It usually does not bode well when a spouse or relative shows up unannounced at your workplace.
I had finished a task away from my desk and was going to sit down to do one more five minute task before taking my break and then tackling a meeting I wasn’t looking forward to with my supervisor. The voice mail light was blinking on my phone. I heard my name called behind my back and turned to see the hubster, who always calls me on the phone first if he needs to come see me at work.
And there it was. The Face. You know. The one where the next news you hear is absolutely definitely not going to be good and likely to change your life. And indeed, in two hours time my life and heart are changed forever.
My first thought was my son, who at 20 years of age is still engaging in some risky behaviors and growing through the separation process.
Before I could get the “what” off my lips, I knew as he said it he was here about my mom. My brother had called the hubster at home because he’d gotten my voice mail at work.
I turned to the phone and listened to the message. I don’t know what words my brother left on voice mail as I frantically called to confirm my mother had died. It was one of those nightmare moments when you can’t get the numbers to go right; I must have redialed four times.
It was true. My sister and brother-in-law were there already and the process of the endgame would begin. I freaked. I don’t know if I yelled; I know I wailed. The timing was so wrong. Tonight was the night I would call her and confirm my vacation at her home the following week.
The hubster was thinking a little that day. He asked a co-worker to get the head administrator, instead of my supervisor, and tell her my mother had passed away. She did exactly as he asked. My director met me half way to my locker as I cried about what had happened and saying I was leaving for the day. I promised to call as soon as I knew what was going on.
I gathered the accoutrement I carry to work and back every day and threw it into the truck. Good thing the hubster was driving.
I called my brother again when I got home and between him and my sister I learned the next step of the process would lead to cremation, which meant if I wanted to have closure with my mom I needed to drive across town, a one hour drive in rush hour traffic. Now. The coroner was soon to arrive to pronounce her dead. Then the removal experts would come to take her away. I asked them to put the transportation on hold as I needed to see her one more time. This was my only chance. Once she was taken out of the house, there would be no viewing of the body at a funeral home. I would not be able to go and sit with her otherwise.
I took the time to call a lifelong friend, whom mom loved as her own, and asked her to meet me at mom’s. She was able to drop everything to meet me there and was waiting for me when I arrived. Bless her forever.
My son could only hug me on the way out the door. He couldn’t speak, but I knew he wouldn’t be able to handle an hour crammed into the back of our little truck with me crying. Better to remember his grandma smiling and happy to see him anyway.
The hubster was up for the drive. We tried to choose a route that would be “least” busy during afternoon rush hour. We were still at least thirty minutes away when my brother-in-law called and said the removal experts (such a cold and unemotional name for this job) were there to take mom away and they were only going to wait about twenty minutes. I freaked again. I told him they would just have to wait until I got there and I would never forgive them if they let her go without me seeing her again. This brought on a fresh onslaught of tears and I could barely talk to him. Plus the techno-ditz surfaced and I had challenges figuring out how to use my new phone.
Another fifteen driving minutes go by and nature calls and it calls extremely. I started begging the hubster to pull over at this store or that gas station or at that tree or I was going to just stick it out the window. He kept saying, “Hang on, I’m driving fast. We’re almost there”. And he was, bless him, doing the best he could with the traffic nearly to the point of making me carsick.
I’m screaming and crying about how it hurts and I can’t hold it, until the point where I thought I was either going throw up or my bladder was going to explode all over the truck. I undid my seat belt and jumped out of the car at a busy intersection and ran over to the little hamburger joint on the other corner. Frantically I run inside and look for the restroom and was grateful I did not have to wear wet pants when I found the room empty. I thanked the lady at the counter as I ran back out. What she must have thought of me flying through with my cry-face on I did not care.
The hubster had managed to find his way into the parking lot and I hopped back into the car. Ten minutes later we’re at mom’s and I recognize all the vehicles there. I’m thinking they let her go already, but hoping they had gone away until I’d arrived. My childhood friend had come from the other direction, arrived before me, and was waiting with my brother, my sister and brother-in-law to provide me with love, comfort, and support.
