As I remember it, twenty years ago tonight, I got a call from my older brother. He said, “Your mother is dead.” To which I replied, “What do you mean she is dead? Where is she?” He then said she wasn’t dead yet because she was at the hospital.
We were all there in the ICU waiting room when I suggested we all leave the hospital. After years and dozens of what we thought was the last trip to the hospital, I said, “She is not going to die just to spite us, so we should probably go home and get some sleep.”
And we did. I didn’t rush to the hospital the next day either. I told my husband at the time to go to work because I didn’t figure anything would happen yet. I don’t remember what everyone else did. I only remember what happened once I got to the ICU waiting area and no one from my family was there.
I called back to the ICU nurse’s station and the nurse asked me to come back there so she could talk to me. I asked, “Is she dead?” She replied, “Ma’am, please just come back so I can talk to you.” I demanded she tell me before I went through those large double doors into the ICU. Perhaps I made a bit of a scene in the waiting area, but I don’t recall and am certain I didn’t care.
The nurse finally said that yes, she died earlier. I was shocked at what I said next, “Is she still here? Can I see her?” I am not a fan of dead bodies, but I had to see for myself if what she was telling me was really true.
It was. I saw it for myself while my stepfather and his sister stood on either side of her body. Somehow, I was told that everyone was at my grandfather’s house and given directions on how to get there. I only remember the walk to the parking garage at the hospital. It was cold, dark and I don’t remember knowing what to do next. Then I have flashes of memory at my grandfather’s house. My husband found his way there eventually, although I have no real memory of how all of that happened or how I got home from there.
Ironically, after twenty years, the parts I remember are the same as the week after she died. Even as clearly, I remember the true gravity of the situation a few weeks later. I had waited for mom to get sober for years. It took a few weeks for it to sink in that the hope I had held onto so tightly for mom to get sober and be more mom-like had died too. At that point, the real healing could begin.
Twenty years later, I have a better understanding of why mom was the way she was when I was growing up. I have a better appreciation for what was good about her and for those characteristics that I share in common with her. I certainly would not be the person I have grown into had it not been for her, so for that I celebrate her life.