Last night I was driving to pick up Chef from work. The song “Remember We Die” by Gemini Syndrome was playing on the radio. I’ve been hearing the song a lot since Mom passed away. Probably because it was released quite recently. Nevertheless, it got me thinking of the conversations I had with Mom about “The Other Side.” We joked that she would come back and let me know how it was “up there “and that she was okay. She said she wanted to come back as an eagle because she loved her freedom so much.
I picked Chef up and we drove home where I poured a glass of wine and ate the food he’d brought home for me. Afterward, we sat in my office smoking a cigarette.
“I was thinking about Mom,” I said. He put a hand on my leg and nodded. “I was thinking about how we always talked about what the other side could be like, and now she’s up there… experiencing it.”
“She’s in a better place,” he said. I knew he was right. Wherever she was, she’s out of pain. But then, all of a sudden, the tears started. It wasn’t unreasonable, considering it’s been less than a month. But as I walked to the couch, I knew this time was different. I’d cried many times, many days since she’d passed, but these were tears like I’d just found out for the first time that she was gone. Thoughts were racing through my mind. Where was she? What was she doing? Was she okay? And the most crushing thought of all– there was absolutely no chance I would ever see her or talk to her again in this lifetime.
Her death had finally hit me.
“It happens like that sometimes,” Chef said as he sat with his arm around me. He talked about when his father died and about a month following his death, he was watching television when he started to bawl. The realization that his father was permanently gone had hit him. It made me feel better to know it wasn’t just me and maybe I wasn’t being as weak as I felt I was.
Some people, doctors even, say that denial is a stage of grief. Many others disagree. I don’t know the truth, but I do know that for the past month, it was not denial I was experiencing. I was well aware she was gone. I accepted that she was gone. I knew she was finally out of pain. But it took until last night to really begin the grieving process.
While at work today, I wondered why. Why did it suddenly hit me, just like that, while I was enjoying a nice dinner and night with Chef? It wasn’t the wine, I knew that. I’ve drank a glass or two almost every night for quite a while. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I knew the answer all along…
I had anticipated she wouldn’t last much longer. She’d been sick for years. Her kidneys were failing and she was admitted to the hospital on Mother’s Day this year where she spent almost three weeks. She was scheduled to start dialysis this month, but I continued to tell everyone that I didn’t think she would make it. In the back of my mind, I just knew.
The day it happened, I called my parents’ house while I was leaving for work. My dad answered and said, “I’ll call you back, Mom’s bad,” and hung up. My heart was racing. My thought was, he’s going to be taking her to the hospital or calling an ambulance. I called my job to let them know I was still coming, but I didn’t know if anything would change before I got there. When I was close to work, I called my dad back. I was hoping– no, I was praying– that my dad would pick up and say everything was okay. That she was on her way to the hospital or something.
He sounded calm when he picked up. Upset, but calm. “Where are you?” He asked me.
“I’m almost to work. What’s going on?”
“Mom’s gone,” he said.
Just like that.
She was gone.
I remember I was coming up to a green light as he said it, but I hit my brakes. I screamed, over and over. I could hear him telling me to pull over, but it didn’t register at first. Luckily there was no one else on the road as I cut across two lanes to get on the shoulder. I was crying as I slammed my emergency light button on my dashboard. I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, except that I told him I was going to be on my way there as soon as I told my job.
The next light was the entrance to the plaza I work in, so I pulled in. I knew I needed to take a moment to figure everything out, to just breathe. I called Chef. He didn’t answer, but called right back. I told him what happened. He just kept saying sorry over and over again. At some point, after only a couple minutes, we got off the phone and I walked into work. I walked to the back where my best friend and co-worker was standing in the office. I collapsed in her arms. I cried, harder than I think I’ve ever cried in my life.
My other best friend (yes, I’m lucky enough to work with my two best friends) came out of the bathroom. My eyes were shut as I cried, but I felt her kneel down beside me and put her hand on my shoulder. I don’t know how long we sat like that. I don’t know how long I cried for. But eventually I stood up, we talked a minute or two, and I left to head to my dad’s.
The days following that all seemed to melt into one another. There was cremation arrangements to be made, people to tell, cleaning to do, credit cards to cancel. To this day we are still working on cleaning up her things, boxing them up or donating things. Let’s face it– there was no time for grieving.
But as things slowed down, as things returned to “normal,” my body’s natural response was to say, “Okay. It’s time to deal with this.” I realized today that when you get to really sit down and think about how it affects you– and I don’t mean that selfishly– that’s when the real grieving– and thus, healing– begins.