Grieving the Loss of my Mother

I’m looking at my favorites list on my phone. I see my mother’s name there among all the people I contact most often. Margaret McKinney. If I press the number right now then her phone will ring. I have her phone; so it will be a call to myself. I asked her what the passcode was the last time we were together; when she was 105 pounds and could no longer leave her bed.

So many of the interactions we had were about the logistics. Logistics are safe for me. Logistics are black and white and I can concretely say that I’ve handled them or not handled them. Handling our relationship is harder. Knowing how to correctly care for a parent is harder. There is no black or white, no right or wrong. Just a confusing relationship between two persistent women who love one another but hold one another at a distance. Just an awkward inversion of the relationship you once had, where she was the care giver and you were the recipient of the care. Neither of us likes this inversion.

I look at my mother’s name and know that I should delete her as a contact. There will be no more text messages, no more phone calls. No more sending her a video or photo of the kids’ latest funny moment or accomplishment. She is dead. Seeing the name here causes me pain. The tears start to fall.

My 11 year old son starts talking to me about a new level he got to on his video game. I respond encouragingly to him, and he asks me if I’m crying or if my eyes are just watering. I tell him I’m crying because “Meme” is dead and I’m looking at her name at my phone. He hugs me and asks me not to cry when his friend comes over. I promise him I won’t.

The phone always seems to be at the center of my grieving experience. When I woke up Tuesday September 17th there was a message on my phone that my mom was unresponsive. I called, and her care giver was in a panic. Maggie seemed so different from the day before. She wouldn’t wake up. I called hospice and they sent a nurse out to check her vitals. It had been 3 years of me monitoring my mom’s cancer from afar. My mom was always okay, so I wasn’t worried. The doctors said she would last a year, and here I was 3 years later. I waited for the hospice nurse to call me back.

When she called back, the hospice nurse said that my mom was in her “last breaths”. To me that seemed like something that would take hours. I am 6 hours away. “I’ll pack a bag and head out right away. Put me on speaker phone so I can talk to her.”

I took a breath. “Mom, I love you. Thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you for being such a good grandma. Thank you for teaching me so many things. It’s okay for you to die today if you want to. If you want to visit, you are always welcome to come back and visit us after you are gone. You are always welcome around me. I’m on my way to you now.” Ten minutes later the hospice nurse calls time of death. It’s 9:10am and she is gone.

Six days later I have handled all the funeral arrangements. I have cleaned out her house and held her service. I’m processing her death by checking things off a list. All that is left is a list of accounts I need to cancel. I go through Social Security, her bank, Costco card, water, electricity and trash.

I call to cancel her land line. The woman on the other line asks how she can help me. “My mom passed away last Tuesday and we no longer need her land line. I’d like to cancel that now.” The woman expresses her condolences. “I’m sorry for your loss Ma’am, I hope you were you able to be there with her when she passed?” Ugh. I hate this woman. Why would she ask that? How does she not know that’s the one thing I can’t forgive myself for? I want to scream at this woman. “No I wasn’t able to be there actually. She passed while I was on the very phone line we’ll be cancelling today.” The woman pauses awkwardly realizing her mistake. She won’t do that again.

My job caring for mom is over now. There are no more steps, no more regressions, no more of her for me to watch waste way. In some ways I feel free now from the pressure of caring for her. In some ways I feel like I should have done more. I do not feel my mom has visited me since she passed. I don’t feel her presence. All I feel is an emptiness behind her name glowing softly from my phone. I’m not ready to delete that yet.

Director of Product Design at Facebook, previously Head of Design & Brand at Asana.