Ten years ago today, on June 26, 2005, my mother died. At the time, I asked her old friend Nancy if I would still be grieving in a year and she said kindly, “ten years.” Nancy had a very good point. As recently as a few months ago, I dreamed she was alive, and when I woke up, it was a little like losing her all over again. My mother and I were our nuclear family, single mom plus only child. If only she could have met her grandchildren.
Is she watching us now, from somewhere above, like the eagle she hoped to be reincarnated as? If so, I can only imagine her grief at that balcony collapse that killed six young Irish people ten days ago, on June 16th (note the significance of that date below). It’s not just that she so highly valued her Irish heritage and her parents who were born and raised in Ireland; it’s also that she spent so much of her last decade petitioning the Berkeley City Council (she wasn’t the only one) to forbid rapid-rise condo buildings like that one. It’s not quite accurate to say that if my mother had lived, those six people would still be alive, but it somehow feels that way.
For this anniversary, I’m republishing here the two posts I wrote on livejournal ten years ago, back when I lived in L.A. The first takes you up to the moment of her death. The second deals with the aftermath, and will be posted here in a week. Thanks for reading.
It still seems strange to me to think that Mom and I were planning a Memorial Day together in Los Angeles, as though nothing was unusual. Had I known that less than a month after that visit, she’d be dead, I would have done something differently, though I’m not sure exactly what.
When Mom got off the plane for that holiday weekend, she was distinctly frail and sickly. We went out to eat with my Uncle Jim and Aunt Julie. Julie pulled me aside and told me how concerned she was. Mom had seen a doctor as recently as a week before. All he diagnosed was nausea and irritable bowel syndrome. Mom addressed those in her diet and activities. But Mom had other very visible problems that disturbed me, starting with her voice. It was raspy and weak and just fragile. The other thing was her figure. She had lost weight in her face and most of the rest of her, but her belly was like a watermelon. She looked as pregnant as a sexagenarian can look. Something was wrong.
Mom always straddled a line between a cynical realistic worldview and a sometimes naïve belief in her hardy Irish genes. The point was to be dismissive, both of the Pollyannas and the curmudgeons. (She had the same duality when it came to her social skills; she made and grew friendships by dismissing silly ideas and sometimes people.) But when the rubber met the road Mom took care of her health. With her belly clearly beyond food bulging, it wasn’t like she needed me to tell her she needed to see the doctor again. She had to wait a few days for the appointment, and then she had to wait a few more days for the results. She told the radiologist that this was the worst day of her life. She drove home from the hospital saying “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” When a small part of the liver is affected, sometimes they can just cut a piece out. But no one with a completely afflicted liver has ever lived more than about a year. You can’t get a transplant; don’t even ask. My mother suddenly had a one-year death sentence hanging over her head. When she told me on the phone, I cried. But she insisted she would just beat it. I asked if she wanted me to come up, and she was, well, dismissive of the idea. Oh it’s fine, it’ll all be fine, kind of thing.
The next day, Saturday, I saw my girlfriend Valerie and we went to the Queen Mary and Santa Catalina. My 21-year-old cousin Brian had just moved to LA for a summer internship. I somehow really wanted to take him to a party, which I did. But Brian is more mature than I ever was. Rather than bird-dog chicks, he wanted to talk family with me. Brian thought that I better go see Mom, no matter what she said about it. That night I got an email from Rebecca, an old family friend that I have maybe seen once since her bat mitzvoh. She insisted on the same. I had to smile. One of Mom’s best friends, Larry, had basically deployed his beautiful daughter to get me to drive up to the Bay. There was no reason to suggest to them that Rebecca wasn’t effective. The truth was that I had already mentioned to my boss that I might need to spend time up north. I told him I’d like to put in a few hours a day at the Oakland office if I could. I called his cell on Sunday, from halfway up Highway 5, to tell him I’d probably come in to Oakland at least a few hours each day that week, but that my priority was Mom.
