My mother died on March 15, 2011 at ten to three in the morning. She lay in her hospital bed, muted lights trembling above her head, while one daughter slept in one hospital chair, a grandson slept in another, and I, the other daughter sat beside my mother’s bed feeling a biting cold none of the blankets the nurses gave me could ease. I listened for my mother’s raspy breathing, something that had kept us company for so many of those last days, and heard nothing but early morning hospital sounds. Mechanical sounds, sweeping sounds, buzzing light sounds. And still the cutting chill in my bones persisted.
At three a.m., a nurse came into my mother’s room, touched my mother’s chest and flicked on the lights. She called another nurse, not so much for help, but to confirm what she and I already knew even though neither one of us had exchanged a word. Both nurses had stethoscopes and put their hands on my mom’s chest, their ears to her mouth. Then they looked at us, two daughters and a grandson and said, “we’re sorry”, as if these miniscule words were supposed to take the horror out of our faces, ease our suffering, sum up what had happened, help us understand.
A few minutes later as my sister and I stood over our mom, watching the nurses take off my mom’s wedding rings; we heard a loud bang at the window behind us. We all jumped. I wondered out loud if a bird had hit the window. The nurse said that wasn’t possible as my mom’s room looked onto an inner courtyard. My sister and I have wondered if it was my mother’s final good-bye, her reminder to never forget her. As if we could.
Two years have gone by, an anniversary of sorts, although there is no celebration. There are days I stop what I’m doing suddenly, and think, geez, I haven’t called Mom today. There are days when I actually try to dial the number expecting to hear her voice on the other end. There are tears of longing that creep up at the oddest times from a pain I can’t begin to describe. There are times I want to scream and shake my fist at the injustice of it all. And there is laughter and jokes too when I think of her eccentricities (I now know I come by my own honestly). But there is always the void and sometimes the kind of bitter cold I felt the night she died. Every single time I achieve something I’ve worked hard for, or enjoy the company of an old friend, or discover something new I want to tell her, I feel again and again the vacuum her passing has left in my life, similar I expect to how one might feel for a missing limb.
I’m going on of course because she’d be mad at me if I didn’t. I tell myself that I’m lucky to have had a mother like mine, to hurt and miss her so terribly. And I remember my father’s words: “She is always with us, watching over us, protecting us.” I repeat those words every night and pull up the blanket she gave me long ago from her trousseau, (a blanket that is older than me and will likely outlive me too), and feel the warmth of her hand against my cheek as if she were still here and I was a child again, needing to be comforted. In the weight of that blanket, I finally find some warmth.
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