I had just finished driving north from Boston to Newburyport, Massachusetts on the afternoon of August 22, 2015 when I saw my Dad in the parking lot unloading a small suitcase from his car. My parents had rented a hotel room nearby the wedding venue my cousin Natalie had picked out. I had not seen my parents since the afternoon my Mom had signed out of the hospital against medical advice on August 5th. I had been in touch over the phone several times and my Mom had told me that she was working closely with my Aunt Marie and was beginning to look at a rehab facility on Cape Cod. As my Dad shut the back of his forerunner and waved my direction I could tell I was one of the only glimmers of hope he had laid eyes on in a few weeks.
“Hey Kiddo! How was the drive?” he asked.
“I blasted Taylor Swift the whole way up here so I really can’t complain.” I responded. “Is Mom inside already?”
“Yeah. I brought her into the room a few minutes ago.”
“How is she doing today?” I expected the answer that I trained myself to no longer be disappointed by.
“She hasn’t drank anything in six days. I think she finally scared herself into not drinking anymore.” He sounded half heartedly relieved.
“Green carpets in an old, rustic, New England hotel,” I noted internally as I took a right hand turn into the suite. My Mother sat on the bed in front of me. I cannot put into words how her appearance made me feel but her eyes told me she was on borrowed time. The alcohol and Ativan had finally caught up with her. I had two weeks left with her and I fought like hell to deny it. My heart melted with a profound empathy when I saw her. My attitude immediately softened when her eyes met mine. I was an absolute puddle.
My Dad, my Mom and myself all prepared quietly for the wedding and headed to the grounds shortly after she borrowed my Bare Minerals make up. I watched intently as she applied makeup that afternoon beneath the overhead sink light. Little did I know it would be the last time I would ever see her do such a task. I wished my sister Justine was there. I felt really alone and profoundly desperate.
My cousin’s wedding ceremony was nothing short of magical. My family’s weddings never fall short of that description. Those events were and still are what remind me about what commitment, grit, faithfulness, joy and the importance of family truly mean. I tried hard to enjoy myself, but a lot of family and friends kept pulling me aside to ask how my mother was doing. Her jaundice color had everyone concerned. But today was Natalie and Dan’s day and I tried to always direct the conversation back to how beautiful my cousin looked.
Not long into the reception I noticed that my Dad was trying to catch my eye from several tables away. I was seated with several cousins and their dates when I noticed this distressing look on my Mom’s face. A simple cut that would not have been a problem for most people was no longer clotting off. I had not noticed the bandage and gauze she had on her leg back at the hotel room because she hid it well beneath a long black skirt. However my mom was suffering from bleeding mishaps related to a cut on her left lower leg for three days prior to my cousin’s wedding. This was the last family event she would be able to attend, and the truth is, she knew it before everyone else did. Six days sober, she tried so hard to be there, enjoy her family and rejoice for her niece.
I was kneeling on the grass during my cousin’s reception fervently trying to wrap her leg in gauze underneath a banquet table. My thoughts under that table were as follows:
“My mother has minimal clotting capability.”
“Her skin is so yellow. So yellow.”
“Jeez she has bruises everywhere.”
“This gauze is completely saturated.”
“Thankfully I wore a black dress to this event, otherwise I’d look pretty blood stained right about now.”
“Damn it, this thing will not stop bleeding.”
“At least she’s not drunk like the last wedding.”
“This is so embarrassing. But I don’t really care, she’s my mother.”
“You’re under a table in a dress right now at 25 years old.”
“I’m the child of a recovering and dying alcoholic.”
“I’m proud of her for trying to be here.”
“Does this venue have another first aid kit?”
“I’m not going to be able to get this to stop bleeding.”
“I think she needs a liver transplant.”
“I’ve got blood all over me. Oh wow, I’ve got blood all over me.”
I was covered in blood and had to leave the reception tent to wash my hands, and my arms. I tried to sneak my way to the bathroom as family and friends stood up to make speeches about Natalie and her new husband Dan. I was on my way back out of the bathroom following a bath in the sink, when I practically fell into my Aunt Marie’s arms. She was waiting for me as I turned the corner of the museum to make my way back to the reception tent.
“You have to live your life Kristina. Your Dad is going to bring her to the hospital with Aunt Jean. But sweetheart, you have to live your life. This isn’t your burden to bear. You don’t have to carry this. I know you feel like you do, but this isn’t yours to carry. ”
My Aunt Marie, to this day, is one of the most graceful people I know. I knew she was right but when I was in that moment I couldn’t even think about anything else except trying to put one foot in front of the other. Surviving isn’t living.
I blinked back the tears hard and hurried back to the table my parents were seated at. My Mom’s leg kept bleeding and my Dad and Aunt Jean had decided to leave the reception to bring her to the nearest hospital in Newburyport, MA. I offered to go as well, but my Dad told me to stay at the party and represent the family.
I did my best to enjoy the reception the rest of the night. I drank only Coca-Cola and water. I was the only family member present from my immediate family on the dance floor at that event. Dateless, because who would ever want to be dating me at this juncture in my life; no immediate family in sight. Alone. I danced anyway. I sang anyway. I tried to be myself anyway. I could only remain positive because the alternative was to burst into tears. Being positive was all I knew how to do.
My cousin Erin looked absolutely gorgeous that evening and her new husband was thrilled to call her his wife. When the reception concluded, I got a ride back to the hotel and awaited my parent’s return from the hospital. The conversation that would unfold that night between my Mom and I was one that I had accepted would never come to pass. For the first time in my life she would finally own her lifelong vice.
“But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.”–Psalm 3:3