The first few days were fine. On Monday she had six – 6! – liters of cancerous fluid removed from her abdomen, and that marked a real improvement (though I also knew that such a condition was utterly unsustainable). Mom’s voice and mobility seemed to improve, an immense relief. We had a lot of help from Mom’s many friends, especially Alison. When Mom claimed she didn’t care if I was there or not, I told her what happened to be the truth. I wasn’t there for her so much as for myself. The idea was for me to help with things around the house and do the shopping. It was so easy that I did wind up keeping my word to my boss and going into work, what the heck. I even found time to squeeze in a $60 haircut. Mom could still go up and down stairs. We could still discuss foreign films. I couldn’t help think that maybe Mom was right. Maybe she could beat it.
Thursday, June 16th, is when things took a very nasty turn. Dr. Cassidy, my Mom’s main physician, sort of a thin Jeff Goldblum, took a look at her cancer and said that things had become much more serious in the last two weeks. He insisted that she be hospitalized that night for more tests leading to a thorough diagnosis and then a treatment. Mom had not spent a night in the hospital since the day I was born. She hated the idea, but she resigned herself.
At this time, I began to call in the cavalry. Mom had many friends that were already close to her situation, including Sheila, Lloyd, Jane, Fran, Rosemary, and several others. I called the people that I needed to see, starting with Ginger, who is Aran’s mother, my Aunt Margaret and her daughters Maureen and Colleen, and Aran, and Jim and Julie, and my Dad, and Lucas and Almira and a few other Bay Area pals, and Ginny and her kids, Andrew and Lizzie, and Larry and his daughters Rachel and Rebecca. They all visited. (Rachel was more of an adopted daughter to my mother; Mom had found her an apartment across the street years before, and Mom was de facto grandmother to Rachel’s daughter.) Mom never said “I don’t want people to see me like this,” but she did make it clear that she wanted to limit all the visits. She acted like it was unnecessary because she wasn’t going anywhere. I was hoping for the best, sure, but bracing myself and everyone else for the worst. (Well, I had always lived like that.) I called Mom’s best friend Cathy, who lives in Boston, and Cathy said she would come out in a week for a long weekend. We also got a hold of Nancy, who lives in Florida, and she would arrive on the 29th and stay for almost two weeks. She told me she wanted to give me the chance to get back to work.
One issue that arose then was the legal affairs. Mom, at 67, had never written a will. I hated, hated, hated dealing with all of this, because it all seemed so selfish. Yet I had to and I did. Thank God I had at least a few adults, like Larry and Mom’s old friend Carol, to insist to me that it was the right and necessary thing to do. After about five people offered me their estate attorneys, I went with Ginny’s, a retired fellow named Rich who reminds Ginny’s family of Eeyore. Rich was a godsend. He wrote up all the documents. My friend Liz was also very helpful. She sent me some books about trusts and such, and directed me to the California AG website where I could download some important forms. Around this time, I did manage to get Mom to write up a handwritten (or holographic) will, as well as to sign off on my medical power of attorney, which included the very significant clause that she did not want extraordinary measures taken to preserve her life. Rich said that these documents were just the tip of the iceberg, and that we would need Mom to sign off on a real trust and some other things. I got him all the paperwork. Mom agreed to the idea when I brought it up, but she clearly found it distasteful. Rich said that if at all possible he’d prefer that Mom sign the documents in her house. He didn’t like “swooping” into someone’s hospital room with such legal matters. I agreed. At this time we still figured that Mom would get treated and sent home for at least a while – six months, one would think.
