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7/30/59 - Admittedly it was a number combination that took me years to get right but after hearing or saying it upwards of 15 times a day for months on end, it is safe to say it is permanently engrained in my brain. So, needless to say, there was no need for the "Mom's Birthday Tomorrow" reminder that popped up on my phone yesterday because ever since it turned July the dark cloud that inevitably loomed over the 30th was constantly in the back of my mind.

Despite the brave, smiling woman in all of the pictures I've posted, looking back I'm reminded that was nothing compared to what life was actually like. On her final birthday, I begged her for just one smile for the chance to publicly celebrate her. She didn't feel well. She hadn'tt eaten in months so we offered her water ice instead of cake. She did not want to celebrate but, in a desperate attempt to achieve some normalcy, we did it anyway. Unfortunately this was the case for most of the pictures I took of her in the last few years. Forcing smiles through pain, anxiety and just feeling like complete shit... but she did It well. Scrolling through her fb group, she made being a mom with terminal cancer look easy, and sure we forced ourselves to make the best of it, but I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. For me, narrating her "journey" was the easy part but there were so many things those posts concealed about what it's really like to become your own mom's caretaker in your 20s. The stress of seeing her suddenly 80+lbs thinner when you help her change or "shower." The indescribable feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see she's spent another day bed ridden and barely coherent. Holding a straight face even though you're early nauseated the you get whiffs of her drainage bag or, even worse, the fecal vomit filled buckets. Sitting next to her for hours insisting that you enjoy spending time with her on chemo day as the medications cause her to gradually fade into a shell of herself. Doing your best not to spazz out and yank her PICC line when you're the only person around to flush it. Wearing a smile as you take her to run errands even though it's 100 times more exhausting than just doing it yourself. The frustration of trying to encourage her only to be met with the numbing "Kenz, I'm dying." Forcing yourself to sound optimistic even when she's understandably completely miserable and, inside, you are too. Spending sleepless nights panicking in the ER. The relief of receiving a "we have poop!" text. Of course the good times were the ones we'd share but day to day life with terminal cancer is like the most depressing game of whack-a-mole you can ever imagine.

When my mom first realized she was dying, she typed notes to me and my brothers on her phone. For the most part we were reminded of things she had already told us but I was additionally tasked with the job of "keeping the family together" which she acknowledged was sexist but apparently that's what happens when you're the only girl left. Truth be told I haven't really followed through. When people ask how we're doing, my automated response is "we're hanging in there." I say the same thing to everyone (sorry, don't take it personally) because I can't find a single word to describe ho w I'm doing and honestly have no idea how anyone else is. The center of our family, the middle-woman, we all used to rely on for communication is gone and now, sure we spend time together but, I could not tell you which Kugler-Ross stage we're each fighting at the moment. Speaking of which, nothing could prepare me for the extreme range of stress, anger, depression, jealousy and anxiety that comes with losing your mom. The visuals of her final hours continue to strike me at the most inopportune times. Any previous visions of my future now have a big, dark hole where she should have been. Every day I come up with more and more questions that only she could answer. I stare at pictures of her and wonder !) how we got so lucky and 2) how we are actually expected to go forever without seeing her again. It's not fair and I don't think I'll ever get over it.

People always say things get better with time but I'll believe it when I see it. What I can say is that these 3.5 months have been, not so much a learning curve but, more like being forced to cliff dive before you've learned how to swim. Somehow I've survived and I've learned a lot... just not the kinds of things you'd expect. All of those commonly used sympathetic phrases suddenly sound so harsh when they're used in reference to your very own loved one. I really struggle with the suggestion that I should be able to find her everywhere and anywhere I look Turns out, I lack that super power and until a cardinal smacks me in the face and sits (preferably without defecating) on my head I'm going to have a really difficult time finding her. That's not to say I don't find ways to still feel close to her. Still, every day I light her yankee candle and wish her good morning and the last thing I do before bed is blow out the candle and tell her goodnight. I.sleep with the lopsided blanket she crocheted for me. I wear her comfy clothes. everything seems to move on undisturbed yet different at the same time.

My mom often remarked how she always knew when I was really hurt because I'm otherwise "not a crier" but not anymore. Suddenly I'm the girl who cries at Costco, a concert tailgate, pretty much any car ride, you name it. I could go non for days... As much as I'd love to party pre-death-sentence-Diedre-style and do all the untainted vodka shots in the world, the reality is I hardly feel like celebrating when all I can think of is the hell we watched her endure for so long, I'm well over my limit for acceptable social media posts and there is not gentle way to say this but just know having a terminal mom really sucks but having a dead mom sucks even more. #foreverfiftyeight

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