Her favorite flowers were yellow roses. We’d get them for her on every occasion; her birthday, anniversary, and Mother’s Day. Seeing those flowers on the table on some of the happiest days in my life, I never would’ve expected to see them one last time, at her funeral. My mom, Rozita, was the most caring person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Nothing mattered more to her than love. Love manifested in our family, and we always stood by each other through it all.
When I was in the second grade, my twin sister and I sat next to our parents, who had something to tell us. Mom was sick, she had cancer, and she’d be seeing doctors more often from now on. She would start some treatment called chemo, so we had to be extra careful to not get sick. Most eight year olds don’t have an extensive knowledge about cancer, but the possibility that I might not have much time left with her always stayed in the back of my mind.
For a while, the chemotherapy weakened her, but rather than weakening our family, it brought us closer. I’ll never forget the first night she couldn’t stop throwing up, and called paramedics sobbing. As a third grader, I should’ve been paralyzed with fear, but instead, seeing everyone rush to help our family made me realize how many people cared for us. My mother always had everybody’s best interests at heart, and seeing her get the same treatment warmed my heart. Slowly, the treatments worked, and her stage 3 breast cancer finally turned into a year or two of remission. It was difficult to understand that it wasn’t completely gone, just dormant, like a volcano waiting to erupt.
I still don’t remember exactly how it happened, but around the time my sister and I started middle school, her cancer flared up again. This time, it metastasized throughout her body, her bones, lungs, and other organs. We had those uncomfortable conversations, what would we do if Mama wasn’t around anymore, and if we would make sure to take care of Dad. I never accepted that she could actually leave us, meanwhile every day of her life was a battle.
My mom became my best friend. I’d sit in her embrace for hours at a time, just appreciating her existence. What I’d give now to be held in those arms again. We would go shopping, on coffee dates, and to movies together, anything to live in the moment with her by my side. When I’d break down, even if no one could get me to talk, I’d always open up when she came to my bedside. She’d sit on my bed and stroke my hair until I fell asleep. It amazes me to this day how she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders and still managed to reassure me that my problems mattered most.
A month before everything went wrong, she started to always feel tired, and kept apologizing for not having the energy she used to radiate. I was carefree, thinking nothing of it; sitting in her bed, caressing her shaven head, our original roles now reversed. I made a mental vow to care for her forever, and accept that my problems could always wait, for I devoted myself to solving hers.
To this day, the thing that bothers me most is that there was nothing I could’ve done to keep her here longer. One night that I’ll never forget, her patience ran out. I’d seen what I thought was the worst, yet I never could’ve prepared to handle what I saw that night. The world was crumbling around me, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to help. She went to the hospital for a month. The last time I spoke to her was on New Year’s Eve. She said, “I love you,” and I said goodbye. After that, she fell into a coma. The cancer had hit her brain. But to my stubborn understanding, nothing had changed – she was still the fighter I knew her to be on the inside.
I had a dream one night. My mom told me she was done with the sickness. I woke up ecstatic, assuming she’d be talking and walking again. But that’s all it was. A dream. Hours later, I got called out of class. My sister was waiting for me in the counselor’s office. It felt like a movie, walking down the hall, thinking that there’s no way my mom could be dying. I had a feeling, I just knew. There’s no way this was happening to me. Once we got to the hospital, it was confirmed, she had a few days left at most.
My last words to her were “I love you,” the same she had told me exactly a month before. Her death impacted our whole community. Anyone who had been lucky enough to cross paths with her grieved. I had never seen such a connected support system. I cried no more than a couple times, because I was so content with it all. All I’ve ever wanted is for her to be happy, and what more could I want than for her to be pain free, even if I can’t experience it with her? Besides, I know in my heart that she never truly left me.
Things are a little different now that three years have passed by since the last time I saw her face. Three years of contemplation, three years of being consumed by the “what-ifs” and the “how abouts,” and worst of all, the never-ending “I can’t imagines.” What if my mom had passed away just a few years later – would it have hurt more or less? How about if I had hugged her a little more when I had the chance – would that have made it any easier? And I can’t imagine having to live through all the milestones of my life without her by my side. I still can’t imagine playing my last volleyball game without her ever having seen me play on a team, except my senior night is in just a few months, but I haven’t had a conversation with her in thirty-seven. I can’t imagine graduating high school without her at the ceremony, except I am set to walk across that stage in about one year, but I haven’t held her hand in three. I can’t imagine trying to pick my wedding dress without my mom being there to help me decide, except I’ll have to do that in what feels like forever away in the future, but I haven’t felt truly complete since about an eternity ago.
Jealousy is a feeling I’ve gotten used to these past few years. I’m constantly jealous of my friends for being so close to their mothers. It warms my heart to hear their stories and see them light up inside, but I can’t help feeling like I’ve been robbed of that experience. How much longer can I continue to be happy that her struggle is over when it means that mine is elongated even more? Especially at my age, I see a lot of girls become best friends with their moms, as they work together to navigate life as a young woman. It’s unfair that they get to hug their moms, but I’m left hugging the teddy bear the hospital gave to her during her last stay, the one where she never left. I’m working on getting over the jealousy though, and even though I’ll never overcome it completely, it’s true what they say – it does get just a little easier with every passing day.
It’s ironic that these instances happen more often the more time that passes by, but occasionally, the grief still hits me on random days. I miss her. I can’t help it. It doesn’t even happen because of any particular reason, I just miss her. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned from all of this, it’s that feelings can’t be forced. I can’t force myself to be okay, but I also can’t force myself to mourn. All I can do is remember, both the good and the bad, no matter how much it may hurt, and keep her memory alive.
As I’ve grown older, I’m constantly told how I look and act so much like her, just like a reflection of her, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thanks to her, I try to help others in everything I do, and continue her legacy. I strive to be like her, my mama, the epitome of a warrior, of love, and of light. She shone brighter than anyone I’ve ever met, brighter than the color yellow, yellow like the shirt I wore the day before the monitor flatlined, yellow like the sun that hid behind the clouds the day she passed away, yellow like the roses that’ll always have a special place in my heart.