Every single friend – and my cell phone rarely stopped ringing – asked about the details of Mom’s cancer. All day was filled with conversations and speculations about specifics that seem so trivial now. Dr. Cassidy wasn’t sure if it was metastasized breast cancer or a new ovarian cancer. For precious days, he postponed treatment until he knew for sure. I was often amazed by how much trust Mom had for Dr. Cassidy and Alta Bates hospital. But I also realized that even if that trust was misplaced, psychosomatically it had to help. On Saturday the 18th Dr. Cassidy seemed to just throw up his hands, saying that the cancer was spreading far too rapidly not to do something now. He prescribed a chemo that addressed both breast and ovarian cancer. Thank God Valerie came up, because she was able and willing to read and process all the mounds of literature that were being thrown at my mother and me. Sounded like this chemo was the best of the options.
I might detour here to say that Mom had had Stage 1 breast cancer in August of 2003. The two cancerous nodes were quickly isolated and removed. For some reason, this event didn’t bother me at all. In fact, what I found amazing is that Mom had lived her whole life in the inner Bay Area, smoking cigarettes and taking the pill, yet only just developed breast cancer at the age of 65. They gave her another 25 to 30 years to live. She didn’t make two.
Some friends heard about the liver and said that we should just try to ease her passing at this point. No way would I listen to such sentiment. The Irish go down fighting, hence the term “Fighting Irish.” I don’t see any other “Fighting” team, unless you count “Illini.”
Another subject that often arose was: what the hell was I going to do about graduate school? I had been planning to move to England in the fall. At one point, when I thought Mom might live for years with this new condition, I thought I would still go. I didn’t want to delay it and then go only to have things turn bad as soon as I left. After I keyed into Mom-is-likely-dead-within-a-year thing, I emailed and asked about the possibilities of deferring my program for a year. They were very nice about saying yes, that my first priority must be with my mother.
The chemo began on Sunday. Mom had avoided chemo with the breast cancer and didn’t like the idea of killing a bunch of cells inside her now, but she knew it was the lesser of the bad options. I was there every day, but I went to work as well. I remember very clearly an evening when I came in and she was sleeping and I just sat there watching her sleep until my stupid cell phone rang. She awoke and wondered how long I’d been there. I wouldn’t tell her. I did tell her that I could have stayed like that all night, just watching her sleep, however fitfully. For years now I’ve accepted that role reversal where I’m the one parenting her. That night might have been the final frontier, where I came to watch her with the same love and concern with which she watched me when I was a tiny baby. Anyway I was crying. And after she awoke I held her and told her how much I didn’t want to lose her. She said that I’m not going to lose her because she’s going to fight it and beat it. I told her that that’s right, we need to believe it, she needs to act like Rocky Balboa, fight fight fight against the odds. She could be very combative from time to time, but she often let fear of death overtake her state of mind. If there was one thing I wish I could have done, it would have been to somehow alleviate that fear.
I told her I loved her all the time. I wondered about how different all this would be if she had ever married, or if I had a sibling. Somehow, my love was always enough for Mom. Somehow, hers was always enough for me. It was nice to hear from so many of Mom’s friends that they were more worried about me than anything else. But I couldn’t help but have the thought that I would lose touch with almost all of these people within three months of Mom’s death. And that’s also tragic. I was perpetually impressed by how shocked and sympathetic everyone was. People’s eyes seemed to understand how hard it would be to lose a mother.
Throughout Mom’s hospital stay she had this problem with moisture in her mouth. She always wanted these sponge lollipops so that she could speak properly. I wondered if her false teeth were adding to the problem. I couldn’t help but think, occasionally, how beautiful Mom still looked when she smiled in spite of it all. But her body was taking a beating; one arm was veinless from the cancer surgery two years ago, and so the other one was a miasma of burst vessels and capillaries where they had inserted various IVs, all of which Mom hated.
