After waiting about ten minutes to ensure that our Hospice nurse’s assessment of my mother was accurate, we dialed 911 and told them of my mother’s death at home.
Everyone else seemed to find something to occupy themselves in the minutes before the paramedics arrived: my sister started making phone calls, my father started picking up this and that, my uncle and aunt talked quietly with my mother’s girlfriend in the corner about what the last several days were like. My brother answered the door as several people arrived, too late to say goodbye, including my mother’s boyfriend.
But me? I couldn’t tear myself away from my mother’s lifeless body, still laying on the sofa as if she was just quietly sleeping there, as she had done for the last month and a half. I felt crazily, scarily alone surrounded by all of these people. They all had their own versions of who my mother was to them: friend, wife, sister, lover, mother. But none of those descriptions were accurate for me. She was indeed my mother but she was so much more than that to me. She was my confidante, my roommate, my co parent. What would I do without her?
I touched her forehead, looking for evidence that she was really gone. “She’s still warm,” I whispered to myself, as if somehow I could just turn back the clock a few hours, days, months. Her eyes were still slightly open. I squinted my eyes just so, trying to visualize for a second what life would be like if she was just really asleep on the sofa, like when I used to come home late at night and she was babysitting for me. Just a few minutes ago, she was here. But as I sat there and the minutes piled on top of each other, the reality set in that she was very, very far away.
My sister came and sat next to me on the floor, her phone calls done. “Her jewelry,” she said simply. “What should we do?”
My mother didn’t wear much these days, but she still had two tiny diamond earrings in her ears and a bracelet on her wrist. Wordlessly, I turned my mother’s head slightly and removed one earring and put it in my left ear. I removed the second, and held it out to my sister. She put it in her left ear as well and hugged me. I handed her the bracelet. “I don’t like wearing jewelry and you do. You should have it,” I said quietly.
The paramedics came. AsI’d seen six months ago when our neighbor had passed away, they carefully and quietly did their work and put my mother’s now cold body into a black, rubber bag. They allowed us one more goodbye before her face disappeared under the rubber as the zipper closed the bag around my mother’s still form. I stood at the door as the gurney was slowly guided down our front stairs and into the ambulance without its lights on. I stood there numbly until my father came up behind me and gently closed the door.
I felt the emptiness crack inside of me with the finality of the closing of the door. She was really gone. My mother, who had been there for me through my whole life: protecting me when my brother’s angry rages left me with broken bones, when I crushed on an impossible to reach rockstar, when my father put his energy into his career and went for months without seeing me, when I fell for a boy who lived two hours away, when I chose to major in music in college even though it was not a safe career choice, when I came home from that same college during my freshman year pregnant, when the boy who had gotten me pregnant disappeared (literally), when my first love came back and asked me to marry him, when that boy too disappeared (literally), when my toddler son needed books or clothes or daycare, when I needed time to study or visit with friends or a night of feeling like a regular 21 year old. My mother had always been there, always been my champion, my rock, my safety net.
“Who will be there for me now?” I wailed, the words angry, and scared, and primal. I didn’t care who heard and I wasn’t looking for an answer. There was no answer, of course. There could be no one there for me now in the way that my mother had been. I was alone in a way I couldn’t have even imagined.
My father gathered me in his arms. “I will,” he soothed. “I’ll be there for you.”
I didn’t correct him.