Fried bananas for breakfast

If you ever want a real treat for breakfast, slice a banana in half lengthwise, then cut each half into two pieces. Melt a slab of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat and just as it begins to sizzle, add the bananas. Add a healthy dusting of cinnamon and sugar and cook until each side is slightly caramelized. Now it’s time to plate and enjoy.

This simple, warm dish was one my mom used to make on occasion and I always loved it when she did. She had a knack for turning the ordinary things in life – like breakfast before school into something remarkable. Most of the time these acts of motherly kindness were simple. Today marks three years since we lost mom to cancer and as I was lying in bed thinking about her, I was craving fried bananas, so I decided to make some.

She had a knack for turning the ordinary
things in life – like breakfast before school
– into something remarkable.

I’ve learned a lot these past three years about grief, coping, and the power of a mother’s love and its ability to continue influencing those left behind. I am finally at a place where I can talk about mom to others and not tear up, for the most part that is. I can finally look at photos of her straight on as opposed to a quick glance from aside. I have truly accepted that she is gone, and it’s been a couple of months since I tried calling her out of habit. In some ways it seems like a long time to get to this point. In other ways, I feel like I’m adjusting too quickly.

A long time ago I was a volunteer for Hospice in Hawaii, helping terminally ill patients and their families as they went through their own journeys of dying. I learned about typical physiological and emotional stages of death during a volunteer training program. Then, my mom was a fairly recent cancer survivor and she was there going through the program with me. We were asked to draw something that symbolized our views of death and to share them with the group. I drew a book opened to a new chapter because I believe death is the ending of one of our life’s phases and the beginning of another. Mom drew a colorful rainbow, sharing with the group that she saw death as something beautiful and peaceful.

Three years ago, when it was clear to me that fighting for her life was no longer the right course of action, I drew upon mom’s symbol of death for strength to help prepare her for her own journey. After a number of difficult conversations with my father and brothers – they were not yet ready to let her go – I found myself alone with mom in her hospital room preparing to have a difficult conversation with her. She had been very anxious, stressed, and confused. But she was still alert. The head of her bed was elevated, and I sat in a chair facing her and holding her hand. For the longest time we just stared at one another as I tried to muster the courage to say what needed to be said. I thought to myself, how in the world can I tell the one person who was my rock in life that it’s okay to go? She had a look in her eyes, however, that seemed to know what I was about to say and that it was okay.

I gently told mom that the medical procedures were just not working like we had hoped and that it was time to talk about how she wanted to “move on.” With this she gripped my hand harder and kept her eyes fixed on mine and nodded. I asked if she remembered the Hospice training and drawing our views about death, to which she nodded yes. I asked her, “do you remember what you drew?” With shortness of breath, she mouthed, “rainbow.” I told her, “yes, that’s right, a rainbow.” I then told her that it was okay to let go, that she had done more than anyone could have ever hoped for by devoting her life to her family. I told her that it was okay to let go, that she would be with her mother and father, and that we would all be okay. I told her it was okay to let go. The entire time she never took her eyes off mine and she nodded that she understood.

I presented mom with the two options we had figured out, one being to transfer her to a Hospice facility and the other, to take her home. I explained to her that in either case, treatment would be limited to keeping her comfortable and that the medications and feeding tube would be discontinued. She nodded that she understood. When I asked, “where do you want to go?” she quickly replied, “home.”

This twenty or so minute conversation with my mom was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. But I am also grateful for the experience and helping mom to understand that it was okay to let go, something that she needed to hear because if she thought her family expected her to fight on, she would have. That’s just how she was, selfless.

After that conversation, mom quickly slipped away into a deep sleep. Even when we transported her home, she did not awake. For a couple of days, she rested in her own room that was adorned with her favorite flowers. Relatives and friends came to say their goodbyes and to be with our family. The house was filled with food, music, singing, and so much Aloha. It was truly moving.

For two nights, I stayed in a recliner next to mom. I administered morphine drops whenever her breathing become labored, and I held her hand a lot. On her second day home, it was evident that her time was close at hand. It was Sunday, October 23, 2016 and people were still stopping by to say goodbye. After the last relative we were expecting arrived and spent a few moments with mom, it was time.

With dad, my brothers, and their families, we all surrounded mom and told her we loved her and that it was okay to go. Just before she took her last breath, she opened her eyes for the first time in days and looked around to see all of us one last time. She shed a tear, closed her eyes, and left us.

These past three years I’ve struggled to cope with losing my mom. It’s been hard to get the sights and sounds of her dying moments out of my mind – the way her face, mouth, and neck strained as she took her final breath and how I ran from the room letting out my own wail as if all the air in me flowed out beyond the capacity of my own lungs. I’ve been to the family home only a couple of times for brief visits, and I have no desire to go back. They say time will heal but I don’t yet believe it. Time does numb, but I don’t think I will ever truly heal, and that’s okay.

But more happy memories and smiles are returning. I love seeing the many wonders in my own life and my family that are the direct result of my mom’s time with us. Memories of her continue to give us strength, guidance, laughter, and love. And her traditions and those special things she did to make the ordinary extraordinary live on.

This morning, I had fried bananas for breakfast. I miss you, mom.