On Monday morning, less than 18 hours after the chemo began, a horrible complication arose. Mom’s right hand started feeling cold and looking pale(r). She had developed a blood clot that prevented just about any blood from flowing to her lower arm. We all freaked. The vascular surgeon, who looked and acted like a happy John McEnroe, fixed the problem. But now we had a new problem – what if a similar clot were to develop near her heart or brain? They put her on blood thinners, which don’t go well with chemo. Mom would have to have the thinners reduced every time the chemo re-began. Dr. Cassidy explained it to me and Mom in such a routine fashion that I felt like there was hope. But when I cornered him in the hall, as I always did, he admitted that it looked bad. He would never concede any particular time estimate, he would only nod when I asked about a year or so, and he’d say “maybe more.” I know that people in his position are afraid of lawsuits but if he knew that Mom was unlikely to make it to Labor Day I wish he would have told me.
There is a real possibility that Dr. Cassidy truly thought that Mom was improving. Two days after the clot incident, he approved Mom leaving the hospital. She was to be discharged on Thursday, June 23rd. It sounded like things sound when someone is told to leave a hospital. Things were on at least a temporary upswing, hopefully at least another month before another complication. I figured I could drive home for at least a few days, which I did. I knew Cathy would be there Thursday through Sunday to give Mom round-the-clock attention. I planned to return late Saturday so that I could spend a little time with Cathy and be with Mom until Nancy arrived a few days later.
That Thursday and Friday, I went to work in my home office for the first time in almost two weeks. On Thursday at about 5:30, Mom called me to ask “Where’s Cathy?” Cathy had just called me from the store. I blew off the office hubbub around me and stayed with Mom on the phone until Cathy arrived. As the saying goes, Mom had fallen and she couldn’t get up. I received regular reports from Cathy; they weren’t positive. Cathy was less than happy with the doctors for discharging her so soon. Mom could barely walk. No social worker or nurse had been sent to the house or had even evaluated Mom. Cathy sternly warned me that I can’t count on doctors or Mom to know what’s best for her. I would have to take a much more active role in her care. She and Alison were having difficult days. Setting up the regiment of Mom’s life outside the hospital was a tremendous challenge. They had to get her a new chair, they had to see that she got a shot every morning, they had to set up the downstairs room to become Mom’s new bedroom. Mom was relatively cooperative but she kept insisting she could do things she couldn’t.
On Saturday, I drove up. On the 5 around 5, Cathy called me to tell me that Mom had been brought to the hospital. I asked if I should drive 120 instead of 85 mph. She said no, that we shouldn’t have two Smiths in the hospital. She said that Mom had become very cold and had shown signs of an infection. She said that the doctors were stabilizing her, however. She thought that Mom might not even have to spend the night in the hospital. But I wasn’t surprised, a few hours later, to find out that she would. I raced to the hospital and arrived in the emergency ward around 9:30. I saw Mom almost right away. She looked very happy to see me. She still looked beautiful; her eyes and teeth could still dazzle. But she seemed more frail and more restlessly helpless than ever.
They wanted her overnight, but the prognosis was still okay. Whatever was in the IV was keeping her blood pressure up. Cathy and I drove back to Mom’s house and slept well enough. The next morning, Sunday, June 26th, Cathy woke me with a start at about 8am. She had called the hospital, and apparently Mom had been trying to call out to me. We threw on clothes and raced there. Mom had been put on the top floor, in intensive care. Unlike most of the very scarily sick dozen or so people in the ward, she had her own room (not, I thought, a good sign), and what a room it was. Five floors up, it commanded the panoramic, almost too-perfect view of the San Francisco Bay that one can only see from the hills of South Berkeley or North Oakland. Cathy and I both celebrated the view with Mom. I didn’t voice my next thought, which was that if Mom had to die, it seemed right to be in view of all this – what she had always taken to be heaven.