The front door is wide open. I enter directly into her tiny living room and there mom is. Sitting in her chair, the one she always sits in, her chair. Her day’s newspapers are still strewn around her on the floor as was her daily habit; she always picked them up before dinner. Her water cup is on the table, her skin white. Her glasses are off, but that isn’t unusual as she often read or sewed with her glasses off.
Her oxygen tubes had been removed, the pump silent. It took me a while to realize that is what’s so different. She’d been sick with emphysema and worn the oxygen tubes for so long it was a part of her everyday clothing. She wore the oxygen day and night. You learned to ignore the sound of the pump. She couldn’t breathe without it. I hardly noticed it anymore, except when she was nearly out and couldn’t get hooked up to the new tank fast enough. It’s extremely hard to watch a person struggle to breathe.
I pick up her hand. It is cold. But it’s not enough. I walk around to the other side of her chair and sit on the floor beside her, stroking her arm and her smooth cool cheek with my hands, feeling the soft bristle of her body hair against my fingers and my cheek as I rub them against her arm. I lay my cheek on her arm and sob. I talk to her and kiss her face. I stroke her hair, her hair that for years I had shampooed and cut and permed.
Mom had felt dizzy that morning and called my sister asking if she should go to the hospital. Sister advised her to sit down and have a drink of water, to tell our youngest brother, who lives with mom and was home that day on his regular Wednesday off from work. As she hung up the phone Mom called out to my brother who found her hanging in an odd way onto the bookcase that held the phone. He helped her to her chair. She took a call from my other brother and talked for several minutes about his daughter’s upcoming wedding in three weeks and the quilt she was making for the bridal couple.
Minutes later my youngest brother walked through the house to use the bathroom and looking at mom thought she looked strange. When he checked her she was unresponsive. She had taken her sacred moment alone in the quiet of her own home after talking to three of her four children. She took her moment according to the ways of nature and on her own terms.
My sister questions her advice and will now always wonder if she should have told mom to go to the hospital. But what would have happened? My best guess is even though she was DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) the “medical professionals” would have employed every effort to keep her alive. She would have endured invasive medical procedures at the last moments of her life. She would have died, likely drugged out of her mind, in the hospital instead of the comfort of the home she’d known almost all her adult life. She likely would not have enjoyed the conversations with or time with her children that day. In her own home she had her wit and intelligence to the very last moment and she had the love and words of her children.
I did not talk to her that day. As you’ve read in a previous post it is one of my regrets. I was not there at the sacred moment of her death, as I was with my dad. I had always wanted to be and had told her so.
I am one of those freaks who has to have absolute proof for my own eyes in the case of death. When I don’t, I have this weird feeling someone lied to me, the person I was told is dead is not really gone, but spirited away somewhere into a new life, like some odd sort of “witness protection program” here on this earth, but not with me or anywhere I can be or know, and one day I am sure to find out or run into that person again. I attend every family memorial, funeral, celebration of life or whatever is chosen to call that final recognition of an elder who goes before us so my brain will register the closure. I have to see it with my own eyes or my mind tortures me for years after with strange fantastical thoughts like living a bad dream of twisted memory.
The transportation people had been sent away on a break and directed to come back in a hour or so. It’s probably good they came back when they did as I could have wailed all night. They were kind and gentle, wrapping her in a blanket, covering her with a quilt, and moving her body to the gurney in as dignified a manner as possible to move a human who is no longer being and can no longer move herself.
Mom was carried out of the home she had owned for the last 56 years by two quiet polite strangers in well-pressed suits. We did not wash her body. We did not change her clothes or take off her leopard spotted slippers with the brown furry cuffs on this warm summer day. We did not put her glasses on or take her false teeth out. We entrusted her into the hands of strangers to deliver her to the crematorium for the rest of the process. I saw it; I was there. I have to believe it.