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What day was it? The past month was running together in my head. It was the same thing every day: wake up, mom was already at the “rehab” place, get dressed, go see grandma. I didn’t regret it for a second, but for a 13-year-old, the same thing every day got boring. I felt like I was in the movie Groundhog Day.
“Maybe… Maybe you should go?” having trouble lifting her eyes from the floor, my mom looked up at me. Her eyes were sparkling, but not with their normal glisten. Tears, were rising to the blue in her eyes.
“Why, mom?” I tugged on my shirt, for what felt like the hundredth time. My stomach was groaning and my “nice shirt” was uncomfortable. It was well past dinner time and I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to be at my warm home, in cozy clothes; not here, not in a cold, hostile rehab place. I pulled on my sleeves this time, the air was cool, clammy, and filled with weird smells.
“Well, sweetie, you’ve been here for almost 16 hours now, don’t you want to go home and get dinner with dad?” she swallowed, I knew she didn’t want us to leave. I looked at her, really looked at her. It seemed like all the color and life had drained from her.
“Oh. Ok, I guess. I’ll ask dad when he gets back.” I agreed reluctantly.
She nodded and went back to holding her mom’s hand, rubbing it gently. I couldn’t bear to hold my grandma’s hand; her skin felt so thin. I stared at my grandma’s face, her eyelids were fluttering and she was breathing deeply. Sleep seemed like the only place where she could find relief from the pain. It would be wrong to leave when she was asleep, but it was so too hard when she was awake.
“You want to go get dinner?” My dad came back into the room, ducking to avoid hitting his head against the TV shelf.
I thought about it for a second, did I really want to go? I had a feeling I shouldn’t leave, but I ignored it. “Yeah, ok.”
We hugged my mom and I kissed my grandma on her head. She shifted but kept snoring peacefully. I collected my bag and notebooks and started to walk out into the hall. My dad and I walked in silence for a while, down the cold hallway. No one was out there, it was too late. We turned left and walked through the lobby to our car.
As we entered the car, I glanced at the clock. 11 o’clock. Late as always. I turned to my dad, “Do you think we should pick up food for mom too and we could bring it back here and eat together?”
“That’s a great idea! But, you seem a little tired, don’t you want to get home and rest?”
“I want to have a dinner all together, we haven’t done that in a while.”
“Okay, where do you want to get food?” the engine bumped to life.
“Let’s just drive until we find somewhere to stop.”
“Sounds good.” he bobbed his head.
As we drove I realized just how pretty St. Petersburg was, palm trees lined the median and street lights glistened, talking to the stars. I couldn’t find the moon, I looked everywhere and yet, it was nowhere to be found. Then we turned right, and pulled up to a Pei-Wei. I had never had much interest in Thai food; but what was wrong with trying new things?
Everyone in there seemed to be on edge. Darting back and forth, back and forth, grabbing chopsticks, fortune cookies, and forks. Every American-ized Asian restaurant always had forks, for those of us who are not coordinated enough to use chopsticks.
Once we had picked up our food, from a very on edge employee; we drove back to the rehab place. We came into the lobby, it was usually guarded by a middle aged, bleach blonde woman, but tonight she wasn’t here. It was disappointing to not hear her 5-inch stiletto heels on the tile floor.
“You can put the food down there, on the coffee table. I can go get mom.” I held my head high, I was the one who came up with this brilliant plan.
I walked back down the hall and turned left into my grandma’s room. She was still sleeping, breathing heavily.
Next to her, asleep in the chair, was my mom. Her head was tilted back, leaning against the window.
“Mom?” she continued to sleep. “Mom?” I asked a little louder.
“Who? What? What happened? Mom?” her eyes darted around looking for the source of her summon. “Rachel, sweetie, I thought you left.”
“Dad and I brought you food, it’s out in the lobby.”
“Aw, thank you! I’ll go get it soon, maybe after you leave.”
“Mom, we want to eat dinner with you.”
“Oh, Oh! How sweet, yes, well, we could eat here!” she began to shuffle and try to clear off every available surface, I grabbed her wrist, it felt bonier than usual.
“Mom, mom, stop. It’s ok, there’s tables and chairs in the lobby, we can eat out there.” I continued holding onto her wrist and began to tug her lightly towards the door.
“Oh, okay, that’s good.”
We walked down the hallway to the lobby. There we sat down, thousands of smells wafted from the open containers. My mom sat to the right of me and my dad across from me.
My dad, Curt, turned to my mom. “Are you going to stay here all night? Honey, you do need to sleep sometime. Your no help to your mom if your dying from exhaustion.”
“No, Gary (her brother) is coming at midnight to sit with her. So, tonight I think I’ll stay at mom’s.”
“Oh.” My dad nodded, he knew that my uncle always started legal or emotional trouble with Grandma.
