Disclaimer: I’m typing this as I’m in my mother’s hospice room. I haven’t seen her for almost 8 months and she’s half the weight she was when I last saw her. I’m watching her die. Everything below is just being typed as it comes to mind. I can’t guarantee that any of it is going to make any sense.
I don’t usually open up about myself or my family or, well, pretty much anything when it comes to my emotions. At least, not anything of any substance. I’ll bitch and moan and groan about politics and religion and the usual bullshit, but try to find out something about my childhood and you’d be hard pressed to find someone, anyone, who could tell you more than “Marquis was a quiet kid”. I guess now, when I’m watching my mother die on the bed in front of me, is as good a time as any to open up about why my mom, born Josephine Ann Wysocki (then Kish, and now Kelley) has always been and will always be the strongest person I know.
As far back as I can remember (and honestly, that’s not all that far back since I’ve blocked out most of my childhood), my mother has always been the strong one of the family. Back then, I had a larger family than I have now… my mom had two sisters, both with two children (Aunt Sally had two sons, and Aunt Rosie had two daughters), and Uncle Joe was the stereotypical bachelor… more fun than you could imagine. I don’t remember Aunt Sally ever being married (obviously she was, but I’m not sure I was even born by the time she was divorced), and Aunt Rosie was married to Uncle Tony.
Those were the days when family was good. We’d have family gatherings and everyone would get together and laugh and have fun, food galore, and so on and so forth. These were the good times. These were times that I wish would outnumber the memories I had of the rest of the times… when my mom was defending herself, and us kids (my older sister and my little brother) from her abusive husband. The things that I saw as a child are things that nobody should ever have to see at any point in their life. One night that stands out more than most is the night that my (so-called) father came home drunk, fought with my mom (to put it in tolerable terms), and held us at gun point (with a hunting rifle, no less) for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably two or three hours.
As extreme as that sounds, that was relatively mild on the spectrum of insanity we were subjected to. Eventually, the aunts and uncles I spoke of earlier came together to help us move out of the house that I grew up in, and move into an apartment away from the sociopath known as “father”.
That opened up a whole new chapter of my mother and her unending strength. Not growing up in the most privileged family, she took a few jobs at that point to help raise my little brother and I. She worked harder than anyone I’ve ever met. She went from being a housewife and full time mother to working daycare, working assembly lines in a computer chip manufacturing plant, and even cleaning houses to give us kids what we wanted and to dress us better than the poor kids of the school district. There was such a dramatic range in our school district in regards to economic class. No matter how tired she was every day or how many hours she had to work, our mom made sure that we had great birthdays, Christmas, even Easter. I’m not sure my little brother or I ever truly appreciated that fact. She spent so much time working hard to give her kids what they wanted, that she forgot to spend time showing us that what we wanted was the result of a lot of hard work.
A few years after she moved out to support the three of us, something strange happened. I’m not sure if I blocked out a specific event or if it was just “one of those things”. All the family that I talked about earlier… my two aunts and two uncles and four cousins (all on my mom’s side, by the way. To this day, I still don’t know any of my relatives on my “father’s” side)… well, we just fell apart. There always seemed to be tension of some sort or another, but one day it was just gone. Nothing. Nobody talked and nobody talked about why nobody talked. Those great, fun family times were just gone. I think this was especially hard on my mom who always depended on her family to help her through all the hard times that she’s been through. To this day, I hold a grudge against all of them. I don’t know if it’s rational to do that or not, but it is what it is. Needless to say, I’m not sure how I’m going to react if any of them show up to my mom’s funeral. Something tells me that’s not something I’m going to have to figure out.
Somewhere along the line, my mom was diagnosed with Crohn’s Colitis. In other words, the most painful intestinal disease you could think of that flames up even worse based on nerves. Pair that with my mom being prone to having nervous breakdowns. Years later, she would also be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. All of these things combined, along with chronic arthritis and a lifetime of smoking started to tear her down.
