Seven years ago today, you quietly drifted away. It was a Monday.
I had spent the weekend with you. I sat by your bed and prayed that you would go, knowing that it would be the only relief from your pain, but still feeling guilty–and selfish–for wanting you to leave this earth.
I went back to Pittburgh on Sunday night with the knowledge that the end was near, but little did I know that it was less than 24 hours away.
I remember that night with a clarity that astounds me. I remember eating dinner at the coffee table as Mike and I watched TV, discussing his first day at a brand-new job. The phone rang and Mike and I looked at each other and KNEW. No caller ID was necessary. It was Dad, telling me that you were gone. Mike poured me a pint glass of vodka. I drank it like it was water. It didn’t help much.
I remember the numbness I felt the next day, making the trip home as the world around me was in turmoil. I sat in the passenger seat as Mike drove. We listened to the news channels the whole way. I felt like a passenger, a bystander. Able to watch and to take it all in, but do nothing about it.
I remember stopping along the turnpike near Somerset, not long after the plane fell out of the sky nearby. The manager at the McDonald’s laid into a customer who was complaining about them being out of bagels to make breakfast sandwiches. He said, “There are more important things going on in this world than your breakfast.” Everyone at the counter agreed.
I remember getting to the house and not being able to find Dad at first. He was in his garage, a holster around his waist, a beer in his hand. In my old bedroom, there was a rifle laying across a laundry basket. Dad was talking about how close Camp David was to our house and that we needed to be “prepared.” I didn’t know whether he was drunk . . or right. Or both. He left for the funeral home a little while later to make the arrangements.
I remember what I wore to your funeral. It was hot that day and I was dressed too warmly. I didn’t notice until later, standing at the cemetery with the sun beating down on me. I remember being angry at the minister that gave your eulogy. He didn’t know you. He had a few facts about you and strung them together like a sixth grader writing a report about a book he didn’t read. But I sat there in the front row, numb, not having the strength to get up and take over. Not wanting to cause a “scene.”
I remember all of the people who came over to the house. I realized with alarm that I had to be the hostess. I couldn’t just hide in my old bedroom and wait until they were gone. I had to accept the food and flowers, remember who gave us what, and then write it down so that I could send them a thank you note later. I was 27, married, a homeowner. I had a college degree and a good job. But that day was the first time that I felt like a “grownup.”
I remember cleaning out your closet and dresser drawers, needing something to do but disguising it as being one thing that Dad wouldn’t have to take care of later. I stood there in your room with handfuls of your underwear and socks, wondering if Goodwill would take them. I went back and forth between the trash bag and the Goodwill bag not knowing what to do, confused and unable to make a decision. You would have thought it was funny. I could almost hear you laughing at me and saying, “Why in the world would you give my UNDERWEAR to Goodwill? Throw them AWAY!”
Time is supposed to make the pain go away. I guess it has in some ways. But seven years, well . . .it’s no different to me than, say, two years. I still miss you. I still see funny things and think, “I’ll have to remember to tell Mom about that.” I still tear up at pictures of you. When I was pregnant I was upset that our child would never know you, his or her grandmother. When I wasn’t pregnant anymore, I wanted more than anything for you to be on the other end when I made that phone call.
We had 27 1/2 years. Why can’t I remember more of our time together? Why do I remember it as little blurry snippets here and there but not full high-def conversations?
I can remember the “laugh attacks” we used to have where we gasped for breath and just one glance at each other would trigger a complete relapse. We had one when you were driving me back from Pittsburgh one time and we had to pull off the road because you were laughing so hard you could barely see. I still smile when I drive past that spot. I have no idea what set us off that time but it must have been good.
I remember playing “dirty Scrabble” with you one night when I was home from college. You looked at my letters and gave me suggestions on which dirty word would score more points, although I can’t remember what those words were.
I remember you not saying a word the first time I came home drunk. It took me twenty minutes to get from the back door to my bedroom. Your bedroom door stayed closed. I thought I was sneaking in. But you knew. Early the next morning you scrambled some eggs and brought the whole skillet into my room, held it right above my aching head, stirred the eggs, smiled, and asked if I wanted breakfast. To this day, scrambled eggs do not smell good to me.
I wanted out of the town I grew up in, and you slowly let me have my independence while letting me think that I was claiming it. You taught me how to fly, but never failed to welcome me back to the nest when I needed it.
And yet, when you tried to strike out on your own, to be more than just “mom”, to fill your own needs instead of your children’s for the first time, I resented you for it. I wanted my own wings, but to be able to clip yours.
That’s what I regret most–the time we lost. Whether we were disagreeing on something (that was probably so trivial to you but monumental to my adolescent mind), or just going through our own growing pains, it’s still lost time. I took you for granted, thinking that you would be there forever, that I could fight with you today because there was always tomorrow.
Our “tomorrow” was cut short.
Seven years ago today, I lost you–some of you. I lost your presence, your physical being. I lost your smile, your voice on the other end of the phone. But I still have YOU. I have memories. I see traits in ME that I recognize as being YOU–whether hereditary or learned, they’re a piece of you that I have forever.
I don’t have your eyes, or your smile, or your chin or your nose. Physically we were as different as two people could be. I have your sense of humor. I have your “devil may care” attitude about some things that should be taken more seriously and your intensity about things that others would deem as insignificant. I have your passion for reading, your love of getting lost in a book or character. And your cooking skills, oh Lord do I have your cooking skills! You’d be so proud of some of the meals that I’ve over- or under-cooked.
Most importantly, I have something of yours that I can’t really put a name to. I guess I’d call it your spirit. It grows stronger as time goes on. I’ll always be, well, ME, of course. But as I flip the calendar pages and count the days, months, the years, since you’ve been gone, I know that it’s the strength you give me that allows me to get through the next one. I know that you’re with me.