The loss of hope. That’s the worst. I thought I’d given up all hope. It wasn’t until you died that I realized there was a reservoir. That I always thought you’d get better. Perhaps one more rehab. Perhaps each relapse would be your last. And it was your last, but not with a bright outcome.
Your moments of clarity, of longing to do better. A hankering to shake the addiction. Those moments when you were so very yourself. Those were the moments I lived for, Sweetie. Seeing your strength, your compassion, your kindness, your humor, your love of family. You were so highly functioning that we tended to momentarily forget your dark suffering.
I’m so afraid people will only remember you as an addict. Not as the girl with wonder in her eyes. The girl who’d give anything she had to anyone in need. The girl who never met an animal that didn’t fall in love with her. The girl who could make anyone laugh, and always unexpectedly. The girl who questioned everything – and I loved you for it.
I know you hated disappointing me, but did you know? Did you know I was so proud of you? That stubborn streak, which you got from me, that fire that always burned in your eyes. Wanting the world to be a better place. Wanting to help make it a better place. Did I tell you enough that I was so proud of those parts of you? Did you know that I knew family was the most important thing to you? Did I tell you enough that you meant everything to me? Did I tell you enough that with all my accomplishments, the single greatest thing I ever did was raise my two beautiful children? That’s what I thank my lucky stars for. That’s always been the most beautiful part of my life. Did you know?
Did you know how many times you saved me? As a young twenty something year old mother, coming home to you kept me from making bad decisions. Day in and day out, I just wanted to be the best mommie for you. When you were six you asked me what Reincarnation meant, asked if I believed in it, and asked if you could come back as an animal. You told me if you were ever reincarnated, you’d come back as a butterfly so you would always be beautiful and would bring beauty to me whenever I was sad. I said, “But daughters don’t die before their momies, silly”. Maybe you knew.
I know I failed you in many ways. Perhaps if I hadn’t, you’d still be here. Maybe if I’d told you one more time how much I love you. Then maybe you would have shaken the addiction. Then maybe you wouldn’t have given up. Then maybe you’d have come home to me. I recited the 4 C’s so many fucking times over the years: I didn’t Cause it, I can’t Control it, I can’t Cure it, and I can’t Condone it. It became my mantra. That and, “You won’t love my child to death”. Jesus, what if my mantra had been more positive?
What if I’d known when I saw you last, on Christmas Day, that it was the last time I’d ever see you alive? When you removed Marah’s necklace with her ashes and asked me to put it in my safe, I was worried. I asked you what it meant. You told me it meant “put it in your effing safe”. But Sweetie, if I’d known, really known… I would have held you longer. I would have asked you the hard questions; the ones you hated talking about. I would have asked anyway. I would have said I’m sorry. I would have told you how much you inspired me. I would have told you how proud I was to be your mom. I would have begged you to stay longer.
Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve – that’s what I’m left with.
Honestly, I expected a phone call from a hospital or a morgue many times over the years. I WAS NOT PREPARED. I’d been in Thailand less than two hours when I got the call. There can be no preparation for THE CALL. “Your daughter was brought in as Ursula Doe and is on ‘Maximum Life Support’. Her heart stopped at least two hours before an ambulance was even called. Sarah as you knew her will never leave this hospital. Your daughter is brain dead. We can’t declare her dead until she’s warm and dead. We’ll keep her body warm for you until you can get here. ”
But I didn’t get there in time. For 36 hours I watched your body via video chat with my sisters. I watched our whole family say their goodbyes. I said my goodbye over video chat. Over fucking video chat! Who does that?! We turned the machines off and within 5 minutes your body was dead. 10 minutes later I left for the airport. Thanks to the freak snow storm and a back-up at the Medical Examiner’s office, it would be another 8 days before I could see your body and say goodbye in person.
I had 15 minutes with you. I looked at all your tattoos, hoping they weren’t yours. Selfishly wishing that was someone else’s dead 26-year-old baby girl lying there. I begged the Universe to take somebody else’s, anybody else’s child instead. When my deal with the devil didn’t work, the memories of you as a little girl with stars in your eyes came flooding back. I had 15 minutes to stroke your hair, your forehead, your eyebrows and your nose, just like when you were little and would drift off to sleep. It was almost like you were sleeping then. Since I didn’t have your body embalmed, when I held your hand, your fingers fell over mine. We were holding hands. Sweetie, did you know I was there? Did you hear me say it was okay to go? The hardest words I’ve ever spoken.
We had four Thai Buddhist Monks bless your body before cremation. They chanted the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard, helping you to transition to your next life, if there is one. They told me to make “happy wishes” so you could transition in peace, knowing I’d be okay. But Sweetie, I’m not okay. Sarah, I don’t think I’ll ever be okay.
The rest of the world is walking around, living their lives, oblivious to your absence. I want to scream at them. I want to make them remember your name and shout at the top of their lungs, SARAH, SARAH, SARAH! Maybe if we all scream your name at the same time, you’ll come back. But you won’t. I want them all to know about the great black, gaping, cavernous hole your absence has left in my very being. And I know I’m not the only one. Your brother, your oma and opa, your aunts and uncle, your dear friends, we’re all shaken. We all love you so much. We all had hope.
But hope is gone. My reservoir is empty. My heart is shattered. The Earth’s axis is off! Nothing is aligned properly. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. Parents shouldn’t bury their children. This is wrong! I’ve joined the secret club of parents who’ve outlived their children. I never liked secret clubs.
The words ringing in my ears these last six weeks are the end of the poem Funeral Blues:
The stars are not wanted now; put out every
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
I know life will go on. I know I’ll eventually get used to the pain. Like stomach ulcers, you just get used to it. But I don’t believe “Time heals all wounds”, “It was God’s will”, or any of the other absurd things well-intentioned yet incredibly naïve people say out of their desperate desire to be comforting. For now, I’m just going to feel this pain instead of burying it. Remember burying it? That thing we both perfected over the years? That stops with me. I’m changing it now.
According to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, in the final bardo you see all these people making love but there’s one particular couple you’re drawn to. As you approach them, there’s a bright light. This is the moment of your conception, the moment you’ve chosen your parents for your next life. This is your rebirth.
My therapist reminded me of the final bardo and said she believes you chose me to be your mother. That no other woman could have taken this journey with you, while setting healthy boundaries, without ever giving up on you, without ever losing hope, and yet still loving you the exact way you needed to be loved. Who knows, maybe it’s all complete bullshit. But I take great comfort in thinking how completely and utterly lucky I am that I got to share this journey with you for nearly 27 years. I’m out of hope but I’m not out of love. I will love you eternally. And I promise to never forget you.
Thank you for allowing me the great privilege of being your mom. Thank you for choosing me.
Jen Troyer ~ March 2019