Month 09, Day 01, Year of Diagnosis.
Please read this post first for Content Warnings.
You died today.
I made one request as you left, “Tell them I say ‘Hello.’ That I miss them?”
The pieces of our little family that went before us.
I sat there, waiting for hospice to arrive, make the official declaration, eating dry cereal because I have to take my meds with food and if I didnae do it then, I probably would’ve missed the dose. You would tell me to go eat, had you the breath to make those words. The same way you’d implore me to go get some sleep while I waited for your last round of meds to take hold so you could sleep when you started getting worse.
‘I will, when you’re comfortable enough to sleep.’
You needed ice packs around your neck, you’d get so hot. And it hurt to sleep in other positions and even some that had been comfortable before, were no longer. I could sleep knowing you were OK for a few hours and that Carl was right there if you needed something.
I came downstairs that morning, check on how you were. I had counted your breaths that night, I checked them again as I got you fresh ice cold water, and ice cubes because you prefer them. You asked me to move your knees, your feet were goan numb because your current position made your hips hurt less. I helped you then massaged your legs then your feet. Your skin was dry, so I said I’d get some lotion, you told me no. So I stay, keep massaging, pausing enough to get a straw, the ones you didn’t like to see if I could make it into a dropper. I suddenly knew you couldn’t sip on your own. I couldn’t get enough coverage on the bubble straw to make it into one. I had stopped massaging your legs by then because you were comfortable for the moment. I covered your feet the way you liked them covered.
I send a request to the nurse about getting a dropper, and decide speaking with her would be faster than messaging one handed. I ask Carl to please stay with you, rub your arm, speak to you so you know he’s there. That’s when I realize you weren’t as responsive as last night, not as responsive as you were moments earlier. I recall your wide blue eyes locking onto me when I gave you some water, rubbing your arm telling you ‘I’m here.’
I know when you died. I know when you let go.
I absently stroke your arm and I don’t know why. I started inching up the blanket, despite that you no longer need it. I smoothed your nightgown, closed your eyes, astonished I wasnae bawling my eyes out and simultaneously grateful. I felt all the places I didn’t even know existed within me that were capable of breaking, slowly fracturing. Crackling veins that molassed, deceptive in their care because I felt each fissure.
I waited to be angry. We go there first. But the familiar and somewhat soothing fury was barely an ember. Everything was slowly dimming.
I stare ahead at nothing; I tell Carl it’s OK to tell his family. I know they won’t say anything until I can find it in me to tell the rest of ours. I start feeling overwhelmed at the idea of the phone calls. In the cacophony of my mind, I remember last night that you mentioned a specific date. Your nurse (and also friend) asking you what was so special about that particular date. I ‘laugh’ the kind of laugh that’s mostly breath pushed out of the nostrils as I explain. It’s the day your retirement account, the same one you spoke of months ago, observing that they weren’t making it easier for anyone t’die in this country, would be linked to her bank so she could have it closed and cashed out. Mom’s still thinking about things left to be done. Like her closet. Her car.
My laugh was all amusement, because I knew where your mind was, but we both knew it was an unimportant detail. And I also knew that you wouldn’t stop worrying about me. Worry about leaving me in a financially bad place. Worry about my having to do as you did when da died- going through his things, donating clothes, etc. You’d tried to get friends to ‘shop in your closet.’ Worry about what this was doing to me. The same worry that’s been a throughline since the day you found out you were goan to be my mother.
I tell you to not worry; that I’ll be fine.
As I sit there, moving your hair just so, I realize that’s what you were waiting for, my ‘It’s OK.’
They were kind, the people from the funeral home that came to get you. But you had liked them when you talked with them months ago. I would be at the funeral home later in the afternoon, to make sure your wishes were carried out to the letter.
Carl and I had started to clean things, just to do something. The equipment used to care for you, we started to gather it together, for the inevitable pick-up. I’ve never known the fog that drifted over me, the numbness or realizing I’m standing in a room and have no idea why; the slow terror when it feels like my mind won’t work. I learn the word later: shock.
I called my work; managing speech through tears, poorly.
That’s when I knew I didn’t have it in me to make phone calls. I tell our family that in the letter I send them.
I tell them you’re gone, that you died peacefully surrounded by our love. That you know how much each of them love you and ‘please take some solace in knowing that she didn’t want anyone to see her in her final days. She wanted your last image of her at the healthiest she was ever going to be, when you saw her last. I hope in time you’ll come to see and know it as a gift.’
I reassure them.
‘I’m goan to be OK.
You will be too. Because you’re amazing and magnificent.
It took me hours to write that. I stared off, then shut down each time I thought about just calling. Then I stared down the checklist of other notifications that the funeral home provided.
If I’d learned anything with da, wi’ Lils, wi’ coming out the other side of my clinical depression, it was how important ‘Forward’ was.
