The Story Of How I Saw My Mother Die

Photography by Keely Montoya

Photography by Keely Montoya

This article was narrated to the author by Jacklyn and was rewritten from a first person POV.



Most people say the youngest child is usually the spoilt one. This isn’t so in my case.

I have four older sisters. My mom and I have never really been close, but she was closer to them. We were very poor and didn’t even have our own house. I grew up in a house that was lent to us for free by my papa’s friend. Before this, my sisters said they were always moving from one apartment to another. Apparently papa came from a rich family. He didn’t get an education, probably thinking they would be rich forever, but when grandfather died, his riches died with him. Papa got nothing and since he grew up well off, he wasn’t used to being poor.

My mom, meanwhile, was born poor. Despite this, she was a dreamer. She dreamed of owning her own house. I’m not surprised she fell in love with papa because he is a very honest and kind man. But I remember he always got jealous. My mom was very pretty and charming. Although we were poor, she didn’t want us to look poor. She didn’t want people to look down on us. So, to save money, my mom would sew clothes for all of us, a talent she inherited from my grandfather. Dresses, pants, shirts, blouses – you name it, she could do it. My mom was creative.

My friends used to think my family was rich because my sisters and I were always dressed up. All my older sisters were my mom’s favorites, especially the eldest. My mom was very proud of how smart the older sister was whereas the second eldest became her best friend or our “second mom.”

However, nearly all of my sisters had issues.

Our middle sister is a nice person, but gave my mom a bit of a headache. She was overweight and so became very insecure. She later dropped out of school because she was in love with her boyfriend. The same thing happened with my 4th sister: dropped out of school because of a boy. My mom adored her because she was the most pretty of us all. Maybe that’s why she’s “maldita” (mean), but not as much as our eldest. She’s evil.

When I was 5 years old and she was 10, my parents woke her up so we could go to Sunday Mass as a family. She shrieked, “I don’t want to be seen with you! People will look at our family and think my parents are horny perverts for having so many kids!” She would ALWAYS talk back to my parents. My mom would frequently cry because of her antics and, as much as my parents tried, they couldn’t control her.

As I mentioned, she was very clever so my parents enrolled her at a very exclusive private High School and University where she excelled academically. One day she had to come back home because she lost all her jewelry, money, and ATM cards. Later on I realized she pawned them in order to keep the appearance of being well off.

She then re-enrolled at a different “smaller” school closer to home and began to date this drug-addicted bum. They were insane – always fighting, yelling, and punching each other at school where teachers and other students could witness it. They broke up, but then she got pregnant. The father? Nobody knows, not even her.

After that she met a guy who fell head-over-heels for her and offered to be the father to her baby. They got married, but she never loved him so after 10 years she eloped with a different guy in another city. She left her job, she left her husband and her son, and she left us – her family. This is how it began.


My dad had to stop working because he got sick. My mom was the sole breadwinner and she had a huge debt from borrowing money from so many people just to give my sisters and me an education, although only my second sister graduated.

Almost daily my mom cried over my sisters. She and I went to the city where my eldest sister eloped to meet with her at a restaurant, but my sister never showed up. My mom also had a fight with my second sister because my second sister didn’t want my mom to talk to my eldest sister anymore. The cherry on the cake? My third sister was also talking smack to her at the same time for god knows what.

Mom had been a healthy, active woman but the stress and depression got to her. She fainted out of nowhere. She was taken to the hospital, where the doctors couldn’t understand what was wrong with her. She looked fine; all her charts were fine. But every time she tried to walk or move she’d have difficulty breathing.

The doctors monitored her heart and they became confident she was okay. They thought she was just over-reacting when she’d start to catch her breath. But suddenly she couldn’t breathe again. It got so bad she needed an oxygen mask. On the fifth day my eldest sister finally visited my mom after months of not even answering our calls or text messages. I was really pissed off because I was afraid their encounter would stress my mom out even more as she began crying again. On the sixth day, they did more tests that came back normal again.

That night my mom told me she was ready to die and that my sisters and I were already old enough to take care of ourselves. I calmed her down eventually. On the seventh day, 10TH of April 2011, my mom was finally scheduled to be released. She had an oxygen mask on to help her breathe in case she had another attack. We were packing our stuff to leave when, out of nowhere, my mom had another attack.

Everything happened so fast.

I can’t recall how many doctors and nurses jumped to her aid. They couldn’t take her down to the ICU because it was full and they said it was risky to move her because there were a lot of machines attached to her body.

My dad, who had no idea what was going on because he was back in our hometown, kept calling my phone. I couldn’t answer. I didn’t want to worry him because I was afraid he’d have a stroke.

That afternoon the doctors told me mom was already in critical condition, and that they suspected something was blocking her heart as that was the only explanation left, what with all the other tests being normal.

