For those of you who read The Grief 365 Badge, this is the unexpected 4am follow up. For those of you just tuning in, go and do your homework. Just kidding! My family will not be together this Thanksgiving Day. My father had to work, my brother will go to his in laws house, my family has flown south with my in laws, to Florida to escape, and my mother will be having the time of her life spending Thanksgiving in heaven.
The 4yo loved flying for the first time. We touched down in sunny Florida and had a great first day. We hit two local restaurants, hit the phenomenal garden tub in our room for an extended scalding hot, smut reading, during nappietime soak, hit the shops on the boardwalk, and daddy took the 4yo swimming. We all went to bed early and fell sound asleep. I, as usual, woke up at 3:30am to hobble to the bathroom, on my crutches. I got a drink of water, laid back down, and son of a bitch, it hit me. All the memories came flooding back all at once. The very memories I have been trying to escape this holiday season.
The call. The call that I received from my father early in the morning , on the 21st of November, 2011. The call that would start the ball in motion, and that would mark the beginning of the events that would forever change my life. The memory of my father's voice, his words markedly different this time. The memory or rushing to the hospital as fast as I could. The memory of the state my mother was in. The memory of how pitifully frail she looked sitting in the Emergency Room hospital bed. The memory that I will cherish for all time. The one where I felt a sudden overwhelming need to tell my mother I loved her, like she had done for me so many times when I needed to hear her words. The same one where I remember trying to put all the feeling I had for her in it to make it convey how very much I loved her, because I somehow innately knew she needed to hear it this time more than any other. And then the part where she smiles and raises my hand that is holding hers to her lips, and kisses my hand. Then the part that kills me every time. The part where she kisses my hand slowly, and leaves her lips pressed against my hand, and inhales. As if she was memorizing my scent and the texture of my hand, and cherishing just being that close to me one last time, cherishing her precious daughter. A last stolen moment just between us. I immediately knew. I knew this was the last time my mother would kiss my hand. As I have said before, I HATE forshadowing. This was the biggest smack you in the face and take your breath away instance of foreshadowing I have ever had. Tears immediately ran unchecked down my face. I tried to be sneaky and hide them from her. She had been the family matriarch for a long time, she was always the strong one. This was this point, was when I realized it was my turn.
My turn to be the strong one, for her and for our family that was about to be irrepareably broken.
The memory of my mother's last phone conversation with her son. The memory of my daddy being more scared than I have ever seen him. The memory of holding my mother's hand all day long. The trip to the Medical Intesive Care Unit. The memory of trying to act like nothing was wrong, and go along as we normally did on each and every one of her forty plus hospital visits. Talking to her, regaling her with funny stories about my daughter, and holding her hand while she slept. Talking about my brother, his bodybuilding competition trip to FL, and how she hoped he would get back safely but quickly. The memory of her freezing under a mountain of blankets, hers and the hospitals. The memory of my last hug from my mother, the last I love you spoken from her lips to me, her firstborn, while she still knew who I was.
The four in the morning call, again. This was the last call I would ever receive to meet my daddy at the hospital. This is the memory that gave me nightmares for months. The last call. The dreaded last call. The memory of the words spoken from my father's lips. Crashed. Her heart stopped. They got her back. I need you. I'm scared. I'm really scared. Tears. Okay, I'll be right there. The memory of calling my Aunt whom my grandmother lives, on my way to the hospital. The memory of having to be the bearer of bad news. The memory of me thinking the rain on the way to the hospital was a bad sign, like God himself, was crying with me.
The memory of my father walking out the back end of the MICU, to let me in, and us having a good cry together, so that we could face whatever the day may hold together. A hug of camaraderie and love. The bone dead look of complete mental and physical exhaustion, and such pain on my father's face. The memory of her being hooked up to a machine that would shock her heart if it stopped beating again. One of my most vivid memories, the code blue form on the heart cart. I even took a picture of it! This is a form you never want to see, let alone spend an entire day sitting beside, with the the threat of what it implies looming over you while you pray. The memory of her finally waking up a little from being unresponsive, to remember her name and birthday. To answer every question the doctors and nurses asked her with her name and birthday. The first word croaked out after semi-waking,"blankets." The memory of her occasionally jerking her hand away from mine. The heart stopping and heartbreaking realization when quizzing her about her family, that she did not remember us. Any of us. She did not know who I was. But I knew exactly who she was. My mother. The woman I loved most in all the world. The woman who brought me into and guided me through this world. The greatest woman, mother, friend, and human being that I've ever had the pleasure and honor of knowing.
So I spent the afternoon telling her all the cherished stories of her life. I told her about her wonderful husband who had taken such great care of her, and never left her side. I told her about her children, her cherished granddaughter, and grandson on the way. I told her about her mother, father, brother, and sister. I told her about how she and her mother were best friends, and once I came along, we three were unseparable. I spent the hours doing what she had prepared me for my whole life. It seemed as natural as rain and the tears coursing down my cheeks.
