Dedicated to my mom – Patty Ann Cooper.
We were walking from the parking lot into Kroger grocery store when my mom had to stop because she was out of breath. She grabbed her inhaler out of her purse, and said “Ugh, this darn asthma!” with exasperation. “Mom, this doesn’t seem like asthma” I said back to her.
Shortly after that, my mom got a biopsy done on her lungs.
I will never forget the day she got her results back. I was upstairs “in bed”, but I always slept with my door wide open. So naturally, I eavesdropped on my parents conversation. All I managed to hear was a sorrow “Well, we’re just going to have to spend as much time with you as we can.” come from my dad’s mouth.
I didn’t know what I had just heard exactly. My heart dropped. I was mortified. I wanted to run down the stairs and ask but I was terrified of what I was going to hear. Instead, I stayed upstairs and convinced myself that everything was okay.
The next day I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t focus during class. I couldn’t eat. My body was shaking. However, it happened to be a “show and tell” day in my freshman english class. When it was my turn, I nervously stood in front of my class and held out a Bible. I fought back tears and said “I think my family just got some very bad news and I guess this is all I have.” I proceeded to break down in front of my entire class and cried in my seat as they all stared at me.
Later that evening, my mom sat down with me on the front porch and talked to me about what was happening. She told me she had 5 years to live. Surprisingly, I was okay with that news. I was pretty elated, actually. I had time. I could handle 5 years. “She can see me graduate high school.” I thought.
Little did I know, it was going to be only a few short months.
I remember the day she died vividly. Just that morning, I helped feed her and prayed a rosary next to her with my dad.
After we prayed, the doctor pulled my dad just outside of the hospital room. I sat in the room with my mom as I listened to my dad beg for the doctor to keep her on the lung transplant list. ” Call your closest family and friends, today is probably her last day.” The doctor said to my dad.
Phone call by phone call, we had to tell everyone to get to the hospital as quickly as they could.
When my brother Jason arrived at the hospital, we were lucky enough that we got to say our goodbyes. We walked into my mom’s room together. “Hi mom” Jason said softly. I remember sarcastically teasing her about how I got my stellar math abilities from her. We vowed to make her proud and told her how much we loved her.
After we walked out of the room, Jason and I agreed that we were ready for God to take her. We would rather lose her than see her in any more pain.
My mom was good friends with Father Mike, a priest she worked with at Church. He came to the hospital and performed a Catholic sacrament called the “Healing Of The Sick” on my mom. It is the final sacrament in the Catholic church. After the sacrament, my dad walked Father Mike back down to his car.
I drifted into a short daze after my dad walked out of the building. I specifically remember staring out of the hallway window of the UofM Hospital at the crisp blue sky. When suddenly, my dad barged through the door with his phone up to one ear ” Come on!” He yelled “What’s going on!?” I said back frantically. “She’s dying.” We sprinted down the hospital hallway and bursted through the ICU doors and into my mom’s room. My family was surrounding my mom hand in hand around her hospital bed. I was told to grab onto her hand.
It was suddenly all happening so fast. One moment I was in a daze staring out a window. The next moment I was watching the woman who raised me – die. Her heart rate monitor went up and down, up and down. “Breathe , mom!” I begged. “Jessica, let her go” my brother said painfully. “Patty, breathe!” my dad yelled. But each breath got a little smaller. Little by little – the heart rate monitor flatlined. “Is she dead?” I asked.
Just like that, she was gone. She died holding my hand.
The doctors so quickly began to unplug her as if she was a completed science experiment. Although they were just doing their job, my dad anxiously asked them to stop. We just lost a mother, a wife, a friend. For goodness sake, we just needed a moment to fathom this.
I couldn’t bear seeing her like that. A dead, sick body of someone of you care about is one of the hardest things you could ever witness. I’ve tried to erase that image in my mind many times. I often wish I could un-see it.
I left the room numb and dazed as I walked down the large, white, ICU hallway to where the rest of our family and close friends were.
I was about 50 feet away from the waiting room when I made eye contact with my cousins. One glance and I fell to my knees into a sob. My cousins came rushing over to me and cried with me right there in the middle of the hallway.
My mom was the music minister of a very large Catholic church. Ironically, the day she died was also the day the fundraiser to raise money for her lung transplant was being held at our church.
My family and I gathered our bearings and attended the fundraiser. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was about a thousand people and a line going out of the door. All of these people were there for us? It was the most humbling feeling in the entire world.
Although there was so much uncertainty. I knew that from that day on- this was to be my life. I knew I had to accept it. Things were about to change. Big time.
The older I get, the more questions I seem to have. It’s been nine years. Nine years– and the void only feels bigger. What was her favorite thing to cook? Did she laugh at her own jokes? Are my mannerisms like hers? Did she have weird talents? Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to develop skills that make me feel a sense of identity with her. My young adult self wants to know more about my mom than my teen self ever did. I feel like I’m chasing a rainbow- the more ground I gain, the further away she seems to be.
My conquest has led me to questions that lead to answers that only seem to lead to more questions.
