my mom died the day I graduated from high school

This is going to be hard to write, I don’t often tell this story. The week before I graduated from high school in 1995, my mom, who had been dying from liver cancer, was rushed to palliative care in an ambulance. She was so weak when she went into the hospital the paramedics had to carry her out of our house on a stretcher. She spent a week in palliative care, fading in and out of consciousness. By the time my graduation day arrived, June 17th, she was unconscious. I vividly remember telling her that morning that I would back to show her pictures of the ceremony. The nurse told me that it was good I was talking to her even though she couldn’t hear me. The senses are the last to go before death arrives.

My brother and dad stayed behind with my mom and I went ahead to the ceremony with our family friends who had very kindly offered to drive me and keep me company on what was about to become the worst day of my life. The ceremony began at 2pm. We were at this beautiful theatre in downtown Vancouver, all of my friends and classmates up on the stage, ready to start our adult lives. I noticed that my dad and brother were late getting there but didn’t think much of it. We got our high school diplomas and everyone cheered. I won an award for resilience. My friends cheered so loudly for me I almost cried on the stage but didn’t. I got off the stage and started to walk up to the lobby of the hotel, riding high on having won two awards and getting my diploma. My dad came up behind me and whispered in my ear, “she went at 2 o’clock”. I almost fainted at those words and then everything became very blurry. I started to fall backwards and my friend was behind me, catching me from hitting the floor. All I remember was shock and tears and having to sit down. It was simultaneously the very best and worst day of my life. June 17th.

So, today, I’m honouring that girl who almost fainted from the shock of hearing the news that her mother had died and she wasn’t there. I have felt for many years an incredible amount of guilt for not having been there. For being at my graduation instead, for being to be there happy and proud of myself. My mom would have wanted me to be there, but part of me wanted to be with her and part of me wanted to run as fast and as far away from that hospital room as I could. These are all of the contradictions and conflict that come with watching a parent die. Wanting to be there, wanting to run away. I have felt this conflict for so many years and now, finally, with time and space and therapy, I realize that all of those feelings are ok, they’re normal. I did the best I could as an 18 year old. I am doing the best I can now as a 42 year old. I miss her every day and I find myself asking questions that only she could have answered. But the more questions I ask about who she was and what she wanted for her life, the more answers I find about myself and what I want for mine. xo Janet

Published by Janet Gwilliam-Wright

Feminist and queer. Professional teller of truths. Slayer of personal demons.

2 thoughts on “my mom died the day I graduated from high school

  1. We arrived at the Orpheum at 2:15
    You where in the parade to the stage
    At the end we came out and you were talking to Lt Governor G Gardom
    You saw me and I shook my head and that’s when your knees buckled


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