Forward, no matter the measure, is forward,
I pick up the phone, find that I am right in not trusting my voice. It’s all I can do to not sob at the poor unknowing soul on the other end.
“I need to report a death…”
The agony of saying that you were gone out loud will never leave me. The kindness of each stranger on the other end telling me they’re so sorry will never leave me either. I figure to press on, while I’m still so raw. That maybe…maybe I’d be able to finish the letter. I write the calls down, it felt prudent to make note of it. You died in the early hours of morning. It was nearly two in the afternoon before I was able to send our family the news of your passing. The pressure of the appointment with the funeral home loomed which didn’t help. The shock of it all still on me didn’t help. I lost count how many times I started something only to stop and not know what I was doing and why I was where I was.
The other words that needed writing hung around me; the ones for your extended family- the ones you chose. I didn’t get a sentence in before I needed to go. I still had papers to find and take with me. To put ‘real clothes on,’ whatever the hell that was supposed to be. I call the funeral home to tell them so sorry I’m running late, but I’m on my way. They understand. Why did I think they wouldn’t understand?
They tell me of the container options, but you never had to worry about anything. I know you want nothing fancy, no expense made unnecessarily because you shared da’s sentiment: doan waste the money on it.
“…so shove my ass in a box and get my ashes home. No urns, ye hear me. Or so help me-”
“You’ll haunt me for the rest of my days.”
I sign the contract and it hurts. My arm’s gotten worse and writing and signing both are hard and hurt which is contradictory since my hand feels perpetually numb. It’s not til I write this that I realize I got the small mercy of not thinking how much signing is another acknowledgment of finality. Until now.
In truth, you may have been on your way to haunt the credit card company that called shortly after you died that morning while we waited for the funeral home to take your body.
“May I speak with Hels”
“She’s no able to take your call.”
“Do you know when would be a good time to speak with her?”
There was a pause, the kind used to process an unexpected answer, “She just died.”
“I am so sorry, I-”
They tell me they’ll put a note in the account, but they said the very same thing the other two times they called in the last four days. I remind myself it’s not the caller’s deserving on the other end, he’s been polite. I tell him that if they don’t put some kind of hold off on calling, I can’t promise I won’t say something far from nice the next time. The caller understands. To their credit, they have not called since.
I sat in that small room in the funeral home, documents galore with me stepping through the paperwork, answering questions needed to complete it. Birth certificates, death certificates, marriage licenses, etc. The man that saw to everything, I call him Macoy. He was dazzled by your birth certificate. I guess no one handwrites them anymore, let alone in penmanship that edges towards calligraphy. It is beautiful work. He catches himself asking for a copy, it dazzled him so much. He has to step out momentarily to address another client and I look at my phone which has buzzed earlier in our conversation. I see a message of support from a family friend, and am reminded that that notification is looming over me. Some time later, I get another buzz and look, it’s a message of condolence from another family friend. I haven’t told anyone but our family. Maybe they’ve already posted something, but the thought immediately dismisses itself. They wouldn’t do that. I get in the car and sit; catching myself looking at the passenger side. The side you’d be sitting on.
Then I drive home.
I go back to my screen, to find those words for your extended family. Your phone is nearby, I’ve told it to back its data up. When I check on its success, your social media notifications are what catches my attention. I look back to the earlier messages I received. The slow horror creeps in- condolences start coming in, barely before I was able to find the broken pieces of myself and tape them together so I could tell our family. And keep them still enough to tell the rest. I reach out to one of people that contacted me while I was at the funeral home, ask them how did they know? They tell me who called them notifying of your passing. I still don’t know how they found out; I never told them.
I rush those words, knowing there was little to do but to try and get ahead before anyone else finds out by way of RIP posts. I will forever have the horrific plummeting of my heart to my stomach when I saw my da’s parents and half-sister found out you’d gone through one of those RIP posts. And the only thing I could do was apologize profusely to them that this was the way they found out; tell them that I’ve barely been able to notify all our family.
I know they’re grieving too, this person that did that. But I sour because they didn’t ask if all the notifications had been made. It bears echoes of the past, feels as if because suddenly I’m not wading in my grief fast enough for onlookers. There may be little truth to that but two deaths preceding yours has not cultivated a sense of trust in people’s intentions. I chose to say nothing- the damage done cannae be undone.
I remembered to eat something that night, only because I have to have food to take my meds.
I sit by my bed on the floor, this is the last trip upstairs for the the day. I stare ahead of me, numbly even though my eyes burn with tears. I said you were gone out loud today. I remembered to use past tense as much as possible and I process the ridiculousness of minding to do that, to be ‘correct’- something you’d playfully tease me about. It brings more tears because there will be no more loving teases like that. And I breathe the way I do when I don’t want to be heard crying. No…when I don’t want to be crying. I realize I forget where I am again, why I was on the floor. Did I drop something?
‘Go get some sleep.’
‘OK. Love you mom’