They asked us to make a decision: either wait for mom to die, or take a risk and inject something to unblock her heart (if there was something there). My eldest sister couldn’t make a decision. All she did while she was there was retouch her make-up and check her face in the mirror.

Photography by Keely Montoya

Photography by Keely Montoya

So there was no choice. I, the youngest sister, had to make the decision. I signed a form allowing them to perform the operation. It was better to take a risk than just leave mom to die!

There were tubes running all over my mom’s mouth and nose. Her blood pressure was completely normal yet she was struggling to breathe. You could hear it…

The doctors were stumped. 10 PM that night they finally told me to call a priest. The rest of my family was on an overnight ferry on their way to us. I called them and lied mom was getting better. I think I was in denial. My mom was a strong woman. How could this happen? Things like this only happen in movies.

I held her hand. The entire time her eyes were closed. Her arms were tied down because she’d keep flailing them and loosening the tubes and wires.

Mom tried to open her mouth. It was difficult because there were all these contraptions attached to her face.

I said, “Mom, please don’t force your mouth to open. Those contraptions are the only things helping you breathe. Please listen to me.” But she really wanted to say something to me.

To this very day I cry at that memory because I’ll always wonder what she wanted to say.

After a couple of hours I freaked out because I saw my mom’s blood pressure slowly dropping. 26… 24… 20…

The doctor began to pump her chest. It seemed like a dream. One of the nurses led me out of the room. I tried to go back in, but they forced me out again. After five minutes, the doctor went out. He told me mom wasn’t responding and asked me what I wanted to do.

I screamed at them, “No, no, please try maybe there’s still a chance.”

He went back in, then after some minutes came out again. They already tried reviving her 15 minutes more than what was allowed. He told me if they’d continue doing it, mom’s chest would collapse.

I think that was when I lost it. I cried so hard.

It was exactly 10:10 PM. My sister left without letting me know. Even though I hate her for leaving me, I think she partly blamed herself for mom dying.

Imagine my dilemma: how do I tell my sick papa and my other sisters when they arrive in the morning that mom had already passed away in the night?

When my sisters saw me, they knew right away from my face what had happened. Thankfully, the priests and doctors were there to tell papa. I don’t know how I could’ve faced him myself. I wouldn’t know what to say.

My sisters and I went to the morgue. My mom was there on a cold slab of metal covered by cloth. It reminded me of how mummies look.

My sisters had texted my mom “sorry” for their fight the night before, but mom never got to read their message. I don’t know if my eldest sister ever said sorry.

I’ll always regret how, just when mom and I finally became close, finally started to build a stronger relationship, when I finally became a woman and had a job and could finally afford to take her to dinner and spoil her with presents, she disappeared.

I just began repaying her for being such a good mother when she was snatched away from us.

I’ve always been a daddy’s girl, but a few years ago, when I had to fly to another country for a job, my mom cried so much at the airport. It was then that I realized how much she loved me. How stupid of me to think mom was unfair because her favorites were my sisters.

Whenever there was a party or an event at school, my mom would literally stay up all night just to sew me a new dress to wear. When I graduated from college, my mom got so emotional because only two of her daughters finished school.



A few years after mom passed away, my fourth sister finally got her diploma, but it’s too late because mom isn’t here anymore. Everything is too late: their apologies, their changed attitudes, and their diplomas.

My mother gave up her dreams and tried her damnedest to give us the opportunity to live ours, debts incurred, dignity thrown away asking people for money. I can’t imagine how she managed it! Keeping us alive, paying the bills, sending us to school. There were so many things mom wanted to do, so many things to achieve in her life, but she couldn’t because she had us. Travel, have a real wedding with dad, own a real house, own a car.

Do some children even realize how much their mothers give up for them?

As for me, I lost my faith in God the day mom died.

I miss her jokes, her sense of humor. I miss how everyday you’d wake up to a clean house because she always cleaned the house before going to work (even if that made her late) because she didn’t want us to do it. I miss seeing her sewing clothes for us. I miss how lovingly she took care of papa, that in-love look they gave each other. I miss being a child and playing with her and her make-up.

It’s been five years, but I still can’t seem to accept it. The memory is still fresh in my brain, like she’s still alive.

It feels like she just went on a vacation. I’m still waiting for her to come back.

Sade Andria Zabala is a twenty-four year old Filipina surfer sometimes living in Denmark. She is the author of poetry books War Songs and Coffee and Cigarettes. Her work has appeared on places such as Literary Orphans, The Thought Catalog, The Rising Phoenix Review, Hooligan Magazine, Germ Magazine, and more. In her spare time she likes to eat words and drink sunlight. You can purchase her books here. 

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