They used a crank to lower her deeper into the coffin. It was slow and smooth – not jarring. Not disturbing. They covered her over in petal soft comforter looking material. And for a moment, my eyes tricked me into believing that she looked… relieved; rested; protected like a little child freshly tucked in by her mom and dad. They shut the lid over her visage and screwed the coffin closed. Then the funeral director turned around and said to me and my family.
“The coffin is now closed and will NOT be reopened.”
On Saturday, October 11th, 2008 at 3:15 PM, the numbers all went backward on the monitor and let us on the earth know that my mother’s spirit had made its final journey from this life. We’d all been watching the monitors since 8:00 AM like a warped ticker… an hour after the doctors called and told me that if I waited until visiting hours, we may be too late. It was all so sudden. She was FINE on Thursday. Then not so fine at all on Friday. Fresh from dialysis, she came back and was worst than I’d ever seen her. Completely dilapidated. Confused. Exhausted. I asked her what year it was. She said 1941. I said… “No mommy… Not the year you were born… what year is it now?” She hesitated. After much poking and prodding for veins for an IV and hospital tv show style doctors running down the hall… they moved her to ICU. Once they had her settled in at ICU, I walked into the room alone. And she was resting. Deeply. Peacefully. I called her name. “Mommy?” She opened her eyes and focused in on me. “You’re still here, petite cocotte?” she inquired through the oxygen mask. “Yes, mommy,” I responded slowly and deliberately so she could understand, “We wanted to make sure that you’d be okay before we left. But we’ll stay if you want us to. Would you like us to stay with you?” “Yes, please, stay with me.” She responded w/o issue. Then drifted into sleep again. Just as deep as if she’d never woken up. I stood still in the same place watching her rest. Taking in her features. Saying a silent prayer. 5 minutes later, her eyes popped open and she focused in on me again. “Baby? You’re still here???” this time more shocked than last. “Yes, mommy. You asked me to stay with you. So I’m right here.” She shook her head. “I didn’t mean like that,” she explained carefully. She took my hand. “I mean… go out there. Live your life. Go be with your husband. Make babies. Work hard and be a good employee. Have fun. And every now and again… come by and visit me. That’s all… isn’t that what you do now?” I nodded. “Good,” she confirmed, “Keep doing that. Go home. Get some rest, petite cocotte.” She blew a kiss through the oxygen mask and I kissed her forehead and went home.
I jolted awake at 7 AM and immediately called ICU… they transferred me 3 times, each transfer preceded by “Did the doctor talk with you yet?” – I knew that was a bad sign already. They had to intubate her the night before. She got that bad. We raced and broke laws all the way up to the hospital. There she was, eyes half open, breathing tube yanking down one side of her mouth; her body unnaturally rising and falling with the insistence of the respirator. We called her name and held her hands. She responded by squeezing and subsequently jerking her arms. She heard us. We got the priest in ASAP. He gave her last rites. After which, she was calm. No more jerking. Hours went by before she left. Giving all 15 of us an opportunity to whisper our loving thoughts and well wishes in her ear. I called Nininne, and put the phone up to mom’s ear so she could hear her words to her. And all our gazes rocked back and forth between her visage and the monitor. We instantly became experts in interpreting the numbers for heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen count. And we watched them… slowly slide backwards all day. Pray that maybe… just maybe… they might reverse their descent.
At 3:14, the numbers spiraled downwards. Everyone rushed to the bed and the list of loving nicknames came out. “Dendon!!!” “Tanti Denise!!” “Mommy!!” “Mammi Ti Den!” As if calling her name would have stopped her ascension. The machine registered all zeros and printed out a flatlined ticker. That was it. My mommy was gone.
Now, there is a much-traveled middle passage between my regular everyday thoughts and that end results. Lemme call mom… oh… wait…. *insert remembrance of the last week* She’s really gone… isn’t she…. And each time is just as painful as the last. I’ve gained entry into a fraternity of motherless children that I NEVER EVER wanted… and neither did they. But so far – we all speak a common language of loss and sadness and remembrance. Everyone has to go through it for the most part. It’s truly a matter of time.
And ALL THAT MATTERS IS WHAT YOU DO WITH THAT TIME.
No matter what your relationship – call your mom. Tell her what and how you feel. If you’re so lucky – go hug her and take in through all senses what that is. What she smells like. How her skin feels and how WARM it is. The real LOVE that she’s expressing to her baby child. And hold that memory for as long as you can.
Li’l mommy? I’ll miss you always. You were the very best mommy anyone could have asked for. Thank you for being mine.