I just finished listening to the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It was a book that gave me a lot of connections to my own life, mostly about my mom. I like Cheryl,lost my mom at a relatively young age. I lost the ability to communicate with her when I was 19, the summer after my freshman year of college. I believe I thought I was hanging in there and doing okay, but now having an older perspective I realize I was not doing well at college and I was fortunate to barely graduate three years later. I would visit my mom in the nursing home, in her vegetative state. Often the nurses wouldn’t have changed her diaper. I couldn’t bring myself to change it myself. I would look into her eyes to see if there was any light or some kind of recognition, but there was none. The thing that always went through my head was my mom had always been very vocal about telling us that she never wanted to be in limbo waiting to die.
In the book Cheryl writes about not being with her mom when she died. It was five years later when my sister called and told me that my mom was running a fever and the doctor was not sure if she would make it through the night. I was married at the time and I told my husband that night that I would be leaving early in the morning to make the hour drive to see her before I went to work. In the morning I left and made the trek to the nursing home as snow began to fall and the announcer on the radio warned that this was the start of a big snow storm. It did not deter me.
I arrived around 7 am and as I went into her room a nurse came to me and told me that my mom had moved on. I shook my head not really understanding what she meant. My mom was laying in her bed, I went to her and she was warm. She had not moved on. I was confused. I stood there touching her cheek thinking about what the nurse had said to me. I put my face next to hers to see if I could feel her breath. There was none. I felt so foolish for not realizing what the nurse meant, but I also felt angry that she would so casually say something like that and then walk away. Although, her death was a long time coming, it came as a shock mostly because my plan was to be there to say a final goodbye.
I didn’t know what to do. It was before the days of cell phones so I couldn’t call anyone. If I could I wasn’t sure who I would call. I knew my sisters were probably off to work. I didn’t know who knew what. No one was at the nurse’s desk and even if someone was I didn’t know what to do. I went on autopilot. My father had instilled in me a strong sense of Irish responsibility and I got in my car and drove the 45 minutes to work. A tractor trailer was jackknifed on the highway in the opposite side of the highway. I remained focused on the task at hand, getting to work and opening the clothing store where I was an assistant manager. I didn’t have a phone or a phone number to call out sick.
I got to the mall and opened the store. One of the salesgirls arrived. Shortly afterwards customers began to come in as well. I used the phone on the sales floor to make calls to family members. No one was answering. I busied myself straightening the sales floor, anything to keep myself busy. Later I reached my sister and was told that family members were going to the funeral home to make arrangements. A few hours later the store manager arrived for her shift. I told her I needed to go home. She asked why and I calmly explained that my mom had died. She looked at me as though I was crazy. I wasn’t about to explain that this was a long time coming and I was not going to cry in front of my boss who had never been warm or friendly.
I can not remember when I let loose the tears. They were tears of grief, but they were also tears of relief that my mom was no longer in limbo and maybe she would finally after five years be at peace.