Sometime in the early morning hours of the day that would be New Year’s Eve, I woke up from a dream that had already vanished, leaving behind only two words: CRASH CART.
I went back to sleep.
Hours later, the day started like any other Saturday. The normal part lasted only until 8:37. Then my dad called, frantic: my mom had fallen and he needed me right away. I arrived at his house just as the ambulance took her to the emergency room. My dad and I followed in the car; as we turned the first corner he said, “I thought she was dead.”
She was dead before lunch.
When we caught up with her at the hospital, she was still slightly aware of what was going on. I found a cloth and washed dried blood from her hands and her right elbow. I told her that I’d bought a green silk jacket with my Christmas gift card. She said the backboard hurt her neck.
By the time I had almost started to resign myself to the idea that this might be more than just a few hours at the ER, the doctor had moved her into the trauma room, and the nurses were working swiftly, grimly, not making eye contact with us.
I slipped her wedding rings from her finger.
When the doctor started saying things like “no significant hope for recovery,” I’d started making calls, to my husband, to my sister, to the pastor: the plates of the earth were shifting, ever so slightly, causing great earthquakes as I became the adult in charge.
Before any of them could arrive, my dad was saying “great fear of nursing homes” and, finally, “we have to let her go.” Family arrived, nurses withdrew, the chaplain appeared. As she slipped away from us, as softly as a whisper, we stood around her bed, holding her and each other. My father’s tears dropped to her dying face, the last rites of his love for her.
And it was over. I scanned the room, and my eyes fell on a red cabinet on the other side. The sign over it said CRASH CART
Those first ragged months of grieving were harder than I could have believed. Almost anything would trigger a flood of grief but the hardest of these were the ones that snuck in and kicked me before I knew what was about to happen.
A Bruce Cockburn song with the line “if I fall down and die without saying goodbye” reduced me to tears for the rest of the day.
A passing thought about appropriate mother’s day gifts stabbed me in the gut.
Thinking about my dad going shopping, alone, to buy my birthday present was so sad that I barely made it though dinner.
For so long, everything held the hidden dangers of learning how to be motherless, until one day, that song didn’t make me cry.
September 1, 2008