Chef and I spent a week in Chincoteague Island (Virginia) from July 11th to the 15th. It was my first vacation ever, so we made sure to enjoy every second of it. We stayed in a cabin (okay, it was a trailer, but whatever), bought fireworks (illegal in Jersey!), visited restaurants, bookstores, took a sunset cruise, a fishing charter, and went crabbing down by a stream on the cabin property. It was beautiful.
The Monday after we returned (the 18th) we were supposed to get together with my parents, but Mom said Dad wasn’t feeling well so we were going to reschedule for the following Monday. Chef and I went crabbing instead at a pier near our home. On the way back from the pier, I realized my phone wouldn’t turn on. Turned out, a manufacturer defect caused the phone to completely crap out on itself. I lost everything. Contacts, messages, and most importantly, pictures. Hundreds of them. (I’m quite the amateur photographer, if I may say so myself.) What hurt the most, though, was losing all the pictures from vacation. The pictures I never got to show Mom.
Over the course of that week I dealt with a lot of Verizon reps who eventually sent me a replacement phone. I went to a Verizon kiosk to try retrieving the pictures before sending back the broken one, but it was no luck. They were completely gone, the rep said. There was some sort of defect in the operating system, he said, causing it to shut down and never go back on.
I wasn’t quite ready to part with the phone yet, even though I was supposed to send it back within five days. I couldn’t bear to send it knowing the pictures of my first vacation were on there and I’d never get them back. I was determined to figure it out. I researched and tried different chargers, left it overnight on the charger, left it off for two days to make sure the battery was completely drained before trying again — all to no avail.
Fast forward to the following Monday, the 25th. My last conversation with Mom. Again, we were supposed to get together with my parents, but Mom wasn’t feeling well, was hardly getting out of bed. Her kidney failure was taking its toll. In the weeks leading up to her passing I pressed on the issue of her starting the dialysis as soon as possible. She continued to brush it off. August 10th, she told me. August 10th was when she’d have the appointment with the surgeon to implant the port which would then expand her artery and she would be able to begin dialysis. I pushed her to go with the emergency method — the neck. I told her, “Mom, you’re not going to make it until then if you stay like this.” I remember telling my boss even after Mom was released from her three week stay in the hospital in May, “She won’t make it to dialysis.”
My parents never did make it over, and so again Chef and I went crabbing. I spoke to Mom later that night. She sounded tired, worn out, and kept nodding off in the middle of the conversation. At one point she asked about my book I was writing. (I believe this was the same conversation, or this part of the conversation may have taken place the previous day… Now I can’t be sure…)
“That part about Purgatory,” she said, in reference to my paranormal thriller, “where people who die before their time don’t know they are dead, did you make that up?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“That’s really cool,” she said. I smiled. I was on a roll lately with the book and was making great progress. I spent hundreds of hours researching the afterlife and different belief systems and then sort of combined it all into one giant world-building experiment to see what stuck.
“Thanks,” I said. “I can’t wait for you to read it.”
“Yeah,” she said, starting to drift off again.
There was silence. “Mom? Are you there?”
“I’m here, I’m here,” she said, with the tone us kids had grown accustomed to– the ‘fake awake,’ we called it, where she tried to pretend she wasn’t falling asleep.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I’m okay,” she said. Another pause. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “I felt a little sick earlier while crabbing, but I’m better now.” (This was true. Chef and I actually thought I was suffering from morning sickness, but it turned out to be a false alarm.
“Okay,” she said. “That’s good.”
“Why don’t you get some sleep, ma. I’ll call you later,” I said.
“Okay. Yeah. I’ll get some sleep.” We said our I-love-yous and our good-byes and got off the phone.
I never did call her that night. From the way she sounded, I didn’t want to wake her up if she was sleeping. Instead, the next time I called the house was the following morning around noon as I left for work. I didn’t know when my dad answered that the police were there trying desperately to save my mother’s life.
Less than a week later I realized I had forgotten to send the old phone back and decided to try plugging it in one more time and see what happened. It turned on. Immediately I transferred all my pictures, videos, and contacts to my computer and backed them up on the cloud for good measure. I sent a text to my sister to tell her the first piece of good news since Mom’s passing. Her response was: “Wow. Thanks, Mom.”
I don’t know if Mom had anything to do with it at all, but what I do know is that Mom’s final task of her life was to make sure her kids were going to be okay. She’d said to me numerous times in the past, especially as the time grew closer, “At least I know you kids will be okay. You’ve got Dave (Chef), Danny has his new girlfriend, and Jackie has Ben (her son.) You guys will be okay.” In our final conversation, she made sure of it when she asked me if I was okay. I just wish I’d known at the time why she was asking, because my response would have been, “Yes, Mom. Of course I’m going to be okay. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need you.”