Sunday, March 15, 2015
The time my mom died...and sent me a message back
It started in Vermont. We always went up at the end of August to the house we rent on Lake Pauline, but this time a few of us drove up for Columbus Day weekend.
I remember watching the leaves fall off the trees and into the lake, noting how some had already sunk beneath the water. I stood there and just mused on the mystery of life, how everything has its season, and then it's gone, or at least gone from one reality to another.
We drove back home that Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday, my mom was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack, and she told the guys in the ambulance to just take her to the beach instead of the hospital. I've since learned people who know they're near death begin talking about the journey they're about to undertake, but always within human terms. They might reference a train ride or airplane trip, but never anything so melodramatic as a chariot coming down from Heaven.
Andy and I were at our friend John's place when I got the call she was in the hospital, but it was late in the day and she was still just getting checked out, so we decided to stay put. We went in the next day to visit with her, on Wednesday after work, and though I couldn't have put it into words at the time, there was definitely something very different about her. I told her at least twice how it was good the doctors caught this when they did, to put in the stents and save her, but after the second time, she had a very curious response.
"You keep saying that," she said, as she looked off at nothing in particular with a smile. She was basically disagreeing with me in a very casual, non-confrontational manner, telling me that things weren't as peachy as they seemed, and she knew it.
I didn't go in again to visit her on Thursday, because I still believed she'd be fine, and then some time after midnight on Thursday night, the telephone rang in our house. This couldn't be good. It was just my sister Peggy and I living at the house at that point, and Peggy picked up the phone. In bed, I listened carefully to the conversation from her end. She hung up and then told me we had to go to the hospital. "Your mother has stopped breathing," was all the doctor said, so we had to get there right away. What does that mean?! We didn't stop to really think about it. We just made some very quick phone calls to other people, asking them to call others, and then we each set off for the hospital.
I drove to my sister Laurie's house first, where my brother-in-law Kevin thankfully offered to drive the rest of the way. I sat in the passenger seat, and my sister Laurie went into panic-attack mode across the back seat. I tried to stay calm and to calm her, saying that maybe they just had to notify us all of any problems along the way, but I was really just as lost and scared as she was.
By the time we reached the hospital and got to the floor she was on, I began running ahead of the others. Far ahead of me, I saw my sister-in-law Tricia and my brother Billy already there. I ran and ran, and as I got there, I saw them both in tears.
"She's gone," Tricia whispered, and I immediately collapsed onto the floor in tears. One after the other, everyone else began arriving, each of us collapsing in our own ways onto the floor, on a wall, or into the arms of a loved one. I prayed to my mom to send me a message or show herself, just as my dad had appeared to me after he died, but I couldn't even think clearly in the moment.
In the hour that followed, some of my siblings made phone calls to other family members from the hospital, and one of the nurses on duty approached me like an angel. She was a former classmate of mine from elementary school and high school who I hadn't seen in 11 years. (We're still connected now on Facebook, and today is her birthday. Happy Birthday, Susana, and thank you for being there that night!)
Soon before we left, someone gave us a small bag of my mother's belongings, and I held onto it for safe keeping. I remember sitting in a wheel chair out in the hallway (there were so many of us there by this point, and not enough seats in the small waiting room). As I sat there trying to clear my head, I looked down slowly at the bag in my hands, and saw handwriting--my mother's handwriting! She'd scribbled something out by her bedside. I turned and looked at it carefully, and just saw the words, "I love you," written out in script.
My God, I thought, she knew, and she wrote us a goodbye of some sort. I opened the bag right away and looked at where I'd seen the words, but there was only a small picture of a heart there, a printed diagram on a booklet describing the stent procedure. My mother's message from the other side was already gone, but the receiving of it was all that mattered.
I thanked her for the message, as I continue to thank her for it to this day. One more I love you wasn't necessary, of course, but I really appreciated it all the same.