Nineteen years ago today, I was awakened from a death-like sleep by the harsh ringing of the telephone. I had come home for some desperately needed rest while caring for my mother in her final weeks of life. I stumbled my way across the dining room and picked up the receiver. My dad was at the other end. His first words to me were, "Kristine, if you want to see your mother alive one more time you'd better come! She's taking her last breaths right now!" Even tho this phone call wasn't unexpected it sent a wave of shock thru my system and for a moment or two I couldn't respond. Finally, I managed to get out, "I'll be there as soon as I can!" and I dropped the receiver back into its cradle as my mind reeled.
I don't remember if I showered. I don't remember calling Dear Hubby to let him know my mom was dying. I do remember being fully dressed and climbing in to my neighbor's car for a wild 90-mile-per-hour ride across the I-205 bridge; he wanted me to get there before my mom slipped away. He dropped me off in front of my parent's apartment and as I walked in the front door on wooden legs, I knew I was too late. She lay on her hospital bed in the living room, so still. My dad and sister-in-law were there, as well as the Hospice people. I don't remember if I went over to hug my dad. Probably not, but maybe...I didn't allow him to hug me much. I focused on my mom and went over to her bed where I gently ran my hand across her forehead, up across her beautiful silver hair. I leaned over and kissed her goodbye. Her cheek was still warm. And as I straightened up and looked out across the room, I caught the eye of one of the Hospice nurses who smiled at me gently, a tear on her cheek.
One by one my three brothers arrived. I don't remember them going over to her to say goodbye. Maybe they did, maybe they didn't. I don't remember tears being shed. Not because we hadn't loved her but because we were taught that tears showed weakness. We were our father's kids...we were tough. Hospice had us all gather in our parents' bedroom while they removed mom's body from the house. As I sat there with my dad and brothers, I made a phone call to my beloved Aunt Gin who was like a second mom to me. I simply told her, "My mom's gone." And Aunt Gin said, "Oh, my darling. I'll be praying for you," with so much love and concern in her voice for me...then I dissolved into tears -- very quiet tears -- and grieved there where I sat on the edge of the bed.
Each anniversary of her death is easier. She's been gone so long now I don't even have a clear memory of what she looked like inside my head unless I look at a photo of her. I don't remember what she sounded like, either, unless I watch old videos with her in them. And I have precious few of those. But I do remember my endless evening walks with her when I was a little girl...special because it was just me and my mom together. I remember the crazy fits of giggles we'd get in to over the silliest things. Her beautiful alto voice and the way she'd hum as she'd iron clothes. She was not a very affectionate mother so the times when I'd be so sick with bronchitis and she'd come in and rub Vicks Vaporub on my chest, then tuck me in snug to keep me warm, were very precious to me. I can still picture so many times at the beach, seeing her figure off in the distance bent at the waist as she wandered along the edge of the surf, looking for agates. A silly old sailor's hat on her head to block off the sun. And as I sit writing this, I see her in the back yard on a blustery day, wrestling freshly-washed sheets onto the clothes line, her skirt whipping around her legs. My mother. And I loved her.