Why in the hell did I think this was a great set of titles for the story of mom’s death?! The beginning… made sense, The middle… yup, but THE END?! What kind of morbid portion of my brain allowed that one to sneak by? I’ve been staring at a blank screen, all but “The end” written at the top, and I don’t know if I should laugh (I think to myself, as I cry).
And more importantly, who in the hell do I think I am trying to write this? What was I thinking? I was sailing through the story, the week, and as soon as I get to Thursday, the Last Day, just like I did a year ago, I have screeched to a halt. I’ve been trying to write this for a couple of days now, and I have some decent chunks written, below, but I just got off the phone with my little sister, and I think we’ve agreed that it’s simply because that is the day when everything became blurry, began to be stored in chunks, no finite linear anything. My brain is so muddy when I touch the memories of this last day, they slip through my fingers and scatter into even more fragments. Karissa just told me stories of Thursday I haven’t thought about since that day. Memories I’d filed away, and never picked up or looked at again. But they’re there, because yes, I remember them. We just realized we have talked plenty about that week, and various details, but we’ve never had the courage or desire to revisit this day together, or out loud. This walk through the dates as we near the first anniversary of our mom’s death, has been painful but extremely therapeutic. I’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t going to possibly ever be a complete or entirely accurate portrayal, and I’m going to have to be okay with that. It was all just too much, too loud, too sad, too intense. I promise, I will tell as much as I can, and have my sisters fact check me, and include their random bursts of memories as well. I feel an intense pressure to get this story down, while it’s semi fresh, while we’re close enough to it to remember the minute details, to be able to put the puzzle pieces together, and then, maybe then, we can exhale and let it be as it was. The end.
Between Tuesday and Wednesday, my mom had taken a very serious turn that her heart wasn’t going to be able to come back from. By late Wednesday night, after our somber but loving family evening, we knew in our bones that mom’s heart was tired. The doctors had explained, or at least attempted to explain to our blank and unblinking faces, how each vfib attack she had, and each shock they gave her, was messing with the electrical currents of her heart. It was weak when we got to the hospital, but now it was sporadic, irregular, unsafe. It would continue to spasm and sputter out. Should she have the transplant, and now? We had to choose between fighting for her (artificial options for now, while waiting for a donor match that could be years), or letting her body continue its trajectory towards ultimate deterioration.
Everyone in the waiting room that evening knew mom was a fighter, and almost every vote was to fight.
My dad hung back and didn’t vocalize his opinion on that matter. He told us kids later that – and he’s emphatically telling me to make sure this part is in here even though he doesn’t think he’s ready to read this – mom’s “over self” dad called it, had told him, sometime around the paper and pen possible DNR moment with me earlier that day, that “I’m bringing her home. Her mission is over.” He said we should let her go. She’d had a great life, and knew love, and was ready for what came next.
I remember being irate, that didn’t sound like mom. She was the most brave and strong person I’ve ever met. Although, brave is a word used to describe when someone has fear and acts anyway. Mom didn’t have fear. Brave is what I am when I try to impersonate her at the customer service counter, or on the phone with Comcast. Okay, so fearless and strong. Mom was a motherfucking, out-of-this-world, superhero.
