I was finally asleep after a fitful night in the hotel when the phone rang just after 7 am. The nurse at the hospice told me in a soft voice that my mother had passed earlier that morning. She waited for a response. “I’ll be right there,” I said. “No need to rush,” she reminded me.
We had stayed with her until the early hours of that morning, and my mother had seemed stable–though we knew she didn’t have long. I had been at the hospital for two days and was running on empty when the nurse convinced me to go get some sleep. My sister Linda was also worn out and had gone home for the night. We had both slept on couches the night before, taking shifts to be with mom. It was harder for Linda, with her bad leg and back–but she didn’t complain–and we laughed a few times as we tried to make ourselves comfortable with blankets and pillows taken from supply cabinets we found unlocked during the night. I went out for a food run and brought us back burgers and sodas to sustain us. I had no idea this would be our last sisterly vigil together. Linda too would be gone in a few years.
It was on this day five years ago that I got that phone call. My husband and son were asleep when they heard me talking, then crying. We got dressed quickly to go to claim my mother’s body. My son stayed at the hotel, I didn’t think he needed to see a dead body just then in his young life. I called my sister and her daughters to meet us. My nieces came to the hospital, but Linda begged off–she’d seen enough death. She was the one who was with our father when he died only 7 months before. I understood–it was my turn.
The scene was unreal for me. My mother in the bed, there but not there. I sat with her for a short while, kissed her forehead and walked out of the room.
My mother–Flurry, short for Florence–had the energy of ten women when she was younger. She was the parent who bundled up her two little girls for a week at the beach in the summer–even if we could only afford to stay in one room together. She made sure I went to the theater in New York, and that I got guitar lessons when I wanted them. It was her encouragement that made me feel I could achieve anything–even happiness when the world seemed to turn against me. All this even after losing her eldest daughter to a plane crash, and nursing Linda through myriad surgeries from her resulting burns and injuries. How did she ever have the capacity for me after all that? Me with my rebellious nature, my sarcastic tone, my loud music and zigzag path to some kind of stability. As one of her long-time friends reminded me at her memorial service, “Your mom was an incredible person–a wonderful friend.”
I’ve waited to stop missing her–as I suspect all loved children do. I waited to stop wanting to call her and ask for recipes and for advice. And I waited to stop wanting to hear her voice on the phone. I’m waiting still to stop wanting to hear her stories — our stories — from her own lips.
Now, I’m only glad that I’ve written some of those stories down–and that sometimes, if I am very quiet, I can still hear her voice.