I feel sick. Not physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I feel empty.
Several years ago– probably about four or five, perhaps a couple more, Mom and I used to attend the flea markets every week in her area. She lived in a retirement community and it was divided into several different “villages.” Each Saturday a different village would have a flea market.
That’s where we first met Antoinette and Ron, an older couple from Toms River who spent their Saturdays selling DVDs. If you were looking for a DVD, that’s where you went to get it. They would spend the rest of the week watching them before they sold them, then put them in clear plastic sneaker totes to set out on the table they rented. We all became fast friends. Mom and I would visit them as often as we could (at the time I was only transcribing and was still married, so I visited Mom quite often in those days to escape my husband.)
Once I divorced and started cosmetology school, working every hour I wasn’t in class, our time grew thinner. For a while we still went to the flea markets, but Mom’s health continued to decline. Eventually she only went out once a week, if that, and she no longer drove. But we all still talked, and Mom and Antoinette were quite close friends, mailing each other packages (Antoinette didn’t drive either) and talking on the phone, exchanging Christmas and birthday cards.
When we did manage to visit, Ron would hug my mom and tell her how he prayed for her to get better. We said our I-love-yous and our prayers for each other.
When Mom passed, Antoinette was one of the first people I called. Poor thing, never had a chance to say good-bye. Never had a chance to have one last healthy debate about who would make the better president. And Mom never had a chance to give Antoinette the latest thing she had ordered for her (Dad later delivered it to her.)
The first time I visited Antoinette a few days after Mom passed, I brought her a ceramic box with a lid. It was black and white, small, and had a picture of two stick figure women with crazy, stuck-my-finger-in-a-socket hair. Underneath the two women hugging it read: “Best Friends.” Antoinette had given it to Mom some time before. Mom never used it, but instead kept it on display with the rest of her knickknacks, things that made her happy just to look at. She kept the ribbon wrapped around it to keep the lid from falling off.
I haven’t been in touch with them as much as I should have been since Mom’s passing. Not that I didn’t want to be, but because of course I allowed life to get in the way. I took for granted them always being there.
They came to the dinner my family had in Mom’s honor. Ron didn’t look well. The side of his mouth was drooping and I was concerned he’d had a stroke. He kept repeating a lot of the same things over and over again, speaking slowly, walking slowly. Antoinette would shake her head as she saw him trying to move around, unable to help him as much as she wanted to.
Today, I received a phone call from Antoinette. Ron fell last night and hit his head. He was taken to the emergency room where he is currently being hospitalized. They discovered tumors in his brain and a mass on his lung. They were going to biopsy, but after speaking with Ron, Antoinette declined the biopsy. They never wanted to do the radiation or the chemo, she explained. It was a joint decision they’d made a long time ago. There was no point in doing the biopsy because they won’t treat it.
Ron will be returning home on hospice and is expected to live for maybe another six to eight weeks.
I called Dad to let him know. “Good thing Mom’s not around,” he said. “She’d be so upset.”
“I know.” My voice cracked. He was right.
Now Antoinette will have to go through what Dad went through, losing a spouse. The only positive aspect (if there is one) is she gets advance notice. Does that make it worse? Better? I don’t know. But they say that sometimes when you know sooner, it makes it easier to begin the grieving process. It’s not so much of a shock when the day finally comes.
I think back to Dad, the fear in his voice when I called while Mom was still alive. I think about how he must have pleaded with her not to go– I’ve heard it before. I watched him hold her hand and brush the hair from her eyes the night she was rushed to the emergency room on Mother’s Day of this year. I watched his watery eyes dart between doctors as he tried to list all the medications she was on, tried to tell them every test she’d had recently done, tried to reiterate all of her illnesses. I think about the times I asked about dialysis and whether Mom would do it and he would say with frustration, “That’s just the way it’s gotta be. She’s just gotta do it.” He wasn’t ready to lose her. None of us were.
And Antoinette is not ready to lose Ron. None of that know him and are close to him are. She lost her best friend, and now she’s losing her husband. Her mother recently moved in with her as well because of her failing health, and soon she will no longer have her.
Then what? What happens when everyone we love dies and we are the last one standing? What happens when we walk up and down the aisles of the graveyard, placing a flower upon the graves of our loved ones, with no one to walk beside us as we dab our eyes with a tissue.
I suppose I’m one of the lucky ones. My siblings as well. My sister has her son, my brother has whoever he has. Plenty of friends, his girlfriend. I have a few close friends. I have Chef, at least for this very moment. We all have Dad. Chef has his mom. Antoinette, though, she doesn’t have kids. She has a sister who she doesn’t speak about much. I’m sure she has other friends. But there’s a difference between people you live for, and people you “know.”
What will I do when Dad goes? When my siblings go? I’m the youngest, so the chances are quite good they’ll go before me. I haven’t talked to any of my cousins in years. What will I do if I remarry and my husband goes before me, if we never have children?
At what point do you say, enough is enough, and just throw in the towel to keep from receiving any more pain and heartache?
Well, this wasn’t the most uplifting post I’ve ever written… to say the least. Suppose I’m just in a state of shock after already having a bit of a rough day to begin with. Been thinking about Mom so much and with finally having some time to myself today, being idle is never good for my racing obsessive thoughts. I promise next time to be a little more upbeat! In the meantime, I still haven’t received any tributes or stories from others who’ve lost loved ones. Come on, people. Let’s tell the world how great they were and how much they meant to us. (Okay, I know I don’t have many followers yet, so that’s probably why… I’m working on it!)