Juan Luis, my husband, and Camryn, our second daughter, had been coming to the ICU after she got off school, and not staying too long. Camryn was uncomfortable at the hospital and was very uncomfortable with everyone’s tears. She asked not to go again, none of us knowing how long any of this would take, and Wednesday night ended up being the last time she saw her grandma. The woman laying in that bed, intubated and still, a far cry from the woman who watched her every day while I worked for the ten years since Camryn was born. The woman that let her draw on every piece of paper she had and hang them on her walls with tape. My mom would most certainly not have let me tape anything to her walls as a kid. The last conversation Camryn had with her beloved grandma was on Monday night, when we were surrounding her bed with Coral, my firstborn, and I think my niece, Kiara. My mom was tired and in pain, she smiled for us girls regardless and talked to us about all the usual stuff. She looked at Camryn and said not to worry, that she was going to get better and be so old she’d live to see “you,” pointing to Camryn, be “her” age, pointing to Coral (a ten-year difference). And then she yelled “No!” pointing to the sky with her finger-and-a-half like she did (pointer finger cut off in a machine at 17 years old and so instead of pointing with just the middle finger, she’d use both like some kind of sawed off shotgun), and said she was going to be around to see Camryn, again with the pointing, be MY age (a 27 year difference). Lots was spoken that evening, but I was left with that clear memory. Later, on Friday morning when my mom had passed, I had called Juan Luis and told him to keep Camryn home from school. When I got home from the hospital I curled up on the couch with her and told her that her grandma had died, and she cried for two hours in my arms. We all did, Coral and Juan Luis and the Camryn/me tangle of limbs, exhausted and melted over our various portions of the sectional in disbelief. Talking about grandma and how she had been the glue that made the four of us work, filling in all the holes we had. My mom had been Team Camryn when other people weren’t. My mom knew Camryn’s quirks, and loved her for them. After the day her grandma died, Camryn spent about six months not wanting to talk about grandma, didn’t want to be around the crying, left the room or covered her ears, but has finally started talking about her again in small bursts. “What was one of your favorite things to do with grandma? Was it shopping, driving, eating at Subway, staying at her house, or?” She simply replies “Yes.”
Coral, my then 20-year-old, was working two jobs at the time and came in as often as she could. Sometimes she’d ask to leave work early and sometimes they offered to help get shifts covered. When she was at work, I could sense every other part of her being was right there by us. My big-hearted girl who always needs to be in the fray. Since she was independently mobile (crawling and later walking) and had the freedom to explore, she still preferred to be by me, and my mom. I had Coral when I was 17, and my mother, this solid and all-knowing and kind-hearted woman, helped me every step of the way. She was Coral’s second mom (maybe not quite a mother figure, maybe more like a cool, big fairy godmother who wore flip-flops and jeans with holes in the knees, and let you figure life out all by yourself, but with sage advice thrown in the most saggiest of cool ways), and Coral, in return, was my mom’s little shopping buddy. I was what they would now call a helicopter mom, totally paranoid that something was going to happen to this little human I was responsible for. I was constantly telling my mom how to watch her, to hold her hand everywhere they go and never let her out of her sight. Mothering my mother. My mom was so relaxed after raising her own four kids, we were in a constant state of: me, anxiety, and mom, rolling her eyes at my anxiety. Somehow, Coral turned out perfect. Kind and loving and in love with her grandma. She had graduated high school, put herself through a culinary degree, and was working on an internship to Australia. My mom was right there for all of it. One time, my mom woke up early and drove to our house and sat hidden, off camera and silent, while Coral did her internship interview on the computer, just to support her. I could tell over a million stories, just like that, of how my mom selflessly helped us, helped our kids, and I wouldn’t even be telling you them all. Coral had a special bond with my mom, and was devastated, heart-broken, and utterly beside herself that week.
You have to understand, my mom was not your standard-issue mother. Our family is weirdly bonded and very close. I believe it is so because of a series of events that took place when I was a young teenager (leaving the church we’d been raised in, losing our community, and only having each other to cling to, to trust) but as I go out in the world and meet people and learn how other families interact and behave, I see how wildly tight-knit my own family is. Most people do not have relationships with their parents as we do. Kim was just crying on the phone to me and said “Some people give the impression of ‘Ya, so your mom died,’ like it’s no big deal. She wasn’t just a mom, she was our friend, our critic, our counselor, she had so many roles in our lives and our kids’ lives.” I agree.
We stayed as late as we could Wednesday night, dad and I leaving around midnight with a promise of coming again early in the morning.
Thursday morning, April 19, 2018, the Last Day, I walked into my mom’s room around 6:00 am to find the team of big doctors standing around the foot of the bed. No dad. I went across the hall to find him with our family friend Cindy who was practically an aunt to me (also the mother of my brother-in-law DJ). Cindy had been bringing food, and essential oils, and healing stones, and blessings from afar. She returned from a trip and walked right into the middle of this drama cloud with her positivity pulled all the way up and around her, and with her kind, generous, and loving ways oozing from her like a steam shower spilling out from underneath the bath door. She gave me a hug and left me alone with my dad.
This would have been the single worst moment of my life, but as I would quickly learn, I had quite the roller coaster still ahead.
