There have been e-mails to write. People to tell. The girl I’ve known the longest of anyone, the daughter of family friends. I decided not to send the e-mail on Christmas. Hey there, in all the ribbon and light, just thought you should know…
You have to decide how you are going to put it. Just thought you should know, mom died. It seems rather harsh, just putting the word out there. You don’t ask questions about “dead.” No ambiguity there, no soft edges. Not even an upside to work with. If you tell someone she is with God, then at least you’re framing it in terms of having company.
Passing. Passed. Dying. Dead. Departed. Deceased. Transitioned. Perished. Asleep in Christ. In a better place. Awaiting her heavenly crown. Taken. On the other side. Lost. Laid to rest. With God.
I have been using “passed” because it seems more comfortable. For other people. But that’s not how I think of it. To me, she’s just gone. She was gone a week ago, even though her body kept breathing. She left when the doctor told her that there was nothing else to do. Not surprising: the woman lived by to-do lists. When that last radiation session was checked off and there wasn’t another task waiting for her, she quit.
Being a quitter sometimes takes more courage than carrying on, just in case it sounds like I’m being critical. She demonstrated a tremendous fighting spirit right until the moment the coach told her it was time to let the fight go. She did good.
I told her.
Last night I dreamed I was telling someone there had been a death in the family (why does that sound less horrible than “mom’s dead”?) But it took me a long time in the dream to remember who exactly it was who had died. I went through the female relatives that preceded her out of life and when I’d finally eliminated all the alternatives… I was as stunned as the dream-person I was talking to. My mom is dead.
I’m suddenly aware of how many times a day I put something on the “tell mom about that later” shelf. The thought happens before I can divert it, and now those thoughts lead inevitably to the week before Christmas: the memory of the thing that happens when your skin is no longer oxygenated. The part where she’d been “sleeping” so long with her mouth open that the nurse couldn’t get her jaw to shut once she wasn’t breathing anymore. Picking mom up in a five-pound box. The knowledge that, included in her ashes, there is also the remainder of my black hoodie.
I wore that hoodie a lot, and it’s gone too, and I’m not sure how it is going to be replaced.
But then nothing is really replaced. Whatever happens next, whatever I’m wearing, it is going to be brand new. She was something. Now she’ll be something else. Nothing is created or destroyed, only transformed.
And my mother is gone. Not to the grocery store. Not on vacation. Not back home, or to my sister’s place, or to spend time with her mother. She’s gone for real. I suppose I’ll keep filling up that “tell mom about it” shelf. It will become over-full with bric-a-brac that will get dusty and forgotten. It will just sit there.
Because she’s gone.