Cannata Chronicles - Chapter 17
The End of My Beginnings
My mother was the center of the Cannata universe as far as I was concerned. While my father was the authority figure and always had the last word… it was usually a word my mother told him to say. It was watching my mother gently and surreptitiously steer my father into making the decision she had already reached that I first remember thinking… the King might rule the country, but the Queen rules the King.
When my father said no to our request for a couple of bucks to go to the movies… it was my mom who somehow slipped us the money with a finger pressed to her lips cautioning us to not say a word… just go. When my dad didn’t feel like taking a ride on weekends… it was my Mom who suddenly would think of a good errand to run and “hey…while we’re at it, why not take the kids for an ice cream.”
She laid on the couch a lot as we got older, giving orders and generally running the household from her command position. I never thought much of it. She worked as hard as any mother should have to and if she could keep things going while reposed on the couch I thought it only fair. She did get up to take control when there was important stuff but she gave orders from her throne just as easily as a queen.
One of the most lasting memories I have of my mother is of sitting next to her watching the TV comedy F-Troop. Without fail she would laugh as hard as a body could all throughout the show. Every time the cannon took out the watch tower she would be in tears. I thought she was nuts but I loved seeing her laugh that way. Reclineing on her sofa throne was where she always watched TV as I grew up.
But her position on the couch wasn’t simply one of convenience… it was one of support. I was to learn later how much her illness was sapping her strength. While I had discovered her stash of Vodka I never imagined that my mother was an alcoholic; Let alone an alcoholic that was rapidly and unavoidably dying from her habit.
My mother died a sudden and painful death when I was just 20. She died as a result of liver and kidney failure. She had been a serious alcoholic most of her life. Her drinking and the abuse her body suffered had finally taken its toll. The effects of her numerous pregnancies and the hard work that comes with just being a mother contributed to the wear and tear a body suffers in a lifetime. She was only 48 but she looked older. It was obvious towards the end or a case of me finally being older and wiser. But her alcoholism was a state I never consciously noticed or an idea I never contemplated growing up.
I should have known… looking back I can recognize the classic symptoms. But the fact that your parent is a serious drunk isn’t something a boy wants to think about when it comes to his mother. She never looked or acted drunk the way I thought a drunk should. She was never abusive. She was never visibly drunk... the way drunks look. She never staggered around or looked all dazed and confused. She wasn’t prone to going off on incoherent rants or slurring her words. She was just a tired mother who worked very hard at raising her kids. She and her best friend Mal would often sit together on weekends or during the week and sip their drinks while passing the time. Highballs and Vodka and Tonics never seemed like the deadly threats they proved to be. But it’s amazing how little we know at the age where we think we know it all.
I was to understand later that her disease was the reason she always looked pregnant long after the birth of my last baby brother. It was her distended abdomen; swollen and round and empathized by her small size that exaggerated the effects of the damage to her liver and kidney. I used to make fun of her… saying her tummy was always ready just in case a new Cannata decided to start cooking. She always laughed at the jokes which was a feeling I loved immensely. I thought I was wicked clever. She never told me what an **** I was.
We moved out of our home at 37 Forbes Street, when I was 19. That was when it became indisputably clear that my life was never going to be the same again. I lived in the new house, which was a drab 3 bedroom apartment that seemed too small for all of us. It would never feel like my home had. I didn’t like anything about the new house. Neither did my mother. I still wonder how much of a role the move played in her illness. Before we moved she never complained about being sick… ever. She became obviously sick and was hospitalized for the first time shortly after I moved out of my parents and into my first apartment.
Once it became clear just how sick she truly was it wasn’t long before she passed away. It happened so fast that it was too quick for me to really grasp what was happening. I knew my mom was sick… but I never realized just how sick. Whether it was because no one told me, or, more likely, because I didn’t want to know, the extent of my mother’s illness was serious long before I was aware that she was even sick. I was pretty clueless how to help once I understood how bad things were. I would have done anything and given my own life to make her well again.
Until the day she asked me to help her in a way only I could. She asked me to do something that would make her pain go away. I was the only person she could turn to. I could help her in ways the doctors wouldn’t. It was then that I learned that, no matter how much you want or need to help someone you love; sometimes, even if it is within your power to do as asked, there is nothing you can do. That is the time a person finally gets to understand just what it means to be and feel helpless.