Dad told me that the doctors had just spoken with him and she wasn’t going to make it. Her organs were shutting down; kidneys, liver – I don’t remember what else – and she was no longer strong enough to survive the surgery. They relied on these organs to each do a function of the recovery, and they weren’t behaving. My dad, the man who had been married to my mom for almost 43 years, and who had loved my mom since they were 11 years old, said “We have to say goodbye. She’s ready to go.”
Everything stopped. My dad and I were sitting on a small loveseat, and just grabbed each other. I cried more in this moment than I did in the precise moment my mom died, the next morning. This moment, on the couch holding and being held by my dad, is when my grief journey began. This is the moment I had to admit she was dying and something clicked in my brain. More like clicked off.
Eventually we started to talk again, ask each other questions, I think the doctors came in and explained it all to me, and then my dad told me more about what my mom had been telling him, spirit to spirit, and finally we asked each other “Now what?” We were so alone, so afraid, this was brand new territory, having to let our person go like this. Having to inform everyone who loved her. We decided to call Kim, and then Brent, and ask them to come to the hospital. It was so hard to get the words out, “We need to say goodbye.”
Then we tried calling Karissa’s husband DJ, to make sure he stayed at home and didn’t head into work yet, so Karissa wouldn’t be alone. We got the clear that she had a support person and someone to help with the baby, and I don’t even remember who called her, but her wails could be felt through the earth’s atmosphere.
When the siblings were on their way, we called my mom’s little sister, and had her rally the troops; her kids and grandma, great aunt Edith. It was time to come and say goodbye to our beautiful Corrine.
My two sisters and brother showed up one by one, and the weeping and hugging was repeated. Karissa simply fell to the floor and we all encircled her. Mom’s baby. Our baby. We talked for an hour or so, everyone asking questions, getting on the same page and preparing ourselves, as much as we could, for what ghoulish hell awaited us. Cousins began to trickle in, and soon everyone was there. Crying and consoling, repeating all the same stories, and me, immature and in the most pain of my life, I got pissed. This was MY mom, MY person, I no longer felt I could share her or share this grief. I don’t remember why there was so much anger, I was probably over anxious, over tired, over sad. Over the whole sobbing and pain, out of control, and needing to feel something else. As with everything else that week, it didn’t last long, this childishness, this anger. The crevices of myself filled back up with dread and despair and as I try to remember this foggy day, the spotty events, I have to continue to forgive myself for a lot of things.
I remember what happens next in short bursts. I never fully believed that one could literally block out parts of their lives and have no recollection, only for them to resurface later when poked at. That’s what these last few days have been for me, writing this, an uncovering of an Everest of a day.
My aunt, my mom’s mom, my great aunt, my cousins, each took turns going in to say goodbye to mom. I watched as my grandma threw herself over her eldest daughter and cried, “This should be me, you’re the one they need.” A moment too intimate, too surreal, it screams loud in my head, like a bad dream. My grandma’s fuchsia blouse, the rings on her hand. The way she patted my mom all over, squeezing and touching and holding her heart, trying to grab at the organ and fix it herself. The poor woman had already buried a son, and two months later her husband, and now her eldest daughter, that had cared for her this last decade since she was widowed, was going to die. The mom in me could barely handle it, still can’t handle it as I sit here with tears streaming down my face at the memory. Moms should never have to say goodbye to their children.
My husband came in straight after work, embarrassingly smelling like cows, but needing to be home in time to get Camryn from the school bus. He’d been crying all morning since I called him. We hugged and shook together for a while. He loved, loves my mom as though she was his own mother, for everything she’d done for us, for our girls. My mom is the one that helped make us an us. She bought our bed frame for us and helped us paint it all rustic like we wanted. She helped us find and buy our first home. Plan and execute our amazing wedding. She helped us do our taxes every year. I joked that my mom and my husband were soul mates because they would sit and talk about everything from politics to gardening to UFOs and sharing their dreams of being out on my parent’s 40 acres together. My mom was working on dividing their land and our goal was to buy ten acres from them and be out there with the family, my sister and her husband were already planning on building their home on an adjacent 12 acres. Eventually we’d all be out there with our communal greenhouse and gardens, raising animals, and walking to each other’s homes to borrow eggs and annoy each other in that special way only family, family that you truly love, can. They had wild plans for all of it. Juan Luis fiercely respected my mom and her opinions and they got along like two peas in a pod. He said his goodbyes and left, because even amidst death, life keeps going.
