I have spent the last 10 years obsessing over every single detail about the last day I spent with my mom on December 25.
I woke up that morning from the worst sleep ever. The only two words I can use to adequately describe the nightmare I experienced was black and suffocating. I was surrounded by blackness and I could not breathe. I was scared but in a way, I couldn’t describe. When I emerged from the bedroom, my mom took one look at me and asked if I was okay. I wasn’t and I wouldn’t know why for another 30 or so hours. Normally, we would have talked about what I had experienced but, it was just too heavy and sad to share on her most favorite holiday.
We bustled about the house, as usual, that day. Her cooking and singing her favorite Luther Vandross Christmas songs and me finishing wrapping the Christmas gifts she saved for me to wrap for her. We talked, laughed, gossiped and ate the green beans she cooked for later at breakfast; and I felt the heaviness of the night’s sleep slowly lift as we exchanged gifts. Always my best friend, she made everything better for me.
We celebrated Christmas, as usual, that year with our family at my aunt E and uncle G’s house. One of my most favorite family gatherings of the year! My mom knew how much I loved it but took her time getting ready to go…as she did every year. Once you entered their home you were greeted with love, laughter, kids running around and the smell of all my favorite foods. Nothing better!
After a marathon of pictures, catching up, and plates of food, my mom and I packed up to head back to her house. I was scheduled to work the next day in Chicago before returning the next day to finish my week off with my mom in Dixon. I also arranged to take my three-year-old, goddaughter with me. Since the office would only have one other person there, my goddaughter and I would hole up in one of our empty conference rooms to pass the time reading, coloring, and playing with toys until we could head to the zoo.
Once we returned to my mom’s house, I quickly gathered what I needed, kissed my mom goodbye as she laid on the couch and headed to my car to pick up my goddaughter. Small problem, my car was somehow stuck in the driveway. The same car we used to pull into the driveway no more than an hour ago. It wasn’t snowing but there was a layer of ice coating the ground below. I couldn’t move it in the right direction, every effort pushed the car further into the plowed snow on the side of the driveway. My mom, now standing in the door, called my uncle and then my cousins to help in what none of us could understand, how in the world is this car even stuck? I thought about how ridiculous it would sound for me to call my manager and tell her that I couldn’t make it to work because my car is stuck in the driveway with no snow. So, I was determined to honor my commitment. With the help of my family, we finally got the car out. I wouldn’t understand until the following day, why it was so difficult to move that car, I wasn’t supposed to leave.
My mom called me twice on the 26th. Both times mostly to check and see if I was doing okay taking care of a toddler. “How are you and your charge? How did you both sleep? What are you making her for breakfast? What time are you coming back home?”, she asked. The last call that day from her was mid-morning with more of the same ending with her saying she would see me later.
A few hours later I would get two calls from my family in Dixon. One to tell me that my mom was being rushed to the hospital and to come home immediately and the other one I have never forgotten. The second call came as I was driving home from Chicago with my goddaughter in tow about forty-five minutes later. When I answered the phone my normally calm Aunt who was also an LPN was yelling at me to get there and I heard crying in the background. I yelled back at her that I had to drive 2 hours to get home and I was driving as fast as I could. I pleaded with her to tell me what was wrong, but she was having none of it. Hearing a break in her voice when she yelled again for me to get there sent me into hysterics as I hung up the phone.
I immediately called my dad in Louisiana who did his best to calm me down so I could make it safely. I just remember telling him, “I can handle anything except her death, I will never recover from that.” He told me to focus on getting there and take it from there.
When I arrived, everyone was outside. I ran to the ER entrance. I knew it was bad. I still feel like this part happened in slow motion. They shuffled me down a hallway and into a large room. Once inside, my family lovingly surrounded me and told me she didn’t make it. Make what?
My mom died on December 26, 2008, minutes before that second call from my aunt. My entire existence changed in one afternoon.
I remember asking for someone to pray and then I went to see her, although not the circumstances we talked about earlier in the day. She was dead now. The stain of blood still on her lips from the blood clot that took her life. My beloved everything was now pain-free with her parents.
I can somehow recall things like the color of the first shirt I bought, as the only daughter of her dead mother, a red turtleneck from Shopko. The furniture in her living room hastily rearranged to make room for the paramedics to get the stretcher in and out of her house. The beautiful white suit wrapped in dry cleaner’s plastic I found hanging on the back of her bedroom door, the same day I fretted about how I would dress her for her funeral. Driving with my cousin Londa to CherryVale Mall to buy suits for the visitation and funeral and learning that dead people don’t need shoes in their caskets.
That first year was blurry. I often awoke surprised I hadn’t died the night before from grief. I got up each day with a heavy sigh convinced of two things; someone was praying for me and God needed me to stay on earth but for what reason, I didn’t know.
Now, 10 years later, the pain is still thick and I maneuver through it. Most days I still find it unbelievable that my mom is dead. But she is and life goes on.
I find comfort in the love and lessons she shared with me, my daughter’s connection to the Nana she never met, and knowing that when I need her most my mom is with me. Mostly, I remind myself that I have more memories with her than without her and that means everything.