If the phone rings in the middle of the night, my heart jumps up into my throat. Before I can even pick up the phone I’m already thinking ‘OMG someone has died. Something terrible has happened’. I’ve been conditioned by several such phones calls over the years. News that my grandmother had suffered a stroke. Urgent request to come watch sleeping kids, when my brother was rushed to hospital. Most of those specific dates I no longer remember, and the details get sketchy with the passage of time.
June 3, 1990, however, is the day I received a predawn call telling me to get in the car and drive the 150 miles to my parents home immediately. Those details and that date are still clear and firmly fixed in my fuzzy memory. My mother had collapsed and had been taken to the hospital after almost half an hour of heroic CPR by my brother to keep her alive til the ambulance arrived. It was a cerebral aneurism. She did not survive.
This could not be real. This could not be happening. This was not in the plan. Even though it seemed like a dream at the time, it’s amazing how 23 years later I can remember so many minute details about that day. The weather. The sun rising as we drove east on highway 10. That nasty cop in the middle of nowhere on the empty road, who pulled me over and gave me a hefty ticket for driving 80mph (that was in the days of 55mph limits), even though I was sobbing and trying to explain that my mom was dying … I’m clearly not over that … I’m still mad at him. My dad’s face as we walked into the hospital. The neurosurgeon’s usage of the word ‘flat line’. The old clunky pay phone in the ICU waiting room. Calling friends and family far and near to tell them the news … attempts to sooth the pain, by sharing it with others, who also loved her.
She is gone, but not forgotten. She was wrenched away from us so very suddenly and painfully. We are healed, but we will never be the same.
I’m republishing a letter a wrote to her earlier this year entitled “In case you’re wondering if you live on“. It will be a day of reliving, remembering and cherishing. Mom, you live on in our hearts and the way we live our lives. We are all thinking of you today.
In case you’re wondering how, or even if, you live on in our lives — I wanted to reassure you that the seeds you so carefully sowed all those many years ago are thriving and even propagating strong new shoots. The careful preparation of the soil, the tending of that young garden, the hallmarks of your special touch are still evident today.
I see your face in the mirror and realize it’s me. I see your fingers on this keyboard and see the same characteristic marks of your hard-working hands. I welcome home my college student with the same joy and urges to feed him and spoil him — just like you did for me. An inexplicable irritableness can sometimes intervene in the simplest dealings with teen-somethings — remember those turbulent waters?
I hear your voice coming out of my mouth when I sing, and laugh at how joyfully I can sing so poorly. I see my young adults cringe at my behavior in public sometimes, and know they have seen you too, and it will all be good in the end. When a jag of uncontrollable laughter erupts from deep inside, it’s your laugh I hear. Those same laughter tears I once found so embarrassing feel like blessings to me now. My heart’s desire is to create a place in the world, where my family feels at home, nourished and loved. I know that comes from you. It seemed less ambitious than a bona fide career, when I was younger, and now it is the only thing that really matters.
As I approach the same age you were, when you were so abruptly and prematurely wrested away from us, 23 years ago, I am comforted by all the ways I witness how mothers live on. You missed the days of sitting in this beautiful garden you planted, but the garden is in full bloom, because of your vision and tender loving care at those critical early stages.
With love, your only daughter.