I wish I could tell stories from every family member’s point of view, tell something of their anguish, how it looked and felt from each shard of glass in the kaleidoscope.
My niece, my beautiful niece Kiara, I know she suffered and continues to suffer greatly for the absence of her grandma, her buddy. When we were having garage sales and selling half of my mom’s stuff a couple of months later, I rode with Kiara on a dump run one afternoon and remember yelling at her over the wind coming in the windows and the engine of the ancient SUV she drove, vowing to her that I was Team Kiara, and I was sorry she’d lost her team captain.
My other niece, the brand new, beautifully bald, slobbery one, was affected by her own magnificent entrance and also my mom’s magnificent exit all within 34 days. We can’t yet know how this will shape her. How she has had to endure the grief of her own mother for her whole life. How she’ll only know her grandma through stories and tall tales and flat out made up shit, because we will slowly forget the details, exactly why she was a motherfucking superhero, and have to try to express her essence somehow.
Many, many people were affected by the loss of my mom.
Once the family visited with my mom individually or in groups, they went home. I feel like it could have been 2:00 pm, but could have just as easily been noon or 4:00 pm. The doctors came and explained to us how all of this would happen. They were taking out her intubation, and were going to start lowering the medications that were keeping her mostly unconscious. We would be able to go in and the doctors would talk to her and explain the situation. And here’s what I haven’t been able to wrap my head around; if she wasn’t going to survive the surgery, why would they ask her if she wants to at least try? My brain functions were not working fully at the time, I was like a robot, blindly following what those around me were doing. Dad said we say goodbye, so this was it. Kim recalls that dad had gone in another room with the doctors, and it sounds like they discussed how everything would happen, and dad ultimately gave the last word.
The five of us stood in a circle outside her door and prayed together, in our non-religious-über-hippie-spiritual way. Some profound and uplifting things were said, and again, with the hugging. The energy encircling us was an aura of pure love, it was at the same time charged and defeated. Doctors said we could go in, and mom was oddly licking her lips and swallowing, swallowing, with that sore and dry throat of hers. At some point after having combed and combed my mom’s increasingly matted hair, Kim had done a little braid down one side, and Karissa remembers intently staring at it. There was some throw up in it that must have been left when they removed the tube. Six months later Karissa would attempt to braid her own hair, which she had previously done frequently, only to give up and tear them out because all she could see was mom’s puke-infused braid.
Mom was waking up. And I wasn’t prepared for that.
Her bed was lowered so the mildly annoying Dr. Smith could climb up on the sides and reach mom. We were all lined up on the opposite side, and various nurses lined the wall by her feet. Dr. Smith asked her what her name was, her birthdate, some basic questions to see how awake she was and how well she was thinking again. Then she asked her some semi-complicated math equation, and my mom, licking her lips and answering at a snail’s pace, gave the correct answer. I was surprised at this point that she was still in there that much. The doctor then began to describe to my mom what had been happening with her heart the last few days, that the other organs weren’t doing well, and that they were wanting to know her thoughts on transplants and other options. My mom said “Sheesh,” like she always did. I could not understand why we were asking her this. She explained her low risk of survival if they attempted the surgery because her body wasn’t strong enough for all of it. Maybe they’re required to explain the details to them, but to me it just felt like they were torturing her. Giving her some options that weren’t even possible. My own chest was beating excessively, erratically, and I was getting sweaty and felt like I was going to pass out. Low blood sugar? Panic attack? My own heart failure? I was so mad at the now very annoying Dr. Smith whom I felt was fucking up this entire shit show.
I thought this was the end. I thought she’d be gone in five minutes. I was crying and crying and crying. Swaying on my feet. We were all huddled over my mom and saying ‘I love you’ over and over. She was saying it back. Eventually things began slowing down and getting quieter. They took out the whirly heart machine and were going to let her heart decide its own fate. They reduced meds, just enough to keep her comfortable. One of us asked mom if she’d had a good life, and she replied “Mostly.” My dad and her had some private conversations, also some conversations we could hear. My dad asked her what she wanted if there was to be a funeral, she responded with “Cremated. Tell my mom I said that.” (My grandmother’s religion is not a fan of cremation.) And when we asked if she had any words of wisdom or sage advice for us, she said four sentences that will be burned into my mind for the rest of my life. “Be all you can be. Don’t act small. I’ll be with you always. Listen for me.”
