It came out of the blue.
It’s the one that everyone gets at some point in their lives…one, at the very least…but most often it’s more than just one over a lifetime.
The call. It is inevitable. No one can escape it.
As I sit here, I look at the blank page before me in complete silence. This time, there is no music in the background to spur what little creative juices I may possess. I cannot think about music…actually, I cannot think about anything with much clarity. There is a huge, empty hole now where there once was a space filled with a swirling concoction of emotions, laced as always (believe it or not) with love.
But I need to put down something…even if it woefully lacks in anything….
Mamma is gone.
It has been two weeks since sis and I received the call. No matter how “prepared” you think you are, you aren’t. It’s as simple as that. We knew our mamma was in poor health. We knew this day —as it is for all of us— was inevitable. Still, the call was unexpected.
Mom was found unresponsive after a fall. There is no telling how long she had been on the floor in her home when she was finally found. If she would have worn her emergency call bracelet, she would have been found almost immediately. If only. If only mom would have done so many things differently…..
Sigh. It doesn’t matter now.
Doctors placed her on life support since the DNR paperwork was not immediately found. Sis was beside herself over this. We both knew that mamma would not want extreme measures to keep her alive but still, doctors were trying to assess her condition and we needed time to get to her. “Do whatever it takes,” my sis said. And though it made certain people who had no right to be involved blink twice about it, it was absolutely the right decision. It gave us precious hours. Later, a kind reassurance by her doctor reaffirmed that we had done what was best.
Sis and family were on the next plane out…and so was I. Rocket-man came home early to find me a wreck. He was not going to stay behind either. I cried with relief that he’d by at my side through what was about to unfold. He took over scheduling air travel and securing a rental car. Little did we know that spring break would make the process of getting to Arizona more of a challenge than usual. In fact, panic almost got the best of us over it. It took longer than usual to find decent flights and it would take nearly five hours to book a hotel room for all of us! Between spring break, baseball spring training and the approaching Easter holiday, most hotels in the area were booked solid.
Twenty-four hours after the call we were at our mother’s side. It took my breath away to see the shape mamma was in; she was terribly bruised from the fall, almost unrecognizable. It was if she had been in a car accident. Being on blood thinners does that to a person. And certainly, it was a shock for us to see the breathing tube and the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest due to it.
Sis and I tried to remain as composed as possible in the face of what we knew was coming. Through blinding tears we waited to meet with the doctor who would give us the story. I stood on one side of the bed holding mom’s hand and sis did the same on the other side. The critical care nurse could not have been more gentle and compassionate with us. Honestly, sis and I were like two lost little lambs in the face of a dark, brewing storm. The nurse encouraged us to keep talking to our mother. “She knows you are both here,” she said in a soothing gentle voice. This was difficult to grasp given the scene before us. It comforted us beyond belief to learn some days later from dear friend Miss Cookie: “Hearing is the last sense to go…rest assured, she heard both of you.”
It wasn’t even a half hour later when the doctor arrived. He confirmed our very worst fears; mom had most likely suffered a massive stroke. Because she had a pacemaker he could not conduct an MRI which would have provided a definitive diagnosis. Still, the CAT scan revealed significant bleeding on the brain and another showed a mass in her lung. The prognosis was not good. Surgery to relieve the swelling? Ah, what a gut-wrenching ache to decide no. Mamma would not want extraordinary measures…and certainly not another surgery. The doctor did not think she would regain consciousness.
Sis and I knew what we had to do and the decision would cause a piece of our hearts to break over the sheer weight of sadness and reality of it all.
It was surreal; for a fleeting moment I thought I was in a dream. This happens in the movies. I never thought things would be this way.
At 5 p.m. the critical care nurse gave mom a bit of morphine to ease any pain and then pulled out mom’s breathing tube. Sis stayed on one side of the bed holding mom’s hand, talking to her in both English and Italian. I pulled out my iPhone and selected one of my a classical music playlists on Spotify. Albinoni was one of her favorites. As the music started playing I placed the phone on her pillow next to her head.
As the sweet, soulful sounds of Albinoni’s oboe concerto filled the brightly lit hospital room we stayed by our mother’s side. Caressing her forehead, we continued talking to her. We lamented…we remembered…we cried…we forgave.
A little over an hour later, at 6:20… just as the sun was setting in the desert she loved so much our mamma took her last breath. Through my tears, I barely managed a Hail Mary and sis made the sign of the cross on mom’s forehead. I was a mess of sobs over her. Sis was too. Coming around to my side of the bed, sis put her arms around me. For a moment, we clung tightly to each other. Our love for each other was never more apparent than in that moment.
Our mamma was a colorful force of nature to be sure. There were many wonderful qualities about her and yes, throughout many years, she often made it nearly impossible to like her. But we sincerely loved her and we always will. Our devotion to her, through thick and thin…good and bad…and everything in-between was met with many a shaking heads through the years. “Why are you doing anything at all given how your mother has treated you”? I’ve asked myself that question a time or two. And yet, after all the grief and pain I’m not sure I’d have changed anything. Living a life with mamma has made me a stronger, wiser, more compassionate and loving person. There were lessons to be learned from life with mamma; I’d like to think that my sis and I have aced with flying colors some of those lessons.
From here, now that our mamma is gone, but not forgotten, it’s a day to day…moment to moment journey through new territory. My sis and I will do all that we can to carry the best of our mamma with us until the end of our days.
And so, just as our mamma wanted, we spread her ashes in the Carefree desert, alongside her husband that left us in the same month just two years ago.
Addio Mamma. Riposa in pace…Rest in Peace.
“Into the freedom of wind and sunshine,
We let you go.
Into the dance of the stars and the planets,
We let you go.
Into the wind’s breath and the hands of the star maker,
We let you go.
We love you…
We miss you…
We want you to be happy,
Go safely, go dancing, go running home.”
~Ruth Burgess ~