My mom died last week.
I was at the office on Friday, in the middle of a quick meeting with a co-worker, and my phone rang; my older sister Carol (on the right in the photo above) was calling. I normally would send a personal call to voicemail, but my mom had fallen in a parking lot on the way to her car earlier in the week, so I figured Carol was calling to let me know how Mom was doing. I stepped out, answered the call, and Carol held on for a few seconds before saying, “Mom’s gone.” At first, I was confused. I thought Carol was saying she couldn’t find Mom, that maybe she had gotten in her car and disappeared. But then I heard her say something about the police and going to her apartment and asking me to call our brother Karl, and I sat down on the floor in the middle of our executive conference room and completely lost it.
One of my co-workers walked by, did a double-take, and came into the conference room to see what was going on. Our office manager heard me down the hall and came in as well, and they helped get me back to my desk so I could get in touch with Jason. Once I told Jason what had happened, he headed toward my office while I called my brother. I just remember the shaking – uncontrollable shaking in my hands, the inability to focus on anything with my eyes. I was looking around people and past people, not sure what to say or do. Another co-worker led me into her office to wait for Jason, and as I began to calm down I started to ask questions. What should I do? Is there someone I should call? What’s next? The part of me that deals with organizing and lists and logistics took over as a coping mechanism.
Carol didn’t have much information, so Jason and I spent the rest of the day waiting for news. What happened? How had she died? Who found her? What happens next? My sister had the hardest job of all, just because she was there in Texas; my brother and I couldn’t do much from several states away. She had to go to the apartment. She had to identify mom and then distract herself while they removed her body. She had to deal with Mom’s empty cup on the kitchen counter, her glasses on the coffee table, her laundry in the hamper. Like Mom really had just stepped away for a minute and would be right back. As long as I live, I’ll be thankful for my sister and the strength it took her to handle things that day.
Mom hadn’t been doing so well lately. And I’m mad at her for not saying anything and mad at myself for not asking the right questions. It’s been almost 20 years since my mom was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, but in the last couple of years her kidneys had deteriorated to the point that she was going to dialysis appointments three times a week. She also could no longer walk and has relied on a walker for at least the last decade. But she was crafty, and the story she told me always featured her as a survivor who was beating whatever the world threw at her. There was quite a lot she left out. I discovered this weekend that she hadn’t paid her rent in more than two months. Her electricity had been turned off for non-payment. She was eating off paper plates because she couldn’t even unpack her belongings in her apartment. She wasn’t able to clean up after her cats, or herself. Her car, with barely a scratch a year ago, was covered in dings and dents from times she’d hit something and kept going. And the parking lot fall was probably a result of the thing that ultimately killed her – she had stopped going to dialysis for more than a week before she died.
And so, I’m sad. She never got to meet Evan. I hadn’t seen her in person in almost two years. I could have helped her if I’d known. I never called as often as I should have. And I wish she hadn’t been alone on that last night.
Life is already getting back to normal, little by little. It feels too soon, but I don’t know how else to go on. She wanted to be cremated, but because of the way she died and the fall she had, the medical examiner had to do an autopsy so it will be a couple weeks before we can bury her ashes. I want to simultaneously press pause until I can say a proper goodbye and fast-forward to a time when it hurts less. So I play with Evan. I cook dinner. I do laundry. I go to work, even though they’ve told me to take as much time as I need. I run. Distraction is welcome. I find comfort in the routine, and I look forward to the day when comfort isn’t so hard to come by.