I pulled my phone out of my pocket and held it discreetly by my side and typed it all in. I did not want to ever forget that. I believe she felt her mission in life was to take all of us people, her husband and kids, and teach them how to stand on their own, to not pretend they were small, because, at least to her, we were powerful souls here for a purpose, and we spent too much time in self doubt. I loved that she said “act” small. Because I wasn’t, I just acted like I was. I turned back towards her, and crying, I said “I won’t act small mom.” She squeezed my hand, gave me one of her little winks, and said “You promise?” and I choked back “I promise.”
Two months later, after I’d found those words in her handwriting in the notebooks and plethora of papers she kept, I had them tattooed on my wrist, to see it always.
What could have been one hour, or could have been five minutes, passed by and mom was talking more and more, becoming more awake. I was expecting her to just die, and I couldn’t understand why this torment was stretching on and on. None of this was fair, she wasn’t supposed to die so young, she was just so perfectly fine and alive, so lively and real, before she got her darn “pneumonia”… We were left alone with mom, and I had to sit down or I was going to fall over. Soon, my dad left the room, and when I asked why the heck would he be leaving when mom could stop breathing at any second, one of my sisters told me that it could be hours, or days. WTF?! When were we told that? I was all ramped up and adrenalined out, and felt like my own heart was giving out.
I sat with my mom and my memories, remembering how my mom used to care for me when I was sick. How she had just taken me to the doctor a couple of months before when I had strep. How, when I was about three or four and was having an especially hard time with my asthma during a cold, she’d gone to get my prescription at the pharmacy and they didn’t have the liquid version, so they gave her pills. I refused to take pills. She spent the entire evening fighting me to take them, with me being as clever as a three- or four-year-old can be about not taking them. Ultimately my mom and dad laid me on their tall waterbed, my mom holding my hands to my sides as I thrashed, as she cried in frustration and worry, while my dad shoved the pill down my throat with his ginormous fingers. She knew I needed that medicine to breathe, and it broke her heart to do this, but she did what she had to do for me. My mom showed me all throughout my life that sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do for the people we love. Me, sitting there in that room and definitely doing things I didn’t want to do, I held her hand and stroked her hair and said things I’ll never remember and had thoughts I’ve also forgotten. This, this 4-6 hours sitting with mom and expecting her to die at any second was the absolute worst thing I’ve ever had to do. I suffered physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. This is the big brick wall I come up against when trying to explain this day.
I sit here trying to write this, to explain the torture that this was, and I know I’m not getting it right, doing it justice. I called my sisters and asked them to read where I’m at; what is going wrong here, what is missing, how am I supposed to do this? The response was that they were sobbing, and I was on the right track. That there is no way to explain this with the precise exactness of the specific fucked-up-ness that it was. Their memories, also spotty. Conclusion? It was plain hell and if none of us even understand what it was like for each other, how could I expect to explain it to anyone who wasn’t in that room.
At some point my semi-aunt Cindy, who had been outside with the baby, poked her head in to let us know there was food. I think Karissa and my dad were back. We had been reminiscing and talking to mom about all the dumbass and beautiful things we’d done together growing up. I remember the mood was lighter and I believe I was even chuckling, when my daughter Coral and my niece Kiara, ages 20 and 18 respectively, poked their heads in. I don’t know who brought them in or said they could come, but in that moment I was reminded that my child existed, so far gone was my mind in this vacuum of a hospital room and the events as they were unfolding. Coral was shaking and crying, and very mad at me. They also thought their grandma was going to die quickly and were waiting for four hours for us to come out and let them know what had happened or what was going on. I had completely forgotten she was sitting out there. That they would be experiencing their own hell. I tried to take Coral to one side and explain to her how it was going down, that we didn’t have a clue what was going on. And she whispered through her tears, “Mom, you were laughing.” I couldn’t argue with that, but she also didn’t know what it had been like for us, and it would take several conversations over the course of a few days, maybe even a couple of weeks, to apologize to one of the most important people in the world to me, to beg that she forgive me for forgetting her during my grief, and for her to understand exactly the anguish we were all going through.
