My Precious Mom

My mother and I a couple of Christmases ago.

Have you ever been lost? I mean really, really lost?

The kind of lost that every direction you look at seems foreign and scary?

There are shadows in the dark looming. Your heart is fluttering. Actually it skips a few beats and comes rushing into your throat. You know you need to take a step forward. To make a decision. But. You. Just. Can’t.

And I don’t mean the kind of lost where you whip out your GPS and ask Lucy how to get out of this mess kind of lost.

I mean your soul is gone. Passions have no colour. They have no texture. You can’t touch or feel them. You know they exist, somewhere deep down inside because they are part of you… they are who you are. But you don’t have the key with which to open that door again. But you really, really want to… ♥

It’s been a while. In fact, too long. I stopped blogging on a regular basis since the end of 2013. And therefore, I’ve broken a number of rules of blogging. Like creating regular posts. Like amazing readers with mouth-watering photography (that, I haven’t mastered yet).

And the most important rule that I’ve broken is called {lack of} enthusiasm. My passion vanished…like petals of a dandelion dispersed in the wind.

I used to literally dream about food and go to bed with a plan of what I was going to make the next day or tackle on the weekend. Going to the market, reading a book, seeing a new flower in the spring, picking blackberries on my walks along the Thames, and talking with my mother and father every day were all inspirations.

But life outside the kitchen came rushing in and took center stage in December 2013. I’ve tried producing some bits and pieces, tried to keep my artistic and culinary side flowing and my readers engaged…. but it’s been tough. First, I found myself leaving London and moving back to Sevilla and filing for divorce. That was in March last year. And second, and most importantly, I came to the US to accompany and help my parents with my mother’s impending open-heart surgery scheduled in June 2014. When I arrived, Mom was her usual self, hugging me to bits and not being able to give me enough kisses all at once. And course, she wanted to share everything and wanted me to share everything, even if she had already heard it a few times before.

We hadn’t seen each other in person since Christmas, although we Skyped every single day and sometimes for hours. My parents helped me through the initial months of moving back to Spain. I finally shared with them many truths they had not fully been aware of. And we were finally all happy with the prospects of my new life.

The surgery was scheduled for June 12th. And my mother in her usual fashion was courageous and strong, although she was nervous and scared. She read all the pamphlets that the hospital gave us to prepare. And so did I. She was worried about her old scars from her breast cancer and how her sternum would be cut… but even so, we enjoyed about a week of beautiful weather and reconnecting with each other and the rest of the family before heading off to NYC on June 11th.

She and my father had these great plans to move back to Spain, her homeland, after her recovery and my parents put their house up for sale in anticipation. We all had great plans to be together. We were finally going home! But the universe conspired differently…

A month after the surgery, she almost died of complications… and from there on, over hill and trough, lots of hope and some joys and many disappointing moments, we lived one day at a time. She was a trooper even though she had to re-learn how to walk, she had edema on her legs and one arm, and was always very tired. But she maintained her enthusiasm. She gave us courage. She almost never lost her spunk, giving me pointers in the kitchen, eagerly helping me cut vegetables (albeit sitting or leaning on a chair), and even gave me recipes while in ICU when she was intubated and couldn’t speak. She never gave up… and took everything in stride and without complaining.

On December 4th, 2014, she was admitted into Yale-New Haven for a sternal wound infection and malnutrition (the infection had been eating away her protein and nourishment). She got better, then had four more surgeries, almost died during one of them, went through rounds and rounds of antibiotics and other medications, and seemed to be getting better, yet at the same time, wasn’t. She was transferred at the end of February to our local hospital in New London, where she was supposed to start rehabilitation. But the doctors told us she needed to regain some strength before going that route. However, their faces and body language were telling us something we didn’t want to see or hear.

And a couple of weeks later, we were asked a dreadful question, whether or not to put her on palliative care or prolong her life, knowing that her organs were going to continue failing, that her wound wasn’t healing and that all the nutrition she was getting was actually killing her instead of curing her.