Each passing year is new lessons learned.
Here are a few things losing my mom has taught me so far:
To have a heart of gratitude.
The way I care about the people in my life has changed partly because my priorities change as I age, but mostly because I know life can be snatched away at any moment. Mortality became so real after my mom’s passing. Sometimes, I feel like my life is moving a million miles a minute. My time has so much more value and I wish I could slow everything down and squeeze every possible second out of every day. Many people ask me while I smile so often. It’s not because my life is perfect. No, no, no. It’s because I choose to have a grateful heart.
To love my shortcomings.
It used to upset me when people mistook my lack of guidance for incompetence. Things that are basics to some young women- were not basics for me. Just put it this way… I didn’t know how to properly cut vegetables until I was 18. I’ve even had problems with previous roommates because of it. I’m a 3-star housecleaner and sometimes my decor choices are goofy. My mom was not much of a homemaker in the first place, nor was she a great housekeeper. So in addition to my mom’s mediocre housewife skills (other than being a fabulous cook)- I had none of it at ALL after she passed. Any skill I have now- I’ve had to develop on my own.
& you know what, that’s okay. Instead of letting it upset me- I now allow it to challenge me. In fact, I don’t see them as short comings at all anymore. Just learning opportunities. When there’s something I want to change or learn, I try to ask others “How can I do that?” or “Can you teach me?” Once I realized I could learn things on my own and saw results – it pushed me to think “If I can do that on my own, what else can I do?” There’s something very empowering about being “self built.”
To be a woman of good character.
Losing my mom forced me to look inward early on. It taught me that people never forget how you treated them. When someone passes away- a majority of what’s talked about is who they were as a person. Not so much their occupation or status.
Just looking at this thread this morning in regards to my mom inspires me.
My path has not been perfect. In a world of competition and ego- it’s easy to live selfishly. I often get caught up in the hustle and even love it most of the time. There are things I wish I could go back and change. I’ve done things I am not proud of. I wasn’t always kind. I wasn’t always thoughtful. Surprise, I’m human!
However, with each passing year I understand a little more that enriching the lives of others inadvertently enriches my own. When competition or despair begins to close in around me, I try to redirect those thoughts to others who are struggling elsewhere. In turn, I am better for it, too.
My mom’s legacy and example has helped me not to strive for perfection, but to be the best human I can be: honest, kind, and loving. At the end of the day- “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Not to tally keep.
Not even kidding, I used to keep track of the things that went wrong in my life. I somehow developed this idea that the world owed me something good. Eventually, I realized that when I started keeping tabs on what was going wrong- I was ignoring the 10,000 other things that were going right.
My mom passing away wasn’t a one and done type of deal. I had a plethora of other things go un- according to my plans. But, I’ve learned the hard way that life does not stop for me. Things will happen the way they happen and who am I to feel entitled against God’s plans?
Once I gave up the idea that the world owed me my desires and embraced what it gave me- did I realize that I am not the center. I could enjoy life for what it gave me instead of judging the packaging, or dwell on what it did not give me.
Besides, losing my mom better equip me for tough things that later came about.
The quest for identity is ongoing.
Truthfully, my identity suffers on a regular basis. It’s something I am constantly at war with within myself. When I find something I like, I tend to commit my whole self to all of it. One moment I think I am a surfer, the next I think I’m a full fledged musician lol. I don’t 100% know why I do it. I think it has something to do with trying to fill a part of me that feels incomplete. My attempt at feeling whole.
Sometimes it can be super embarrassing. I’m sure there are plenty of people who make fun of my phases. What I’ve learned is that it’s okay to be many things. It’s not really anybody else’s business as to how I figure ME out. I’ve taken 6 month long hiatus’s to 6 month busy streaks. I’ve accepted it’s simply something that I do in order to piece together this puzzle that is Jessica Rose Cooper. I feel like this identity journey holds true no matter what your story is.
I know there are things I will never have. Well, not in the traditional way at least. I know my mom will not be at my wedding. Mother’s day will never be spent with my real mother (I often joke with myself about how I hoard mother figures. I’ll meet a woman that inspires me and instantly I’m like… LET’S BE FRIENDS I NEED YOU. lol) . Sometimes I spontaneously cry when I see girls on mother- daughter dates because I can only imagine what that’s like.
I recognize now that I’m most definitely developmentally different than many young women who grew up having a mother during some very influential years.
Slowly but surely I’m realizing and accepting that it’s not a bad thing. With each passing year, I only love her more. I love my family more. I love our story more.
Whoever you are- a grieving young woman- a friend reading this for another friend – or somebody that’s just creeping on my life (hah). Own your process and be proud of it.
You didn’t come this far to only come this far.
Here’s to nine years. Nine beautiful, crazy, emotional roller-coaster years. Although incredibly painful, losing my mom was the biggest blessing. And I am loving the woman that’s growing from the rain that poured down.
I have learned so much in nine years…
and I have a feeling I am just getting started.
(p.s. her spelling was terrible.) ^