The first time the machine shocked her heart, I almost had a cow. Nothing prepares you for that sound. It was a sound I heard many times that day. Seriously, you couldn't have warned me what it was going to sound like? And that it would likely kick on multiple times? I know my daddy is a dahktah, and I was raised practically in a hospital, but geesh! It became a normal part of the flow for the day. The memory of the emergency dialysis to try and help pull the infection out. The memory of it not helping. The memory of the nurse repeatedly returning and informing me(us)that the level of infection in her system kept going up. The memory of two of my dear friends Angie and Michelle, coming to visit my mother one last time. The memory of the one time I stepped out of her room to pee, that something went wrong with her breathing again. The memory of the last time I saw my mother's beautiful green eyes open on her own, confused and in bewilderment. The memory of my mother startling awake multiple times and looking to the ceiling. The memory of me wondering if she was seeing her angel(s) and or her loved ones. The memory of me wondering if everything she believed in was true. The memory of my brother and pregnant sister in law arriving in her room. The memory of me reintroducing her son and her husband to her. The memory of me telling her he made it. The memory of truly believing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she waited for him. That she waited to see her precious, beloved baby boy one more time.
The memory of leaving the hospital to go home, and the pouring rain. I can remember thinking that the rain was appropriate, because all our souls were drowning in tears and heartache. The memory of crying all the way home to my husband and my child. The memory of calls to my Aunts on the drive home updating them on mom's progress report. The memory of the call a short two hours later, to return to the hospital, that she had crashed again on the way back fron an x-ray, and it didn't look good, that she was barely alive. The memory of rushing back to the hospital in the rain, trying not to break down into a full blown crying jag, as my mother used to call them! The memory of calling my Aunt and Uncle, to let them know what was going on. The memory of walking into the hospital, each step leaden as if each one was one step closer to sealing her fate. The memory of the scene upon turning down the MICU corridor, filled with dad, my brother and sister in law, and mom's two nursing helpers and friends, Stella and Sandy, and dad's friend Dave, a hospital adminstrator. The memory of looking down the corridor and seeing her intubated, and on all kinds of machines. The memory of daddy telling me that this was probably it, the day we had all secretly, in the back of our minds dreaded for so very long. The memory of the countless staff members in her room, manually hand pumping her heart to try to save her, when her heart stopped again. The memory of getting a calm peaceful feeling at 11:18, after the attempts to save her went on for almost an hour, that we should make the call to stop pumping at 11:22 on 11-22-11. That she was already slipping away, and did not want to be on machines if there was no hope. The memory of having to tell dad my feeling, essentially being the one to make the call. The memory of having a morbid sense of having to be there, by her side, as she passed away. I had to be with her every single second. She was the the first to hold my hand when I came into this world, and I wanted to be the last to comfort her, and hold her hand as she slipped out of it.
The memory of being the one to make the calls to family, relatives, and loved ones, talk to the staff about where to send her body, and the one who cried as I held every member of my family as we all howled, cried and express our deepest grief. The memory of my brother bending down to whisper his unborn child's name into her ear, before she passed. She was the first and only one to know. It remained a secret until he was born. The memory of my father walking me out to my car in the rain after. The memory of deciding along with my brother, that my father was coming to one of our houses, he was not going to be alone. The memory of the excruciating drive home.
Then there are the firsts. The memory of the first night without her. The memory of having to tell my baby. The memory of the first morning without her. The memory of the first time this giant black hole opened up inside of me, and drowning in the vortex of pain that sucks the very life out of you. The memories of my close friends, Angie and Debbie, who were there for me, when she suddenly died a day and fourteen minutes before Thanksgiving. The cards, calls, flowers, angels, blankets, plaques, food, oh the mountain of food, and people that were there. The memory of my husband cooking our first Thanksgiving Day dinner without her. The menu she and I had planned on the phone a few short days before. The memory of my house becoming the gathering place, neutral ground for my broken grieving family, for the first WVU tailgate with out her. The memory of the trip to the house with daddy to pick out their clothes, her new lucky WVU socks, her makeup, her perfume, and her jewelry. The memory of ordering the casket flowers and pillows with daddy. The memory of going to the graveyard with my bff to pay for their services. The memory of good friends Libby Chad and Amy, Mexican food, margaritas, bff Julie coming all the way from Beckley to babysit, and midnight black Friday shopping with Amy. The memory of my in laws coming home early from vacation to be there for me. The memory of my wonderful husband doing anything and everything I needed, and the things I didn't know I needed; taking care of me while I took care of my family. The memory of Erin bringing her daughter up to play with my 4yo, and being the first to get a preview. The all girls make-up party plus Doc Cha, entertaining me while I did my mother's makeup. The memory of the funeral director thinking we(I) was crazy or on drugs. The memory of my family seeing my mother before the wake. The memory of my brother holding my father while walking him up the aisle to her casket. The memory of my mother's beloved Rainbow Girls each and every one showing up to do a special memorial just for my mother. The memory of my sunrise my mother sent to me, and the peace she flooded me with to be able to get through the wake, and greet everybody, and not break down into a sobbing mess. The funeral day sunrise, again in her favorite colors purple and yellow. The memories, so many, many memories. And then there was the first Christmas shopping, and our first Christmas without her. The memory of their first anniversary not spent together in 33 years of marriage on New Years Eve and Day. The memories of first Valentines day, and my father's and brother's first birthdays without her. The first Easter my mother wasn't here to take my daughter for Easter pictures, or to eat Easter dinner together., The memory of the first anniversary my mother did not call to tell me Happy Anniversary on. My father's first beach trip without her. The memory of moving to Kentucky, and not being able to call and tell her. The birth of my brother's son without her there. My and my daughter's first birthday's without her calling to wish us a Happy Birthday, going out to dinner, shopping, and my daughter's own special birthday party at Gran Gran's. It has been a year of learning how to deal with seeing her everywhere and in everything. It has been so very hard.