We sat and ate for another half hour, exchanging lively anecdotes. The lobby was warm, or maybe it was nerves, I kept sweeping my hair into a bun and letting it fall down my back again. When the containers were empty and dad looked about ready to loosen his belt, we knew it was time to leave.
I wanted to go back to Grandma’s room and say goodbye, but she was asleep, and it would hurt to see her; but it did seem like it would hurt her, and me, more if I left while she slept. I dwelled on this for a moment. She needed her rest, so I settled for a kiss on her forehead and gently squeezing her wrist.
Mom and I exchanged hugs and a quick kiss on the cheek, “Goodnight, sleep tight!” she whispered in my ear.
“I love you, mom.”
“I love you too, sweetie.” her voice cracked.
Dad and I walked back out of the lobby, the doors closed as we waved goodbye to mom. It would be weird trying to sleep while she was so close yet so far. The idea made me uncomfortable, but I had already dealt with this for months. Grandma was sick and Mom was never home! I knew it was selfish but I wanted them back, the way they were.
Dad and I drove over the bridge, back home. We pulled into the drive way.
“Home again, home again, jiggidy jig.” My dad always recited that rhyme when we came home, he refused to believe I was too old to recite it with him.
We went inside and I turned the TV on. These days, I was rarely able to sleep at night. I guessed tonight would be the same. I turned on the TV. I needed the light-hearted humor of Friends. The soft sound and pulsing glow lulled me to sleep.
I eventually made my way into my bed, it was about 2 in the morning. I felt a weight on my shoulders but I ignored it and fell asleep immediately. I drifted in a dreamless sleep for a few hours, but then I woke up.
Something was wrong. I bolted upright at 4 o’clock in the morning. Why? I had a feeling, in my family we rely on feelings. We call them “vibes,” occasionally we know if something good, or something bad, is going to happen. I texted my mom, she was still driving home. I explained it to her, it felt like there was a weight on me, but I felt empty. I wondered if this feeling meant grandma was gone. No. I wouldn’t, couldn’t, think like that.
Sleep overtook me again and I stayed asleep. Usually I enjoyed not dreaming, but tonight the dreamless sleep reminded me of the feeling. Even in sleep, I could still feel it.
I woke up. It was 6 in the morning. All around my house, the sound of shuffling feet overwhelmed me. Soon, it became soothing and I drifted off again.
“Bzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzz. Bzzzzzzzzzzz.” I woke up and tiredly turned to my phone: 4 missed messages, 3 missed calls, all from my dad. I called him back.
“Dad? Why… why… did you call me so much?” I was still half asleep.
“Sweetie, she passed.”
“What?” I didn’t understand.
I stayed silent. I couldn’t believe it, I wouldn’t believe it.
“Grandma,” he paused, and swallowed loudly. “She passed away around 5 o’clock this morning, mom and I got the call at 6:00. I’m sorry.” After he delivered the news the line stayed quiet. I didn’t speak, I couldn’t tell if I was too tired or too shocked.
“What?” I whispered.
“I’m going to come pick you up, you want to come here, right?” Dad went on to explain the banter he and mom had this morning, the debate whether to bring me or not, this must’ve caused the shuffling. But none of that mattered, I wasn’t listening.
Suddenly the entire world had spiraled into a spinning black hole. Everything was misty; my mind was completely blank. The empty feeling was gone, now I just felt heavy. It was as if all gravity was acting against me and pulling me all the way down to the center of the earth. I couldn’t feel anything, was I too warm? Too cold? Hungry or thirsty? Scared or shocked?
I don’t remember getting ready, dad coming to get me, or driving to the building. Everything was cloudy. My lips felt sewn shut; I couldn’t say anything. I felt buried in concrete, I couldn’t move.
I didn’t comprehend it until I walked into her room and saw her empty bed. Dad went to talk to the nurses about what we’d have to do. He was a take-charge sort of guy, always looking ahead. Mom was standing still, defeated, staring at the bed. Tears were running off her face, there wasn’t a second that her eyes were dry. Her cheeks glistened with streaks from her tears. I walked over and put my arm around her, we stood there for what felt like hours. I didn’t cry, I didn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe it, I didn’t want to.
We stayed there, Mom and Dad talked to the nurses about what to do with the “body.” I took time to sit in the lobby and stare at the ground. I didn’t want to hear the word “body” again. Why did they keep using that word? It was still her! I still couldn’t comprehend that she was gone. I convinced myself that she was still there, still alive, still breathing, and would be back at our house in 10 months, to celebrate Thanksgiving, like always.
We drove home. No one said a single word. I’m not sure where the time went, but soon it was dark outside. The lights on the bridge blurred together as we drove. I gazed at the light on the water, it glistened and twinkled.
