a new day.
Another ‘coincidence’ happened on my birthday in 2019–two weeks before my nephew’s wedding which I had decided not to attend. Honestly, my heart was feeling heavy after I had made that decision. Anyway, on my birthday, I took the day off and went hiking and to a winery. At the winery, I mingled with four ladies for a couple of hours. I had just started working weekend side hustle jobs to pay my debt down and the idea of expending $2k with airplane tickets wasn’t a ‘smart’ decision.
To make the story short, these four ladies played a key role in changing my mind about attending the wedding and being surrounded by family. When one of the ladies looked me in the eyes and said “Maria, I’ve lost my mom recently and I’d love to see her again. You may never forgive yourself if you don’t go, spend time with your mom, and be part of your nephew’s milestone.” The other said, “Money is just money. You will get it back, you know this.” Two days after, I bought my ticket and spent five full days in Brazil.
I spent quality time with mom. I slept with her every night. I cooked for her. I run errands. I helped her bathe. I took her to the salon to do her hair and make-up for the wedding. Plus, I had a great time with family members who came to the wedding. And the wedding was beautiful. It was priceless and probably one of my best trips to Brazil since I’ve moved to the US. If I hadn’t stopped at the winery and started a conversation with those angels, I am pretty sure that the last two weeks would have been filled with regrets and guilt. Thank you, ladies.
While that trip was a blessing, it was a wake-up to me—I learned how much weaker mom had become since my previous visit in 2015. I came back to Atlanta with a broken heart. For weeks, I was afraid I was going to get a phone call regarding mom.
While I was there I slept with mom daily. I do not know how my mom did day after day. If I was waking up tired, I cannot imagine how she was feeling. I woke up tired because every time she woke up during the night, I woke up as well and that happened 4-6 times at night.
She showed clear symptoms of sleep apnea waking her (and me) up many times. I didn’t know because I arrived but she was having serious bladder issues. She couldn’t hold the urine for more than a few seconds. She woke up to pee at least twice to pee nightly. She had a plastic bucket three feet away so she could pee in it—the bathroom was two rooms away. Chances were that she would pee along the way if she had to walk to the bathroom every time.
When I woke up with her, I helped her immediately. However, there were a few times I woke up a few seconds after her and being found her in the middle of that ordeal, including times she was up but was peeing on herself because she hadn’t got to the bucket fast enough. So, she/we put clean underwear, went back to bed, and cleaned up the floor in the morning.
What really worried me was that her bedroom floor was tile. All it came to mind for a while was the possibility of her slipping on a wet floor, hitting her head, and being found dead on the floor the next day. At that time, she spent the nights alone.
The other thing that happened was one night she forgot to bring the bucket to the bedroom. I didn’t realize that. During the night, she woke up and started to walk slowly to the bathroom. I woke up when she got out of bed. Instead of going after her, I listened carefully. Suddenly, I heard a noise, jumped out of bed, and found mom on top of boxes in the dark. Her kitchen had become a storage room of products she sold in her mini-market and things were pretty disorganized. Mom fell, didn’t scream or call. Nothing. She had fallen in an awkward position and looked stuck. How would she have got up if she had been alone? I don’t know. She was weak and weighed at least 160 pounds.
When I asked why she didn’t turn the lights on, she said she didn’t want to wake up anyone—the house was full (aunts, uncle, and cousins) who had come for the wedding and staying at mom’s. My God!!! I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed–I felt the pain of losing her sooner than later immediately. She put herself at risk because she had guests??? Mom was a fighter and an angel. Next day, I reorganized the room and cleared up space for her.
God, that was an awful reality to be part of it. I begged her to see a doctor and take care of bladder issues. She hadn’t realized how dangerous that was…I guess it was easier for me to see. A few weeks after that, she did start on a medication that reduce the problem and she stopped getting up multiple times to pee. These are painful memories to revisit and write about. It crushed my heart then. It crushes my heart right this second—I remember these incidents so vividly. She didn’t deserve this stuff.
One other thing I have been reflecting upon was about important conversations she and I didn’t have. How many were there? How much more could I have learned from her? How much more of her story I could have asked her to share with me? How many other conversations I could have started so that she felt heard, safe, and understood?
I guess one of my grieving steps shall be to accept that what I had to learn from mom was exactly what I needed to learn. There was nothing more or less. It was just right.
Mom, I hope you are now able to cut loose, put your guard down—nothing will fall apart and you can pick yourself up without a problem. We will be OK. You should be proud of yourself. I know you did your very best and gave all you could give. Mom, have fun with grandma playing cards, fishing, cooking, and telling stories. I wish you feel the joy of FREEDOM, my most important value in life which you instilled in me without knowing and being intentional about during my childhood years.