There was so much more to be said.
The last time I talked on the phone with my mom, she had called the family restaurant, and I was busy closing up. At that time, I harbored a bitterness against her and a few other family members for pressuring me to be in a situation that I resented. She was calling to check on me, and I was too exhausted to talk—I was physically exhausted from the work, and I was emotionally exhausted from being angry.
I can’t remember the exact words that were exchanged. It was probably a two-minute phone call. Her, saying, “Hi honey, just wanted to see how you were doing.” Me, saying, “Mom, I’m closing the restaurant, and I’m really tired.“
I was neither loving nor appreciative of her concern. I just wanted to get off the phone and go home to wallow in my misery. So she let me go, and I continued with my tasks. I never called her back.
A week later, she was gone, and I would never be able to speak with her again.
Had I told her that I loved her on that last call? It seems like something I would have done, but now I’m not sure.
I wish it hadn’t been our last phone call. I’m angry thinking about my behavior. I easily could have paused. I could have given her time. I could have spoken with her and been honest with her. I could have been a loving daughter, but I was too selfish to see past my own feelings of resentment. I despise this about myself.
The time between her aortic aneurysm and her time of death was less than 24 hours. I know she experienced some moments of lucidity, and I wonder what was going through her mind. Fearing for her life maybe. Enduring the pain. Worrying about her mom. Asking her sister to take her for seafood after surgery. I’m sure she thought of my two brothers and me.
Would it have made it any easier for us if we could have spoken to her one last time? A reassurance of affection. A balm to soothe the friction between us. A conversation to immortalize— a perfect lasting memory that I could hold like a light in the darkness of my grief.
My grief is my own. It is my gripping sadness over my loss. She lost her life, but I lost her. And I struggle with wanting to preserve this grief—how searing and insurmountable it was—and wanting to be free of its grasp. Time has not healed, but it has slowly made the pain bearable. There’s a hint of guilt that stings me when I realize, this doesn’t hurt as much and as often as it used to. Does that mean I’m getting over it? I panic. I don’t ever want to get over her death. In my mind, that signals her fading imperceptibly from our lives.
So I remember her. My mom, dancing in the kitchen as she cooked, singing the same pop lyrics over and over again. “Dangerous! That girl is so dangerous...”
My mom, chatting animatedly with a friend or a stranger, harnessing her superpower of human connection.
My mom, settling in each evening with a book, reading by lamplight, then to my chagrin, dog-earing the last read page to save her place.
My mom, corralling me and my siblings by shouting in an unknown accent, “Okay, chilgren!” and us, responding, “What is a chilgren?!”
My mom, painstakingly painting her nails her signature ruby red color and then carefully picking up a book to read as she waited for the polish to dry.
My mom, joking with my aunty and my grandma in Japanese—their easy familiarity and occasional gentle bickering.
My mom, wiping my tears away when I ran off stage after forgetting my lines at my first drama recital. Reminding me of my own power, encouraging me to try again.
My mom, fearlessly fighting for her safety and for our well-being during her divorce and the abuse that led to it.
My mom. Always sincere. Always strong. Always kind.
If I could redo that phone call, I would. If I had known our time would be cut short, I would have said all that needed to be said. But I don’t get a second chance, and that’s maddening. The regret I feel is wrapped up in my grief, and I cannot untangle them from each other.
I can’t forgive myself just yet, but I have finally accepted that I must one day.
Deep down, I know that a different phone call would not have changed anything. A final I love you, a final thank you for everything you’ve done for me, and a final goodbye would be unnecessary sentiments spoken. She already knew how I felt. She has always known, just like I have always known, her love is forever with me. It can never be lost.
This phone call that sits like a ghost in the back of my mind—it cannot undo the years of happiness. It feels like the last note, the final punctuation, on my relationship with my mom, but I cannot let this be the defining moment. So when this ghost comes around, I cannot shove it out of sight anymore. I have to face it and counter it with joyful thoughts of my mom. I have a lifetime of memories to choose from. They are abundant. They are strong enough to pierce through the grief and flood my heart with love.
Today marks 11 years since my mom has passed. I feel like I write about my mom a lot, I guess it’s because I think about her a lot? Haha. I can talk about her without crying now, but every now and then, especially in the days leading up to her anniversary, I get super emotional. This was very cathartic to write, because it’s something that has genuinely made me feel regret/sadness/guilt. I also think my grief timeline has been so long and drawn out compared to others, and I wonder, what the hell is wrong with me? Yea yea, everyone experiences grief differently. Still, I feel so stunted regarding this sometimes.
My husband says that I need to talk about this more, that I need to let it out, that I need to grieve with those that knew my mom best. I agree, but there are some challenges. The biggest challenge: my little brother, who was probably closest to my mom and with whom I want to grieve most, is unavailable to me. I could call my grandma more often, but it’s hard. When I hear the sadness in her voice, it is almost unbearable to me. I always leave the call feeling so pained. Then I go cry on my husband’s shoulder and wipe all of my snot on his sleeve. Lol.
Anyways, baby steps. I just wanted to commemorate my mom with this post today. Thanks for reading. And if you’ve ever lost a loved one, I hope you can find some solace in knowing that even though your loved one has passed, your love for each other remains. That stays. So hold on to that.