Cathy and I hung out for a few hours. We read aloud parts of the New York Times that had been delivered to Mom’s house that day. The doctors and nurses brought us increasingly dismaying reports. The balance of the blood thinners and the chemo was impossible to maintain and properly supplement, because of the infection. Only the drugs were keeping her vitals up now. It’s not good when more than one doctor asks if your mother wishes for extraordinary measures to be taken to end her life. Mom had already indicated “no” in the form that Liz had directed me to. Mom declared that she would not want to move into what is (all but) officially known as Terri Schiavo-land. Of course Cathy and I took the doctors aside. Dr. Cassidy was off in Italy, but we had his colleague, who looked like the dad from “Family Ties.” I will never forget his words to me at about 11:00 that day: “If we do nothing, I give her a day or two. If we do everything we can, I give her a week. If we do everything we can and get lucky, maybe a month, maybe more.” I looked at him skeptically, and he added: “I don’t think she’s going to see Christmas.”
That was a real punch in the gut. Was this Mom’s last week on earth? If I had truly thought at that moment that Mom had only a few days, or less, I would have called everyone – all the wonderful people who had called and asked to do whatever they could – and had them all there for the end. But I figured Mom could hang on as well as anyone; her indomitable mother had lived til she was 91, for Christ’s sake!
Cathy had a flight back to Boston that left around 1:00. I had told her days before that I planned to take her to the airport, and that still seemed like the thing to do. Cathy stood up from our little news reverie and told Mom that she had to go. Cathy’s face was a mockery of false bravery; she looked like Rick at the end of Casablanca but with a quavering lip and two cheeks full of tears. That was one more punch in the gut. I asked Cathy if she wanted a minute alone with Mom, and she barely said that that would be good. I paced in the wider ICU, next to the barely-alive freaks. Cathy knew very well that she would never see my mother again. I tried to imagine myself saying goodbye, truly goodbye, to my best friend. The thought was nightmarish.
I kissed Mom on the head and said I’d be right back. She said “no problem,” and I think she really did think, as I did, that there was no immediate danger. Still, my walk to the car with Cathy was more of a shake. Cathy said that more than anything, she was worried about me. She asked if I needed someone, and I said yes, and she said who, and I said, without thinking, Aran. I told her it was all fucked up, because he had been back from Europe for days now and he still hadn’t come to visit Mom in the hospital. She said you have to call him and force him to come, to tell him how important it truly is. I called and Thank God I got him. I told him it wasn’t for Mom so much but for me – I couldn’t go through this without him. He understood and dropped everything and came.
Meanwhile I drove Cathy to Oakland Airport, only about 15 minutes from Alta Bates. We were both crying much of the time; I almost had to pull over because of those choky cries that sometimes came. I told Cathy that I feel like I need to accomplish whatever Mom had left undone. Cathy said that she had talked to Mom about that, and that she “really didn’t get a sense of unfinished business; that’s not how she lived her life.” She talked about how difficult this is; she cried silently as she said “you only get one Mom.” I said you know Cathy, this isn’t so easy for you either, you don’t always get to be the more mature one in our relationship. She said “well” in a distant, noncommittal way as she looked out the window. Either she had something more mature to say and withheld it, or she didn’t have it to say at all. I told her that whatever happened I didn’t want us to lose our closeness; she said we wouldn’t as I let her out on the curb. She said I’ve got a pest on my hands now.
In the middle of that nightmare drive, Cathy and I had discussed the legal issues. Rich and I had been planning to meet Mom at Mom’s house on Monday, the next day. Cathy tried to be elliptical; she said that I’m going to get everything anyway, it’s just a matter of whether it gets tied up in escrow. Through the tears, I finally found a way to couch it as a simple yes-or-no question: “If I decide that I want the lawyer to see Mom and have her sign the forms, should I have him come over today?” In her lowest voice Cathy had said yes. Cathy really didn’t think Mom would last 24 more hours. Another punch.
I refused to believe that this was really Mom’s last day. If I had, I would certainly have called Maureen and Lucas and a few others. I punched Rich’s number into my phone, but didn’t actually hit the “send” button the whole trip back to Alta Bates. I started thinking about something else and then looked at the phone as I was parking; oh yeah, this, of course. I hit the number. I got Rich; another miraculous non-voice mail. He said he could be there with all the papers ready to sign within an hour. I told him to wait on standby. I would ask Mom and get back to him.
