It was a Thursday. Apparently, there was a total eclipse of the sun on that particular day, but I hadn’t noticed; I was too busy dealing with death.
I had stayed at the hospital, sleeping in a chair, next to my Mother’s bed, for the three nights prior. She had been in a coma for the past ten days; and on each one of those godforsaken days, a nurse would come into the room, take her vitals and tell me that she was getting weaker, her organs were failing and that “…it wouldn’t be long now.”
…but it was “long,” it was ten fucking days long.
I had told her she could go. I had promised her that we’d all be “okay,” and that she didn’t have to worry about us. I had also promised her that I’d be with her, when the time came and that she wouldn’t have to do “it” alone. I’d go with her as far as I was “allowed” to go and I’d hold her hand the whole way. I knew she could hear me, but she wasn’t having it.
My brothers felt the same, but they couldn’t say the words. They just looked at her and stroked her hand… I knew they couldn’t take much more of this; it was wearing them down; really taking its toll. They were sleeping less, talking less, but smoking and drinking more.
My Dad, God bless him, would stroke her head and whisper in her ear that she was going to be “fine.” He would urge her to “fight.” He told her how much he loved her and how sorry he was (for what, I have no idea) He’d look at her with tears welling up in his eyes and he’d beg her to not to leave.
It was heartbreaking.
I had begun to think, after 10 days, of being told that she was “actively dying,” that maybe they were wrong. I mean, she had said (and only half jokingly) on more than one occasion, “…I’m not going. I’m just not going.”
Maybe she knew something that we didn’t.
On this particular day, I woke up stiff and aching, from sleeping in the chair, again… and the first thing I did was to look at her chest. Was she breathing? It was hard to tell, but yes… she was breathing.
It was now time to go home, clean up, pick up my Dad and come back for another day and night of watching my Mom die.
I talked to her like, like I’m talking to you… “Mom… I’m going home to clean up, have some breakfast and pick up Daddy. I’ll be back in about an hour or so, okay? I’m coming right back… okay?”
She didn’t respond.
By the time I got home, my Dad had finished breakfast and was waiting for me. I did my thing; made some toast and a cup of coffee. Took a quick shower, put on come clean jeans and a tee-shirt and within an hour and a half of when I had left the hospital, we were in the car, on our way back.
We got off the elevator and headed to the Haematology/Oncology Ward, on 6 West like we had done a thousand times before… As we walked past the Nurses Station, one of the Nurses was on the phone and when she saw us, she just put the phone down and stepped into the corridor, where we were walking. I didn’t understand at the time, but she was actually blocking our way.
She looked at my Dad and then at me; and said something like, “I was just trying to call you… I’m so sorry… but your Mom passed away.”
I was gobsmacked.
“What do you mean she’s dead?”
“I told her I’d be right back. I’ve been here, non stop for three fucking days!”
As the nurse walked us down the corridor, towards my Mom’s room, I became more and more angry. “How could she leave?” Hadn’t I told her that I’d be back within an hour? Didn’t I tell her time and time again that I’d be with her at the end… that I’d help her get to the other side?
How could she…
Why would she…
As I entered the room and saw her lying there, just as I had left her, the first thing I instinctively did was to look at her chest. Was she breathing? “No,” she was definitely not breathing.
My father wasn’t big on me swearing and I had never said the “F” word in front of him… however on this occasion, and in a raised voice no less, I shouted at my poor, dead mother, “You couldn’t fucking wait until I got back? You couldn’t wait? I told you I’d be right back!”
I felt my father’s hand on my shoulder, he didn’t say a word… time stood still for a thousand years, or was it a second, I’m not sure; and then we both exhaled, broke down and cried.
The rest is a blur… my brothers had to be told, arrangements to be made; the obituaries had to be written and Mercy Lunch menu decided on. It all became a long list of tasks that were carried out mechanically over the next week or so.
I have missed her every single day since that day; I will say however, that I am so happy she decided she was “good to go” and I’ve realised that she had actually waited until I had left the room and chose her exact time. She didn’t want me there. She didn’t want me to have to see her die.
That was my Mom, always thinking of what was best for her kids.
That was 27 years ago today… seems like yesterday.
Footnote: Oddly, and I guess as fate would have it, my time on the 6 West Haematology/Oncology Ward at the UMass Memorial Medical Centre in Worcester MA. was not to end there… Years later, I would sit with both of my brothers, as they died (from cancer) in that same hospital, on the same Ward, in rooms just down the hall from my Mom’s room and from each other’s. I was there throughout their end of life journeys and held each of their hands, till the end; I promised them I’d be “fine,” and that it was “okay,” for them to leave me…
Please don’t tell them, I lied.