I am beginning to not like the phone. The phone is not my friend anymore. As I was leaving work, my sister calls to say, “Hurry Gretchen.” Is today the day you are leaving us Mom? “Lord,” I pray, “please Lord, let me make it to the hospital on time.”
After consulting with the family, the doctors are removing tubes and medicines from you Momma. They fully expected you to fade away quickly. Your BP immediately dropped by half. But those doctors don’t know you, Mom, like we do. You stabilized yourself and kept whispering, “I love you, I love you all.” Then you started saying your prayers. I really think you were saying the rosary. And, of course, you were talking to your deceased children, Donna and Eric. You will be seeing them soon, Mom. I know you miss them so much, and we had you far longer than we could have ever imagined. We are at peace with letting you go. But it still hurts, DAMMIT! (That brings a laugh. DAMMIT was your favored curse word. I think that was the first word all of us kids muttered.)
We are all in your hospital cubicle, Momma, up here in SCU at West Jefferson Hospital. The staff is the most wonderful staff in the world. They had all been celebrating your fighting spirit and your will to live. They are all as heartbroken as us. We are watching every breath you take. We are watching the monitors. Surprise, surprise, your BP climbs a bit and your oxygen is at 100%. Every little sound you utter we jump up and surround you. Please Momma, please, open your eyes one more time. I have got to see your eyes open one more time. Nothing. The priest visited earlier to give you your Last Rites, and that seemed to be the end for you.
Late at night, everyone has gone home except me & Paw (my most wonderful step-dad of 31 years). I feel a sneeze coming on. I always said I had a sneeze that could wake the dead. Time to test that hypothesis. Achoo! Sure enough, you open your eyes wide and stare at me surprised. Then you look a little angry. I say, “Sorry Momma.” You grumbled something and shut your eyes, possibly never to open them again. But that is okay. I got to see your eyes open one more time. God granted me that wish. And a little lagniappe, your BP rose even higher.
Paw and I call it a night about 1:00 in the morning. Paw starts to cry on the way home talking about you. It hurts to hear Paw cry. He goes home to his empty, over-sized Paul Bunyan bed. You have shrunk so much in recent years, Momma, and Paw always had those little, short legs. The little set of steps on each side of the bed are so adorable. It was always cute to watch you two, tiny elderly people climb in that big, old bed. Now Paw doesn’t even sleep in the bedroom. He sleeps in his recliner, missing you, Momma. Your laundry basket with the rope tied to it sits empty by the dryer. You were always so cute dragging that laundry basket behind you all around the house, dragging clothes to and from the wash room. Your presence will live on forever in that house. Please, Momma, please wake up and come home.
I open my eyes to a new day, Momma. Our new life without your lively self. Before I head back to the hospital, I have to go see your friend, Mrs. S. You don’t know this yet, Momma, we haven’t been able to tell you that Dennis passed away. Like you, Mrs. S is burying a 2nd child. As I am walking across the street to her house with tears in my eyes, my mind wonders back almost 37 years. I was 19, home alone, after visiting Donna in the hospital. I had to come home. I couldn’t take watching my sister die. Everyone else stayed at the hospital. I was home alone and the phone rang. My phone was not my friend that day either. It was your aunt, Momma, calling to say how sorry she was Donna had died. But I had not known that yet. I was home alone, after just burying my daddy a year before, and I hear my sister died. I panicked. I ran out of the house to Mrs. S’s house, crying the entire way. I ran into her house and into her arms, and she hugged me and took care of me until you got home. Today, once again, I have tears in my eyes. Donald, Dennis’s older brother, opens the door for me before I even knock. We look into each other’s tear filled eyes and don’t have to say a word. I rush into Mrs. S’s arms and we cried and cried. We cried over Dennis and we cried over you. We remember good times and finally part, but we each have a little lift in our step. Please, Momma, please wake up, your friend needs you. Mrs. S needs her friend.
Kris and I are headed to see you again, Mom, wondering if today is the day. We stop to buy a muffaletta for Paw and Cindy (our beloved step-sister of 31 years). Today is the day you are being moved to a private, hospice room. I do not like that word – hospice – so final. I do not want final when it comes to you, Momma. Your BP was down to 60/33 when Cindy first got there in the morning. But her hugging you and rubbing your hand raised it back to 70/33. The family is ushered up to your room to wait for you while you are being prepped for the move. I hand Paw a root beer and he says the root beer is really big and will last him well into the night (he’s used to sharing his root beer with you). Then he knocks it over and spills most all over the floor. Well now it won’t last you all night, Old Man. Then Cindy drops her muffaletta on the floor. Well I tell you, Momma, that was the best fed floor. We were having a good laugh when your bed is rolled into the room. You look so tiny. I had to tell you about Paw and Cindy how they were misbehaving and you should get up out of that bed and fuss. Please, Momma, please wake up and fuss at Paw and Cindy. But you chose not to comment on that.