Coral, my Coral, who right now is in Australia on her six-month-long internship (which looks like it’s turning into nine months) even despite all of this. My Coral, who chose to go because her grandma had been so proud of her and told her to go anyway. Coral, who learned how to dream big and follow through on those dreams because her grandma showed her how, whereas I just kind of told her she probably should dream but being home would be much safer. My Coral…
We ended up eating the food, in shifts, so mom was never left alone, and this surprises me because I remember not wanting to leave her side, even for a second. It was a very odd evening, with all of us kids, the two oldest granddaughters, my dad. We felt a sense of hope, after a while, listening to mom who was very much still alive. In slow motion, but all of her senses were there. We’d invited Cindy into the room to bring her oils and crystals and do some healing work on mom. They’d been soul sisters for a few decades, watched their children marry, and now shared a grandbaby. Cindy loved my mom, and my mom loved Cindy. Cindy was a soothing addition to our chaos. Together, we set our intention on keeping her with us as long as possible. My dad got a glimmer of hope in his eyes, and we all started thinking “What if?”
Around 11:00 pm, my big brother needed to go home, Karissa needed to go home with the baby too. We weren’t sure what was going to happen to mom, and so we let them have their emotional goodbyes, just in case. There was so much love, so much. We decided to figure out a schedule, so mom wouldn’t be left alone. Dad was so tired he was about to fall over. His Parkinson’s and the meds he took, kept him in an increasingly good mood over an afternoon and into the evening, as the dopamine accumulated in his system, and when he slowed down on the pills at night, he would drop, sometimes pretty violently. Since he was a (very) early riser, and Kim was a night owl, we decided dad and I would go to our homes and sleep for a few hours and come back early. Kim would stay until we got there, and Coral and Kiara would stay until 2:00-3:00 am or until they couldn’t stay awake anymore and keep Kim and grandma company.
I drove home, about a 45 minute drive, and crawled into bed with a softly snoring Juan Luis. I rolled onto my stomach, and immediately felt a heavy blanket being laid over us. I bolted up and looked around, touched my regular blanket, and knew, I knew, my mom was protecting us and tucking us in. I slept.
I still have the alarm set on my phone for 4:45 am that I named “Go see mommy” in case ‘4:45 am Me’ didn’t want to wake up and forgot what was going on. I got up and returned to the hospital, walking in at about 5:30 am. I took a picture of the hospital just waking up before I walked in. It felt ominous.
It was Friday, April 20th, 2018. Dad was in the hospital room in chairs next to my mom’s bed, sitting with Kim, and they were crying. Mom was asleep but I gave her a kiss and hand squeeze anyway. I walked around to the other side of the bed to see how the night went and Kim told us some of the random conversations she’d had with mom, and the random things she was saying. My favorite: “I’m only 60, I was supposed to live at least until I was 100, that’s 40 more years.” And then a slow, defeated breath, followed by “I wanna be a crotchety old bitch.”
When dad wakes up and has very little dopamine in his system (the feel-good chemical we get from hugging and kissing and chocolate – I don’t understand how that is related to Parkinson’s, but that’s another story), he’s usually in a somber mood. With all of this crap going on, he was down right morose. Sobbing, wondering how long this was going to go on, could she really keep living like we’d hoped last night? If not, how long would we be tormented here, being able to talk to her but not knowing what sentence would be her last? I kept trying to tell Kim she should go home and sleep, but she kept brushing me off. I listened to them for a bit, and then I finally said “You know what, she’s either going to pull through this, or her body is going to have one of those vfibs again and maybe that will be how it ends, but I don’t think it’s going to be just like this for much longer.”
Not even one minute later she vfibbed.