In the lobby of the hospital I found Aran, dialing my number on his phone. He had just arrived. We were both weepy. We went up to Mom’s room. She smiled and welcomed Aran. She was always happy to have us together; throughout her life she would brusquely tell the nearest working person “that’s my son and my nephew.” Mom expressed pride like this, with a pretense of being, you know, dismissive. Today was no different, at least at first. I asked if the lawyer could come, saying that it was something most healthy 50-year-olds have already done. Mom said yes. I left the room and called him. Aran and I tried to do small talk. It wasn’t fucking easy; everything came back to those bleeping lights on the six-inch screen above her head. Mom couldn’t relax; she kept putting her arms over her head and then lowering them again. I continuously asked about pain and breathing and everything. She was fine, she kept saying. What she didn’t say was that she felt horribly afraid. I kept saying, kept begging, for her to relax, just as I had successfully implored her to do during another near-death experience we had had in Panama 20 years ago. I said that the doctors were doing everything they possibly could. But I watched as her blood pressure kept falling, along with everything else. I whispered in her ear about all the people that loved her – everyone we knew that I could think of. She smiled and said “yes, yes.” She was finally truly her mother.
Rich arrived. He had never met Mom. No matter how many of Mom’s peers had assured me that this was the right thing to do, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was a terrible vulture for forcing this. My stomach, my whole body, was in knots. Rich was a very good man. He had wanted to avoid this, but it was no longer avoidable. He asked Mom if it was her wish for me to get everything she owned; she said yes. She could barely say anything else. He had her sign all these documents to put everything in a trust for me. She could barely hold the pen. At first Aran helped her. Then he didn’t want to anymore. Rich had me help her; now I truly felt like I was stealing Mom’s soul and making my own bed in hell. And it got worse. Rich left with Aran to get him to witness a few things (Aran wasn’t getting any of Mom’s stuff). Rich came back a few minutes later to show me that Mom had signed MY name instead of hers to everything. Luckily she had signed so illegibly that it probably wouldn’t matter, but there were about four places that Mom needed to re-sign in her own name. Rich and Mom both tried to do it. Where in Christ was a pliable nurse when you needed one? So I held Mom’s hand, at this point as stiff as Bob Dole’s, and signed “Norine M. Smith” in the right places. Rich left. Aran and I had been waiting to grab a quick bite from the cafeteria, and we told Mom we’d be right back. I’ll never forget the next thing: Mom blew each of us a kiss, one after the other, carefully. It may be the last thing she ever consciously did.
We got crap sandwiches in the cafeteria, but I was still clinging to that “one week” prediction, and I figured Mom was going through a rough patch, but that she’d come out of it. But then I realized. The mis-signing of her name was so telling. On the one hand, it meant her awe-inspiring love for me; it meant that she was giving me absolutely everything that she had sacrificed for, all her life. On the other hand, it meant that her brain was gone. Mom never made – well, not repeatedly made – a mistake like that in her life. No matter what we did from now on, no matter how much she clung to technical life, the Mom that I loved was gone. We went back to the room.
Mom had changed in just the 15 minutes or so. Her eyes were open but pallid, unseeing; her mouth was slack-jawed. I grabbed her and squeezed. She did make a noise, the sort of grunt like “hey what do you think you’re doing?” I was happy to hear it. I told her again how loved she is. Not long after, the nurse came in and asked Mom to open her eyes (even though they were wide open). This actually worked. Mom blinked and looked conscious again. But she was falling apart before our eyes. The nurse took me aside and said that they were doing everything they could, but that things weren’t good. I said, how long? She said, probably today. I said, what? What happened to that week? She said that nothing they were doing was working. It was a vicious, absolutely brutal cancer.