Fast forward to eighteen months ago. July of 2009 is when my mom, Josephine Ann (aka Josie, JoAnn, Jo) Kelley, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Chemo wasn’t an option because of all of her other medical conditions, and same with surgery. Eighteen months of “waiting it out”. I don’t get home to visit family nearly as often as I’d like to… it’s typically the holiday season and maybe one or two other times throughout the year. The last time I saw her was Mother’s Day of last year. I tried a few times to make plans to come down for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, but my mom screamed at me saying that she didn’t want me to see her in her condition at the holidays. One thing I know after all my time on this earth with my mother is that she says what she means. Telling me not to come during the holidays means not to come during the holidays.
So all these months later, I finally see my mom today. This amazingly strong woman who has never taken shit from anyone and who has fought for everything that she’s ever had in her life, is now laying near-lifeless in a hospice bed with tubes coming out of her body, an orangish-yellow tint from kidney failure, her face skeletal and literally half the weight of the last time I saw her. This woman, who my (wonderful, wonderful, wonderful) step father has seen slowly deteriorating over the last year and a half has done the complete opposite for me. Three or four visits over that timeframe and she’s gone from a veritable She-Hulk to a fraction of who she once was.
This simple fact makes me guilty beyond words. Yes, life happens. Yes, I have a job and friends and a partner and my own life on the other side of the country… but the guilt of seeing my dying mother less than a handful of times over the past 18 months is killing me right now. After all the hard times that I went through after I moved away from home, now is the time that things are good. Now is when things are stable. I have a wonderful life in California with great friends that care about me and a partner who is a dream come true. Someone who supports me as a person, who cares about me and my dreams and my goals. Someone who loves me unconditionally and who challenges me and who always has a shoulder for me to lean on. I live in a beautiful condo where I get to work in a loft office and not deal with corporate bullshit anymore. I’m finally financially stable after making so, so, so many stupid mistakes in my life.
Finally… things are good. And then this. And now, of all times, this is when the universe decides it’s a good time to take my mother from me. Now, when I could start visiting her more often and walk along the Gulf coast with her asking her all kinds of mundane questions like “what kinds of things did you regret doing as a kid?” or “I just learned how to make the best turkey chili… wanna make it together?” or “I know you don’t like alcohol, but want to try one of my guinness cupcakes?” Now is when I have to come to Florida to watch my mother die.
I could parade a few paragraphs of “it’s not fair” or “why her, why now?” or any number of other death cliches, but that’s not how I want this time to be spent. To be perfectly honest, I’m not even sure how I want this time to be spent… but I do know that, with all her strength and all her stubbornness, my mother would not want that. She’s ready to “be in heaven” and to “meet her maker” and all that stuff that I’m so quick to categorize as jibberish or nonsense. Even this evening, when I walked into her room and lost my composure at the sight of her severe weight loss, she just looked at me and said “don’t cry, Marquis”. I know that she doesn’t want this to be a sad event, but… well… it is.
I don’t know how to end this entry. I wish I had a positive spin to throw in, but I really don’t. I know all the cliches, and I know all the things that people say to make people like me feel better at times like this. ”It’ll get better… just hang in there” or “My thoughts and/or prayers are with you and your family” or “it’s just going to get harder before it gets better, but it will get better”, but right now, as harsh as it sounds, none of that means anything. Right now they’re all just words. It’s not that I don’t appreciate that people are trying to be supportive and let me know that they’re there for me, but none of those words are going to reverse the cancer that’s taking my mom away from me. None of those phrases are freezing the swiss cake rolls like my mom used to do because she knew that made them exponentially better in my eyes. None of those condolences are teaching me to shave because my deadbeat dad never made the time to do so. None of those words can make my mom run out the front door and hug me like there was no tomorrow when I came home to visit.
I never got to show my mom around San Francisco because for years she couldn’t fly. I couldn’t show her the view from Coit Tower. I couldn’t drive her across the Golden Gate Bridge or to the top of Twin Peaks or Ocean Beach. I never got to take her to the Sea Ranch Lodge or the Chapel where I want to get married one day.
There are so many things that I regret not being able to do… whether it was my fault or nobody’s fault. All I know, at this point, is that I hope that throughout the rest of my days on this planet, I hope for just half the strength that she’s had her whole life.
I’m sorry this is just miserable. I’m so drained and exhausted and sad right now. Then again, this isn’t really for anyone but me. I needed to let this out. Good night, Marquis.