The two familiar bumps shook the car, we had pulled into the driveway. My vision started to cloud with tears, just this time yesterday my grandma had been alive.
“Home again, home again, jiggidy, jig.” I barely opened my mouth to mumble the rhyme. Both my parents looked at me and released a weak smile.
We walked up to the house, still not speaking. My mom fumbled to open the door, the keys jingled as her hand shook. When we walked inside dad tried to give me a comforting hug but I turned to avoid it, I didn’t want to be comforted. If I was being comforted that would mean I was accepting she was dead. I wasn’t going to do that.
He seemed to understand and walked to his office, he was in there all the time. Mom walked into the master bedroom and shut the door. I looked around, what do I do now? I walked to my room and sat on my bed.
It hit me.
She was gone. Gone, forever. “I can’t wait to see her, in heaven. Though when I do that means, I’ll be dead. She wouldn’t want me to constantly wait to see her again.” But, she was gone, my only grandma was gone. She wouldn’t be here for Thanksgiving or Christmas. If she had only lived a little longer she at least could’ve been here for Easter! But, she didn’t.
I would never hear her sassy remarks again, or see the beauty that shown, even when she was hooked to machines. Her sly flirting, humor, or her huge, loving eyes. She was so loving, and not ready to leave this life behind, so why did God take her? I said to myself: “She believes, she’s in a better place. No more pain, no more fear.” It didn’t change the fact that she was gone, leaving me in pain. I put my face in my hands, I stayed like that for a few minutes. When I lifted my head again, my hands were covered in tears. I turned my hands, they were completely glistening with tears. I couldn’t deal with crying anymore, I had an awful headache.
I left my room, and walked to my parent’s room. I could hear my mom crying through the door. Should I go in? Should I comfort her? Could I deal with comforting her? Was I even mentally prepared to comfort her? Before I could think, I was turning the door knob and walking in.
“Mom?” I whispered, gently.
She responded with a new flood of tears and more sobbing. Her face was in her hands, she was hunched over sitting on her bed, shaking. I stood in the doorway. I had never seen so much pain, but I felt it. This was a deeper pain than breaking my arm. I stayed in the doorway as this flood of emotions hit me. Anger for not being there. Sadness for losing her. Regret for not appreciating her. Greed for wishing she was here. For some unexplained reason, guilt for my mom’s pain.
I slowly shuffled over to her bed. As I sat down, I wrapped my arms around her. “Mom,” my voice cracked. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to say everything, but everything sounded cliché. No matter what I said, I wouldn’t believe it.
She moved her hands from her face. Her left arm moved to rest over my shoulder, while her right hand gripped my hand. I gripped her hand, just as firm. We sat and rocked, sniffled, and sobbed. We stayed there for what felt like hours. I was exhausted, I couldn’t feel my legs, and my hand was red with pale outlines of my mom’s fingers.
Thoughts came in waves, hitting me, one after another. She was gone, I wouldn’t see her again until I died too, but what if she wasn’t in heaven? What is heaven even like? If she was there, did she like it? Heaven wouldn’t supply her with the guilty pleasures she enjoyed on earth. She didn’t make it to see my graduation. Would God let her see it?
Suddenly memories, in the form of short videos, were playing in my mind. When she’d babysit me, parades around the house, banging cymbals. “Grandma-ma-ma and Rachel’s parades” a marvelous two women show. Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas mornings, hospital visits, the beach, trying to maneuver her wheelchair, everything was there. I had thought I forgot that stuff, yet there it was, playing on a loop.
My mom’s grip weakened, and her sobs became less forceful. Crying had taken its toll on us. I began to fall asleep, but she squeezed my hand. “Can we pray?”
“Um, yes, sure, that would be nice. Do you want to start?” The words came out rushed and jittery, I wasn’t sure if she understood.
Mom must have understood me because soon she was whispering, “Father, thank you for all that you’ve given us.” The prayer went on for half an hour, but I’ll admit, I barely heard it. Mom’s tickly hair was covering her face, and brushing my face. Also, she was mumbling, speaking to her lap. Even though the conditions weren’t ideal, the prayer still soothed us.
Soon, our tears had stopped flowing and there was more time in between our sobs. I don’t remember the rest of that night, or the week that followed. But, I do remember the blanket of peace that covered my mom and I, as we sat huddled together; mourning the loss of a vibrant, beautiful person, an even better grandma, and a very complex, crazy, mother.
It’s been a year now, but the memory of this amazing person and her passing is still fresh. The Lord has helped my family and I through it, but every so often, it hits us. She wasn’t there for Easter, we remembered. She wasn’t there for October 1 (her birthday), she wasn’t there for Thanksgiving, and she wasn’t there for Christmas. She wasn’t there on February 13, when we remembered her and her life. February 13, the day she went home.