My mother died about 12 years after I immigrated to America, she still lived in Ireland. When her cancer struck it took approximately nine months from diagnosis for her body to give in. Nine months of tests and medications and phone calls and feeling helpless.
I flew back to Ireland three times over those nine months. The first time was in October with my husband and son, the second time I rang in 2004 on an airplane over the Atlantic, and the third and final time was in May, May 6th to be precise. In between those visits I eyed the blinking light on the answering machine, dreading what message was left, wishing for a miracle, and if not that, a release.
On the final trip, the day I arrived in Ireland, the automatic doors opened at Shannon airport and I saw my brother on his cell phone. He nodded, “Ok, ok,” he said, hit a button and looked at me and said, “She’s gone.” I was alright with that. I didn’t need to be at her bedside, I had been at my father’s sixteen years earlier, and couldn’t stop him from dying either.
That’s the toughest part about being an immigrant, and you don’t even have to be an immigrant, experiencing the pain of journeying back and forth as you visit an ailing family member. Always at the back of my mind was, “Is this the last time I will see her? Talk to her? How should I say goodbye?”
Ireland is as far away from me here in Connecticut as California is. Yet parents and children are lulled into this false sense of security that being in America means easy access, just a plane ride away, we are “in” America after all. Yes we are, but it is an immense country.
Maybe the cave men and today’s tribal people had the right idea, families stuck together. Is that the answer I wonder? Maybe so. On the other hand proximity won’t stop the inevitable from happening either. I’ve stood at the dying person’s bedside and lived an ocean away and they still passed away when their time came.
There’s no easy answer I suppose, because saying that final goodbye is always going to be difficult.
I usually don’t like writing such downers of posts, but I felt this one was important to share. So many of us have taken flight around the country, and around the globe, that loss from a distance becomes inevitable.