It was a tough decision. But when there’s no hope and you see your loved one suffering so much and for so long, you know it’s the right one. We never told mom. We don’t know if she knew she was dying. Although she had always been a very intuitive and wise woman. Her eyes said a million things that she never voiced to us. And a couple of times when she was not fully awake, we gave her permission to leave. We told her we would be ok and try to be happy and to not worry about us.

Mom died on March 11th, not quite a week after palliative care started. We had just left the hospital an hour before receiving the phone call, and we were all eating dinner together, as we told her we would do, planning to see her the next day as we had been doing every single day since June 11th, 2014.

For the first week after her passing, we had a family friend visiting (who arrived just in time to see my mother alive for the last time) and we held mom’s funeral mass. I continued cooking. Our family friend, who is from my hometown in Spain, made some delicious Spanish meals. It was comforting to have her with us and we were sort of walking in a cloud. The second week came around, our friend left, and the next day I woke up with a fever and splitting headache. I was sick; and I hadn’t been sick in over three years… I had no energy to move, much less to get into the kitchen and all food was nauseating.  I resorted to eating bread and salted crackers to be able to keep something down. Two weeks later, I started to feel better, but still struggled with mustering any sort of enthusiasm regarding food. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever eat properly again, write a recipe and take a picture.

Eventually, I had no choice but to start preparing meals if my father and I wanted to have some sort of nourishment. He’s a BBQ man. That’s his territory. He knows how to cook to perfection salmon steaks or other large fish and meat on the grill. And he would do the cleaning up of the kitchen at home. But my mother, she, as a traditional Spanish wife, was the chef at home. And she was an excellent and intuitive one, who loved to share her kitchen and her dishes. Most of what I’ve learned has been from her. She inspired me to write this blog and to share traditional Spanish and Andalusian dishes, and dishes from my childhood, the ones I grew up on and she loved to make for all of us. She was my most ardent supporter and critic. And she wasn’t shy about giving me tips all the time, even teaching me how to use knives properly. She was a perfectionist, as a typical Virgo like me, and wanted me to be the best I could be. She had a wonderful (and very perceptive) eye for food styling, something I’ve yet to learn. She also couldn’t help herself and was always telling me to dress myself better, to wear makeup, to wear jewellry… in essence to always be arreglada (to be orderly and well presented at all times). It was her pet-peeve with me and my nieces. You wouldn’t ever catch her at home, and much less outside, in a frumpy state.

Mom and Dad in June 2014, a week before surgery.

Mom was elegant Luisa, as one American friend used to call her.  But for me, mom was my first love, my best friend, my compass and my pillar. She inspired us to appreciate art and culture, she fueled our passions, encouraged our dreams and taught us the most important lessons of all: to love, to love others, be forgiving and selfless, and to be empathetic and caring. And she embarked us on a journey, just as her’s before us had been, how to eat healthy whole foods, establishing a pattern for later in life, for which I’m very grateful. She was an extraordinary human being, beautiful inside and out. In fact, even more lovely on the inside than on the outside, and that’s already saying a lot because she was a very pretty lady to look at, even at 82.

And now, I’m lost without her. We all are.

There’s only silence instead of her loving voice. I long to hear her saying, “Debbie, bonita, como estas?” (Her usual way of greeting me or leaving me messages on the phone.)

There’s no one telling me, “arreglate, que no sabes quien te va a ver”.

There’s no laughter. Her witty and spunky humour is only a memory.

I have to think really hard to visualise her face. Her bright, wide eyes that sparkled with interest in and curiosity about everything. Her beautiful and sweet smile with those cute dimples, which she rarely showed in pictures as she hated posing. Her pretty hair, almost always coiffed to perfection.

Her smell.

Her touch. Her hands.

And her hugs. And her kisses. Oh, those kisses.

Her compassion and understanding. Her endless patience with all of us.

Her open mind and open heart that loved to listen to everything we wanted to share most of the times setting her needs aside.

All that is gone. Forever.

And being lost hurts. It breaks my heart.

My beautiful mom.

Te quiero mama, ahora y por siempre.

In my mother’s memory and honour, I dedicate this post to my greatest love.