I sat with her in the hospital on the last full day of her life. It was St. Patrick’s day and I was wearing a white shirt with green dots. I have never worn that shirt again, but it still hangs in my closet. She had been diagnosed with cancer only ten days before. Taken to the hospital because she was short of breath. She called me to tell me she had cancer. I started to cry and I told her I was scared. She told me she was strong and that she would fight for my sister and I. She was a brave woman, no sound of fear in her voice.
I went to the hospital on that last day and when I walked in the room, this beautiful woman who had courageously given me up for adoption when she was fifteen years old, was barely holding onto life. Her family filled the room: her two sisters and her brother, her beautiful daughter, and me. I walked in, straight to my sister and we hugged and we cried. My auntie said, “Melissa is here.” And my birth mother opened her eyes and started to take off her oxygen mask to say something, but we wouldn’t let her. She needed it to breathe. I’ll never know what she wanted to say, but I told her that I loved her. That was the last conscious moment of her life. I sat beside her all day. I held her hand. I studied her. I noticed that our fingers were the same shape only hers were a shade darker than mine. I noticed that our shoulders sloped the same way and that our hair frizzed the same. I learned that we both knew how to cry quiet. I saw that we took off our socks the same way in bed. One foot, frustratingly pushing one irritating tube of fabric off the other. We had the same toes.
Her last breath came around 4am the next day. I had gone home the evening before, kissed her on the forehead and told her that if she needed me to come back that I would. But, I knew I would never see her again. My auntie called me in those early morning moments and we cried together on the phone. The woman who gave birth to me, the woman whom I only had the privilege of knowing for three short years, was gone. We had written letters, talked on the phone, and met in person only once (that did not involve a hospital). I did not get to know her the way I had always imagined, but she was the very reason I was alive. The love I carry for her is different than the love I have for my own mom. With my mom, the woman whose daughter I have always been, the love comes from all the ups and downs of a lifetime of mother-daughter relations. With my birth mother, the love is one of deepest and most profound gratitude. She gave me away, so that I could become the woman I am today. She gave me away so that I could be the daughter of my parents, the sister of my brother. She gave me away so that I could become Melissa.
I miss her.