Paw’s legs are swelling, Momma. He’s not taking care of himself like he should. We convince him to rest with his legs up in the recliner. He is struggling with those little short legs and Cindy is trying to help him. Well, lo and behold, the recliner is on wheels and Cindy inadvertently sends Paw rolling across your hospital room. I tell you Mom, we can’t take these two anywhere! We are belly roll laughing as the social worker walks in the room. He must be wondering what kind of nuts we are. We diligently listen to him speak about hospice and we become somber. But, it doesn’t take long before we are belly roll laughing, again, and the social worker walks in, again. We are filling your room with laughter, Momma. Please, Momma, please wake up and laugh with us.
You have a visitor, Momma. It’s Bradley. Well, of course, I had to tell the nurses all about Bradley. Remember, this is one of our favorite stories, Momma. I remember coming home from first grade at St. Anthony. I said, “Momma, there is this bad little boy named Bradley at school. He’s really, really bad.” Remember you told me to stay away from him? Then one day I am looking out of the window from our house and I yelled, “Momma, Momma, that bad little boy Bradley is across the street! Momma, Momma, come see.” You told me to just stay inside. Little did we know that 24 years later that bad little boy Bradley would become my step-brother. Poor Bradley (my beloved step-brother of 31 years). We never let him forget that. But he is a good sport and let us laugh, at his expense, to make you happy. Please, Momma, please wake up to hear the Bradley story one more time.
Kris decided to share a Katrina story. You remember this one. This was when you, Paw and Kris were hurricane refugees in Beaumont, TX. Paw wanted to fill up Kris’ car and get it cleaned so he took her to a quarter machine car wash. Well Kris is handy with a sewing machine, but don’t give her anything else mechanical. She has never held a car wash wand in her hand. She put the quarters in, and had no idea of the water pressure that was about to come out of that wand. Paw happened to be standing in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Paw was now covered in pink, blue and white suds from head to toe. Kris is still trying to control the wand and continues to squirt suds all over him. He said Kris wouldn’t point the wand the other way. Cindy asked Paw why didn’t he just move. He said he was in shock. After the spraying quits, Paw and Kris are laughing and he removes his eyeglasses. Kris said all she could see were two big eyes staring at her from a mound of pink, blue and white suds. They said you were so shocked when they returned to the apartment and Paw was soaking wet. Oh Momma, please wake up and laugh with us.
Look Momma, you have more visitors, your nephew Rusty, his wife Gladys, and one of their daughters, Ingrid. Now Erica is here, or as you lovingly call her, your first bad-egg grandchild. And then Shawn (our beloved niece of 31 years) stops by. Your room is full, Momma. We are all reminiscing, laughing and filling your room with lots of love. Please wake up, Momma, and join us.
Well Mom, it is time for me to return home. I have to go to work tomorrow. I leave the hospital crying crocodile tears. I want to call my daughter, Kodi, but I cannot get that lump out of my throat to speak. I finally get my act together and call her, but she doesn’t answer. So I continue with my cry-fest, Momma. I am already missing you. I am in full blown hysteria mode and my phone rings. It’s Kodi. I summoned your strength, Momma, and got my act together to talk to my baby. Well I could have kept crying for the blubbering mess me and Kodi were. She doesn’t want to lose her grandmother. Please, Momma, please come back and live with us a little while longer. Eventually, our phone conversation turns to fun times, but she has to go to tend to her young family. Rowen, your youngest great grandson, has taken off his diaper with poop in it. Shane and Kodi must go search the house for poop. I am once again left alone to my memories of you.
Life is still rolling along whether I want it to or not. I stop to see my Avon sister and we discuss our Avon booth at the upcoming Picayune Street Fair. I called Kris to let her know I made it home. Home – to Spooky Hollow – and the tears start flowing because you will never be able to visit here again. Your son-in-law, grandson and great-grandchildren are all waiting to greet me in my fragile state. Please, Momma, please wake up and come visit me at my crazy Faux Farm.
But I know that will not happen. The phone, which is not my friend, will soon bring the dreaded news. When that does happen, please, Momma, please come and see me in my dreams.
Time flies. It was 37 years ago I ran to Mrs. S’s house when my sister died. I mistakenly typed 27 years.
This is beautiful, Gretchen. What a beautiful tribute. Your love for your mother and your family flows through your words. What a blessing you are to your mother. I know she will be praying for you from heaven. God be with you and your family.
Gretchen, my heart is breaking for you. When we met your parents when they fled from Katrina, we knew they were special people. Your letter is full of loving memories. Hang on to those. I’m sitting here with tears streaming down my cheeks. Darling, never fear; Your Momma will never leave you. Her physical body will leave but her spirit/love will always surround you and Kris watching over you both. Love, hugs, and prayers for your Momma and family. Aunt Betty & Uncle John