I had always done anything my mother had asked of me. Saying no just wasn’t something to be considered. I would go to the store. Do the laundry. Clean the house or yard. Even lie to my father if she asked. My mother meant the world to me… something I came to better understand after she passed away. I also came to realize that, no matter how much we love someone, sometimes we can be of no help at all.
Just before my mother died she asked me once again, for the final time, to help her. To help her in a way that she felt only I could do. To my unbearable sorrow and regret, the time when my mother needed my help the most… I failed her. It wasn’t because I couldn’t. It was because I wouldn’t. She was right when she said she knew I could do what she asked. But instead of doing what she needed of me, I let my mother down and, in doing so, I let her die. She died a painful and uncomfortable, as well as untimely death. By clinging to my hopes… foolish and unrealistic, I caused her to spend her last days alone, without me, and suffering needlessly.
While I couldn’t have prevented her death… the damage to her organs was past treatment… I could have helped ease the pain. But that was the problem. Because of the damage to her liver and kidney, any drugs would have just caused more damage. Her liver and kidney would have failed if subjected to too much or the wrong kind of medication. Giving her drugs for the pain would only have worsened her illness and destroyed any hope of her recovery. Hope that I was stupid enough to still hold when everyone else knew better.
At the height of her pain she came to me in secrect, crying and desperate. She pressed a $20 dollar bill into my hand. She whispered close and quietly to me.
“Michael”, she said. “I know you can get me something to help me. I’m in pain and I feel like I’m going to die if I don’t get something to help! The doctors and your father won’t give me anything. Please baby… its terrible how I feel. I know you can get me things. You know what I mean. You have friends. Anything you can find. Please?”
She was asking me to go out and find her some drugs on the street; something that would help her pain. Something we both knew she shouldn’t have if there was any hope of helping her getting well. She was asking my to do something that would both ease her pain and speed her death. I had no idea how to respond. I never lied to my mother unless it was to spare me a smack on the head. When it came to important things and their trust, my parents could always count on my honesty. I didn’t know it at the time… but what I told my mother turned out to be the most horrible and dishonest lie I ever uttered.
I told her I would try.
I left the house in a complete state of confusion and angst. Every part of my being wanted to help my mother. It tore at my heart me to see her in such pain. But I knew that if I were to do what she asked, she could very well die from taking what I got for her. I didn’t want to see her suffer… but even more, I didn’t want her to die… especially by my hands.
I didn’t go home to my parent’s house that night. In fact, I stayed away for 3 days; afraid to go home to see her look at me in pain and disappointment; Ashamed to face her and explain why I didn’t help. When I finally went back to my parent’s house I found out my mother had been admitted to the hospital again the night before. My Dad didn’t call me because it was late. I told him I would go and see her the next day after work. I dreaded seeing her but she would have to forgive me just as sure as I had to face her regardless of how disappointed she might be in me. I would just have to explain to her why I couldn’t do it. I knew she would forgive me once I explained.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance.
Early the next morning I got a call from my father. My mother had passed away during the night.
A hundred different emotions hit me but the one I recall most was confusion. I didn’t cry. In fact to this day I’ve never really felt anything more than shame. I don’t even remember what I did with the $20. That bothers me immensely. All I do remember is that my mother died waiting for me to keep a promise that I never meant to keep. She died believing a lie I told her. I never got the chance to explain that it was because I loved her… that was why I didn’t help her.
I thought I missed my mother when she died. It turns out, at that age; I never had any idea what it meant to really miss someone. I was 21 and much too young to have to deal with the loss of a parent. But now, as I look back, I realize that missing her then was only a start. I have missed her more every year… every day… that has passed since that day 35 years ago. While I’ve watched my friends deal with the deaths and illness of their elderly patents I feel both sorrow and envy.
Maybe it was a blessing losing my parents at such a young age. I never had to deal with the failing health of a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s or from a long term debilitating disease. I watch my friends go through the loss of their elderly parents and try to comfort them as best I can. But I don’t really know how much it hurts. For many it seems a relief that the right time has come. After watching their once vital and energetic parents slowly slip into the cruel grasp of old age… sapped of their vigor and youth, it can almost seem like a kindness to see them go with dignity and expectation after a long and well lived life. Knowing full well they got all anyone could ask of their time on earth.
I envy them that time together. I wish I could have had as much time with my mother. I wish I could have had the chance to help ease her into old age and get the most out of life. To have helped her get everything she deserved as a reward for having cared so well for such a large family. I’m not sure just how capable I would have been. Perhaps I would have failed them now as well as I did then.
I would have given anything to have had the chance to find out.