I don’t believe in the traditional versions of heaven or hell. I’m UCC. I don’t believe in the traditional versions of nearly anything. And yet, there I was, sitting on my bed and working on my computer when I suddenly looked up and said, Mom, Nanny is dying. I just thought it was something she might want to know.
It subverts the natural order of things to lose a parent before a grandparent. My mother’s parents didn’t live past my twenties, but my father’s parents were every bit as much as mom and dad to her as her own. When she died, I think it was the first time I’d ever heard my grandfather cry- surreally walking through H-E-B on the ice cream aisle and putting Blue Bell™ Camo ‘n Cream in my cart……… as if his thought processes were similar; a parent should never have to bury a child… and he and Nanny didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, but none of us did.
My mother’s death was so fast that even Lindsay, rushing to the hospital as soon as she heard that my mother was sick, didn’t make it. Forbes, my stepfather, called the ambulance service and he didn’t make it, either. There was no way to get her into surgery fast enough, no time to see the embolism using imaging to remove it before it blew.
Additionally, the ambulance service told Forbes and Lindsay that she’d been taken to one hospital when she was actually taken to another, which just added to the chaos and panic because it was equivalent to hitting every red light and traffic delay life can throw… nothing in Houston is close together, even at 85 mph (I’m guessing… I can’t imagine driving slow in that situation). The thing is, though, even if they’d driven straight to the right place, there’s a less than zero percent chance they’d have made it, anyway.
From what I’ve been able to piece together, she died in the hospital nearly as soon as the ambulance arrived at the ER unloading dock. Speed would not have mattered, but that is what we do in those situations, the ones in which we think we have control over outcomes, and never do.
Once my mother was in a room, Lindsay did not want to see her after she’d died, so she had her husband lead her with her eyes closed over to the bed so she could hold my mother’s hand. Matt said that it was better for all of us that we didn’t see, and I trust him with that memory and I do not ask. Once I start my denominational training, I’ll have a clinical/chaplain rotation in which I will get those same images of people I do not know, and that is devastating enough.
If there is anything that my sister, stepfather, and I would have wanted, it is time.
I am glad that my father and his siblings get it. My father says that my grandmother sleeps through most of the day and night, but there is still time to sit at the bedside and hold her hand, talking softly and remembering old times when she is lucid.
When I (over)think about it, though, I realize that as much as I would have loved to have that time with my mother, blessing and releasing her into the universe, I know that she got the death that she ultimately would have wanted. Her worst fear was asking for help, and she would not have enjoyed being dependent on others for her every need. She would not have enjoyed people worrying over her at her bedside, because she was the ultimate worrier warrior, putting herself last in every situation imaginable. Even on her deathbed, she would be asking if everyone else was okay, forsaking her own needs to ensure that Lindsay & I knew for sure that she was thinking only of us… and privately Lindsay and I saying to each other, “damnit Mom, let us take care of you.”
The weirdest part of the whole thing is that nothing became less surreal once I arrived at the visitation. I thought that seeing her embalmed body would take away the fog through which I was walking, that my brain would clear because I could see she was dead instead of just hearing about it and being enveloped in shock… habeas corpus for my disbelief. If anything, it only enforced my Dadaist movement in the world, rejecting logic and reason in favor of nonsensical non sequiturs.
I could feel her presence everywhere, so therefore my mother being dead wasn’t possible. I could grab onto logic at times, but I couldn’t make her stay, whimpering like a wife whose partner is packing suitcases, about to check into a hotel. Please come back….. please…. I need you… “Help me, Jesus! Help me, Jewish God! Help me, Allah! Help me, Tom Cruise!”
In the months since, time has become as malleable as gold in a thousand degree fire. I don’t have an objective sense of how long it’s been because in my own mind, it just happened yesterday, and perhaps all the yesterdays of my life. Some days, I am a heap on the floor because the memories are extremely loud and incredibly close, my own worst day. On others, in order to function I act as if. We just haven’t talked in a while. It’s a coping mechanism to avoid complete decompensation, every system in my entire life falling apart. If I do not, reality is too harsh and I begin sleepwalking through my days, the natural feeling of Ambien and strong coffee……. a dazed confusion that will not lift until the next cleansing cry.
Lindsay says that I’m lucky I haven’t had to deal with carpet-sucking grief and a job at the same time. I don’t necessarily agree with her. I do agree that I would be distracted, but with nowhere to go, nowhere to be, it is just another systemic breakdown that has taken a flamethrower to living in the present, though thankfully, not all the time. I can be present when my friends are around. It’s when I’m alone (which is most of the time) that I do things with my hands while my mind is in the clouds. I can complete entire tasks without remembering how I did them. It is dirty, and then it is clean, with no middle ground.
I have to use my GPS, even going to places I’ve been a hundred times, because I forget where I’m going and where do I live again? There’s a meme that’s been going around for years that your GPS and Google Maps printouts should begin on direction five, because you friggin’ know how to get out of your own neighborhood. I have proven at least seven times that this is not true under the weight of grief.
I got a certified letter in the mail a few weeks ago, and when Lindsay told me it was a copy of my mother’s will, internally I ran like a house on fire. I wasn’t home when it arrived, so they took it back to the post office. I drove to the post office three times and never went in. It has been returned to the sender because I just could not muster the courage to pick up the envelope, much less open it. I am sure that the sender will try again, and because I feel terrible about not getting it the first time, I am sure I will accept it then…. and then I’ll put it in a drawer until my hands stop shaking enough to twist the brad.
The thing is, when I first got the letter, I thought it had something to do with my health insurance, medical debt, etc. It was Lindsay that asked me if I’d gotten the letter, and she asked me if I wanted to know what was in it. In retrospect, I stupidly said “yes,” because if I hadn’t known what was in it, I would have actually gone to retrieve it.
There’s a finality to it that I cannot face. That piece of paper is the last thing tying us together, as if my intensely vivid dreams aren’t enough.
Perhaps I have gotten the long goodbye I needed… it’s just that the closure is happening in my mind, and not ours.