VIOLA - “Hey Janie, I was just thinking about the time you got the hook from Jack’s fishing pole stuck in the bottom of your foot. Biggest fish he ever caught! Hahaha! I love you.” With a beep beep,the message ends and the answering machine turns off, as I smile to myself and hang up my jacket.
My mom’s been notorious for the phone messages that she leaves me.
Ring…ring…ring…ring.By the fourth ring I'd untangled myself from the web of bedcovers and sleeping cats and dogs. Feeling tense from the restlessness of trying to sleep and not succeeding, I whispered “Hello.” I wasn't worried about waking up the lump of snoring mammals. But late-night phone calls never bring good news.
Mom had died.
Insert any name or relationship and we've all been there. Our brains start grinding into a low gear, shifting to make sense of those words. What does it mean?
Some prefer the word passed, but I don't. Mom died. Dad is dead. Final. The end. Over.
The numbness stayed with me all day until the shock started to wear off. Are we ever ready, are we ever prepared to hear those words?
A film made of recent visits, phone calls, and messages started to play inside my head, a continuous loop of memories with many still shots.
Snap:Mom at the zoo eating a red, white, and blue popsicle on her Fourth of July birthday.
Click:Mom sitting as close as she can get to the famous painting ‘The Wood Gatherer; at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Her hand snakes up to touch the picture.
Snap:Mom lying in a lounge chair reading a book poolside. She holds the book with her left hand. Her right hand is harboring a cigarette.
The images didn’t stop as I plodded through my normal workday, feeling more like a zombie than a human being.
Dane and I, with my granddaughter Helena, had recently visited Mom in her assisted living facility. We'd picked out a few groceries to bring her and some needed supplies.
After what turned out to be the best visit with Mom since we had moved her there, the car ride home was buzzing: "Didn't Grandma look good!?" "Did you see her hustle down the hallway? She was really moving!” “What a great visit. She seemed pretty content."
A few days after this visit, my final phone message from Mom was a thank-you call. Mom had been glad to see us, grateful for the groceries, and she made a joke about snacking before bed. Even with three solid meals served daily, Mom despised not being able to keep her pantry and refrigerator stocked. “I just like to have a little snack before bed, Janie.”
Trying to make sense out of Mom’s death, I’ve reminded myself that she had told me numerous times she was ready to go. She’d complained about her living situation, stating, “Everyone here is sitting around waiting to die.” I understood.
My mom had loved to read, but even with her new and improved glasses she couldn’t see the words well enough to read them. She didn’t crochet or knit, both of which would have been a bonus at any assisted living facility.
Mom did enjoy walking, and she still walked whenever she could. She had shrunk so much I could barely see her eyes over the top of her red walker. She’d pull that walker to her like she was reining in a horse. Once it was close enough she’d pull herself to standing, hitch her shoulders up to her ears, grab the handles, and away she’d go.
But when you’re past 93 years old, there isn’t much giddy-up left, and Mom would tire well before lunchtime. She’d head to her room and nap. I’d find her lying prone in her enormous chair, looking like a Raggedy Ann doll with both hands tucked into her waistband. I asked why she always put her hands in her pants when she slept. “So they don’t keep falling down,” she answered. “My hands, not my pants.”
The nurse on duty at my mom’s home told me that Mom had fallen before bed. She assured me she didn’t get hurt, but that her oxygen tube had come out. They’d had to help her reinsert the oxygen tube and get Mom back into bed. When they came to check on her later, she had already died.
When someone we love dies we create a story. Mine is this: After chuckling over a joke Mom remembered, she died peacefully in her sleep with a half-smile, and with her hands tucked in her waistband.
Gone are the days of coming home to see my answering machine light on, hitting play and hearing one of my mom’s messages: “Hey Janie, did you ever write about the time you fell off the toilet, hit your chin on the bathtub and had to get stitches? Hahaha! Love you.”
No, Mom, I haven't, but maybe next week I will.Beep, beep.The end.