It was now 2:15 or so. I thought to call many people, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I could have said something on the phone, but I certainly wasn’t ready to answer even one question. If someone had called, I would have answered. No one did. Mom had stopped responding, even vaguely, to what Aran and I said. Her eyes were like saucers, her mouth open like a skeleton’s. There was nothing for Aran and I to do but sit there in the chairs next to her bed and wait. I reminded myself of Leo DiCaprio when the vertically buoying stern half of the ship finally starts to sink when I said: “This is it.” I told Aran how much Mom loves, or loved, him. That didn’t really help him; he and I were both losing it all over the place. After missing eye contact for a few minutes I caught him and said “Are we cursed?” Even before I got the word out he said “NO.” He wouldn’t hear of it, wouldn’t believe it. But our family has been hit like Kennedys, and we both knew the heart-rending truth of it.
I finally found the strength to call a couple of people. First I called Ginny and Donald, my surrogate family (only less cursed). I told them to come right away, that Mom was gravely ill, and that’s enough. They said okay. I called Alison to the same effect. I think I might have called a couple of other people – Rachel? Almira? Valerie? I don’t know. Aran asked about me. I really had no idea how I was doing. It was like when Aran and I jumped out of an airplane once; somehow, it couldn’t be real. Then why did it feel like my life was being crushed like a beer can? Suddenly I needed the biggest hug of all time. I grabbed Aran and gave all these full-chested cries of anguish. I was letting the whole thing in, and the whole thing out. It was insane, it couldn’t be. I held Aran while the sailboats in the bay slowly tacked in the distance, and Mom sat there like a fallen zombie.
At around 3, the on-call physician came around. He could see Mom failing to respond to anything, verbally or intravenously. I took him aside. I said what now, and he suggested morphine. I said WHAT? That means you’ve given up. He said that we had to do what was best for her. I said that means you’ve moved from saving her life to, well, easing her passing. He said that’s right. I reeled. I stood and tried to breathe. I finally said I didn’t like morphine; I wanted to fight to the end. He said we could just give her baby doses, by which I figured he meant the regular doses. I said, so you’re saying it’s over? He wouldn’t say anything. I almost fell. He said that this is the hardest thing in the world. I somehow had the presence of mind to say, well, besides losing a child. He looked stunned. He asked if that had happened to me. I said, “no, but that’s what I’ve heard.” He had to catch his own breath on that one.
Back in Mom’s room, the nurse who had been with me all day – and was quite sexy in a warm way, which somehow eased my pain – pulled me aside and said that she expected another half hour or so. It was significant that she said this in front of Mom. She no longer feared her hearing it. My God, that it had all come to this. My whole life, my most cherished person, wiped away in the blink of an eye. The legal papers, signed within two hours of the “dead”line. Aran and I, holding each other, me holding Mom and whispering loving thoughts into her ear. Me wishing for so many others. Me feeling alone like a shrub on a cliff.
Cathy called at about 3:20, from her layover city. I went out to the far hall to talk to her. I summed things up quickly; all she could say was “Oh Daniel. Oh Daniel.” Yeah, yeah. I couldn’t get back into the ICU. Goddammit, these doors opened all day! What the fuck!! The hot nurse came out and didn’t see me at first. She went back in and I somehow remembered her name. “Christina!” She turned and said she was just looking for me. She said “She’s passing.” NO. I started to walk, then I told her I’m running. I barely heard her say that’s fine. I ran into the panorama view room, and Aran was holding her hand and looking at me with the most horribly sad, sorry expression I had ever seen. I hadn’t quite missed her; her heart was still beating, her breath still coming out in gasps, but everything was flatlining. I threw myself onto her frail body. I held her so; I wanted every part of her touching part of me. Oh God was I crying. I told Mom my only thought of the day, which I’d only thought of that day: “I love you Mom and I’ll be with you always, in this life or any other.”
And then she was gone.
Part 2 is here.