The day my mom died, it was beautiful outside. The unbearable summer heat had started to break, the sun was shining and the sky was clear blue. It was a Saturday, and I had all sorts of plans for things I was going to accomplish before I got The Call. I slept in that day. I’d been awake for maybe 10 minutes when my phone rang. I was making coffee and feeding the cats, I figured I’d call whoever it was on the other end back after I’d woken up a little. Then the phone rang again. All my dad said was “Your mom had a heart attack. I need a ride to the hospital. They wouldn’t let me go with her.” I think I might have known then.
Riding in the car was surreal, the first in a series of surreal events. I noticed the weather. I noticed a weird rash on my arm. I noticed I look a lot more like my dad than I thought I did. My mind was racing, scrambling to think of all the possible ways it could still be okay. She’d had a previous heart attack, roughly ten years ago, but she’d recovered from that. After her first, she quit smoking, she changed her diet, she did everything she was supposed to do. Dad said her last check up at the cardiologist was great, the only concern was a slightly raised cholesterol level. Surely, the part of my brain that desperately wanted everything to go back to normal tried to convince me, surely it would be okay. Underneath all that brain chatter was the voice that said it wouldn’t. You know that voice, the one that calmly and confidently speaks against all the denial and bullshit we can come up with to keep ourselves from dealing with The Hard Truths.
When we arrived at the hospital, the nurse at the front desk in the Emergency room asked for my mom’s name, typed into her computer and turned to the woman sitting next to her. “They’re with Bed 6,” she said. Turning back to us, she said “Give me just a minute, why don’t you have a seat in the waiting room until someone can take you back.” So we sat. A few minutes later another nurse asked us to follow her. “We’re putting you in a quiet room until the doctor can talk to you.” Trust me when I say you never want anyone to say that to you in a hospital. I knew for sure, then, and I’m pretty sure my dad did too. We comforted each other with the possibilities of everything else it could be, but we knew. Over an hour later, no one had come in, other than a nurse to ask if anyone had come in yet. Dad took off to find a restroom, and of course the doctors came in while he was gone. Lots of doctors, and a chaplain.
“I’m afraid we have some really bad news.”
I don’t remember what he said next, but I remember he said the exact same phrase to Dad when he came back in the room. I wondered briefly if that was the stock answer, or if it was on some sort of Doctor test. “What is the most appropriate thing to say to a family member of a dead person: A. It’s the circle of life; B. So your relative croaked; C. I’m afraid we have some really bad news; or D. It’s going to get us all eventually, you know.”
I asked if we could see her. A few minutes later a nurse and a chaplain took us back to her curtain. The nurse held my elbow, I resisted the urge to shake her off. She warned me there was still a little tube in her mouth. She didn’t warn me that her eyes were open, or that the sheet was pulled down to her waist. I covered her, but I couldn’t reach out and close her eyes, like I’ve seen people do 100 times on TV. Dad kissed her forehead, and that’s about all he could take so he went outside. The nurse had nursing to do, and the chaplain left to go find out an answer to a question I can’t remember asking. I was alone with her for several minutes, and it felt like hours and seconds at the same time. I didn’t cry. When the chaplain returned, I told him I didn’t know what to do. I meant about making arrangements or who I needed to contact, but it was more than that.
I don’t remember leaving the hospital. We went back to Dad’s, and he gave me Mom’s phone number list. He was in no condition to handle all the calls, so I made them, repeating the same story over and over until it seemed to stop meaning anything. I called a friend I’ve known since I was five who lives in my parents’ my dad’s neighborhood who had lost one of her parents, and she did what those very special friends do – she made sure I stayed upright.
It was a month after her death before I cried, and when it finally hit me I thought I’d never be able to stop. It sneaks up on me. A song will come on the radio, or I’ll be doing something that she taught me to do, or any other number of random events will trigger the tears. I can’t cry in front of my dad, and I think he might think I’m heartless or that I don’t care. My mom was the one I always went to for advice or comfort or acceptance. She was the one who I knew loved me warts and all. Through all of this, the one plus is that my dad and I are getting to know each other a lot better.
I miss her so much. I’ve lived on my own as a fully functioning grown-up for almost 20 years, but we’re never to old to need our moms.
Would you like to see your story here? Perspectives is a regular feature of Persephone Magazine, featuring first person essays about life’s defining moments. If you have a story to tell, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org