We rushed to her side, all three of us, holding her, sobbing, caressing her limbs, her hair. I wiped her tears and I told her she could go if that’s what she needed, if that was the grand plan. We’d be okay, we’d figure it all out. It’s okay mom. It’s okay. I love you I love you I love you…
It took 45 minutes for her body to take its final breath, at 6:30 am, and my dad explained to us two girls that this was called the “throes of death.” That, oh my god, that was the single hardest and most loving thing I’ve ever experienced. We encircled her and infused all the love we could into her, while we felt her loving us back.
Karissa had started calling me during the middle of all of that, and since I didn’t have an answer for her, I didn’t answer. We called her back, we called Brent. We called my mom’s sisters and some cousins. We stayed in that room, the three of us, all talking to various people and we were oddly detached somehow for those calls, almost peaceful. I remember being more concerned for the person on the other end of the line I was telling. One of my cousins was standing in a grocery store in Utah and she answered the phone saying “No, no, no, no…”
It was quiet without all of the machines and beeping, and it felt sacred. All of my mom’s close friends were called. The head nurse Cedar, who had done CPR on my mom for 45 minutes just days before, sat and talked to Kim and me. Gave us pamphlets on what to do next, recommended funeral and cremation places. She huddled in close to the two of us and glanced over at dad, who was by the window and talking on the phone. She wanted us girls to be sure to know that dad was going to be grieving differently than us. We lost our mom, but he lost his wife, and they would feel and be different. She had lost her husband, and knew that this was an important distinction. I’ve heard her saying that to me over and over this last year, as I try to remember how it would be different for him, and how our lives will move forward at different paces. I asked questions about what she officially would be reported as dying of, and she said Coronary Artery Disease. I asked how hereditary that was, and she highly recommended we get checked. We started packing up the room; my mom’s clothes, purse, all of our mess from the eight days we lived there with mom. We left a note on the whiteboard, Kim’s idea, thanking the loving nurses for everything they had done. We said goodbye one more time to the earthly body that had housed and given life to us kids, that had been the vessel that had shared our lives with us. My mom wasn’t in there anymore. We checked the waiting rooms and made sure we didn’t leave anything or a mess, and walked out to our cars. We’d meet in a couple of hours at my house, all the kids and spouses and grandkids – the once 12 of us, and then for a split second the 13 of us, and then once again, we were 12. Dad would get a call from a tissue donor organization that would apologize profusely to him for calling him at this horrible time, and let him know that mom had been a registered donor, and although organs couldn’t be taken, tissue could, and tissue can help hundreds of people. That gave a slight glow to the day, knowing mom – of course she would – would be helping people even in her death. We’d get letters in the mail for months – even getting a “we’re thinking of you as the anniversary approaches” card this last week – explaining how mom’s corneas had gone to two different people, restoring sight, and 50+ other small miracles that warmed us. We’d gather at my home that day and the next, in shock, talking about what was next. Crying and holding each other. Starting to plan the celebration of life that ended up being a beautiful event, the perfect book end to a shocking and unbelievable story.
As I sit here thinking how the heck am I going to wrap this up, this “The end” story, all I can think is that this never was an end. It has been a new beginning. Because everything since that second my mom stopped breathing has been new, unchartered waters. Each holiday, each event, even the mundane day-to-day boring ass shit has had to be tackled anew. There isn’t a mom to call for advice, even though I’m pretty sure I know what she’d say, or that stamp of approval we needed before we’d do anything. Mom legitimized life for us, so that it was okay to move forward. Mom agreed, full steam ahead. Mom didn’t like it, nope, don’t need it. Now, now we just flounder about, “I don’t know, what do you think?”
It’s been a new world, a momless world, where we stand alone and pretend to be grownups. Finally. A world where we watch movies and read books about death to try to make sense of this mess. To not feel alone. Death is an ugly monster that you don’t really believe exists until he pops up in your own room and thrashes around. Ugly and snarling and so unbelievable. Something so absurd, it could not be happening, something from a movie. And sadly, it does happen, and it will happen to each of us. Our loved ones, all of them. I’ve been trying to swallow this pill for almost a year now, and still can’t. I choke it out and stomp on it, pick up the crumbs and throw them in the trash, just like I did as a child when I was sick. I just want a liquid elixir that will soothe me and numb it. Numb it all. But then there’s mom – the one who always knows what I need to feel better, to be better, for optimal growth – miraculously finding the pill in the belly of the garbage can, and forcing it down my throat.