My Mom is Gone
My mother died 4 weeks ago in a car accident. My grandma, eyes crowded by her swelling brain, died from her injuries one day later. There isn't much to write about this. An accident. One blink, and they're gone. I often write to make sense of patterns that emerge in an examined life, but there is no sense to be made here. Bad things happen. The dead leave us.
Is my mother dead?
In the hours after the crash, we couldn't find her. It was Saturday, dusky light suffused with soft lamplight. My brother called from the hospital in tears. Our grandma had been airlifted with him to a trauma hospital. They told him she was okay, she was speaking, but this hid a truth they didn't want him to process alone. It was a kindness.
Still, no one could find our mom. I lay my upper body across my kitchen counter because my knees wobbled. He said, I'm worried about Mom, but I heard the tremor underneath, one that belied the truth. He'd had to crawl out from underneath her limp body during his rescue.
I called one hospital then the next. A police station. The highway patrol. A dispatcher scanned the police report while I waited on the receiver. Is my mother dead? I asked Mike. He'd already found the news report, a badly mangled gold van toppled on a Florida highway.
One fatality, read the caption.
Is my mom dead? I don't know, Jamie, but tears rimmed his eyes.
The dispatcher confirmed information as she scanned. My brother taken here. Grandma there, too. She paused so long at the end of the report that I knew in that exact moment.
I knew it in my bones the way I know my name. I knew it the way we feel the earth shift during an earthquake, waters rise with the floods. Nothing will ever be the same, but it's coming anyway. The dispatcher stammered on the other end as I fell to my knees. The report didn't say what hospital. She stopped, but the leap was easy to make. My mom never made it to a hospital.
She was dead on impact. Blunt-force trauma.
Like a light switch flicked to illuminate a room, I now lived in a new world, one without her.
My mom is dead
For days, I said this like it might bring her back. I was trying on my new reality, convincing myself. My mom is dead. I said it again and again as if I was waiting for someone to correct me. These felt like my first words. I waited for it to feel true.
Instead I felt nothing. It was as if she'd evaporated. Maybe never been. I knew from the photograph of the accident we would never see her body. I knew she wanted to be cremated, no service - we couldn't afford one. And, in the middle of Florida, a town she didn't know, a state she didn't like, who would have come? There is also so much I don't know.
What you should know is that my mom was funny. She hated surprises. She never felt love in a pure sense. She experienced it through a prism that refracted its light and shot it back outward. She could be cruel when she felt wronged, worse if you wronged one of her children.
She loved us.
Once for Christmas she wove me a rug from rags she kept around the house and wrote a poem to go with it. It's one of my most cherished objects. She apologized for the rug's splintering threads, its uneven edges. She had no money for gifts that year. I kneel every night to meditate and pray to her on that rug. The poem pulses with her heartbeat, words like blood in my own body.
I want my mom
I'm left with my own regret to keep me company. Hers and my own. She weighed 450 lbs at her death, a woman marooned on an island of her own flesh. I often couldn't reach her. She had dreams of seeing the Grand Canyon, going to Rome.
In my last trip home, she thought we would share a hotel room and have a girls night. I wriggled loose, something about spending time seeing my brother's new baby. But the truth is I couldn't handle watching the visceral reality of her demise. Hoisting herself toward the bathroom. Gasping for breath through her breathing machine. What would I give to have this choice back. I would make the right one this time and spend the night asking her about her life.
Why weren't we enough to save her? She loved us, my brothers and me. But we weren't ever enough to make her well.
I catch myself thinking now - no, not thinking, it's more a thought stamped into me - I want my mom. A tantrum, a wail. I want her here with me.
We are like two expressions of the same hope, my body her body, her moods my moods. I feel like how babies must feel when they watch their mothers cross a room without them. How can what is so clearly part of my being get up and walk away?