September 7, 2012

My Mom Died Today. ~ Anne Clendening

It happened two hours ago, at 4:15 a.m.

I get the call. I ignore it. The phone rings again; I answer it this time, and hear the words of finality. And now I find myself wondering what the hell to do. Should I stay up? Should let myself drift back to sleep, like I did after the 6.7 Northridge earthquake in 1994?

I call my brother.

Brother: Hello?
Me: Hi…
Brother: Hey…
Me: Brace yourself. She’s gone.

The entire city of Los Angeles was in chaos the day the city rumbled and shook 18 years ago. It was 4:30 a.m. when it hit. And while people were putting their lives back on shelves and in cabinets and sweeping up and making phone calls, I went back to sleep.

What can I say? I’m not one to panic.

When you have a sick, elderly parent, you learn how to stay calm pretty much all the time. The constant hospitalizations, the emergencies, the barrage of medical information, the guilt, the horror… The anxiety of it all will fester inside you like toxic sludge if you let it. I think hospitals should have the B-52’s playing everywhere, and the ice cream man should be there, ringing his bell and selling bomb pops in the hallways. Your dog could be at your side, and maybe a trio of jokesters.

I decide to stay up. One should ponder death at a time like this… instead, I grab the remote while my boyfriend gets up to put on a pot of coffee. Maybe there’s a good Twilight Zone marathon on.

I start thinking about all the crappy phone calls I’ve gotten in my life.

Your test results are positive.
I have to fire you.
Your father died.
I want a divorce. (That was actually a text.)
We have to send your mom back to the hospital.

No wonder I hate the phone.

The hospice nurse calls again. I have to decide what my mom is going to wear when we send her off. I say “a Juicy tracksuit and a pair of Uggs.” They think I’m a lunatic. We get off the phone, and I Google what-do-people-wear-when-they-get-cremated. Apparently, a lot of people wear their PJ’s. It never even occurred to me that one might need a cute outfit in which to enter the unknown.

The hospice people tell me how sorry they are.

I’m flipping channels, and waiting until the hour the mortuary opens. Briefly, it occurs to me to just go to the gym. My dog Shamus stares at me. He knows something bad is happening.

My mother was gorgeous. Her eyes were grey and her hair was naturally dark. Everyone says we look alike, which makes me smile.

My father passed away 15 years ago last month. He was a probate attorney, beared more than a slight resemblance to William Holden and had a bona fide Capra-esque perspective on life, with a certain kindness and respectability. He was the kind of man who would sit at the bedside of the dying, in the middle of the night, with no concern regarding extra billable hours. He had a heart attack while walking up the Santa Monica courthouse steps on the way to a trial one morning, and died before he hit the ground. That’s what the autopsy guy said.

If you ask me, a quick death is the only way to go. And I don’t know if it’s wrong to not want to be in the same room as my mother when she’s “actively dying,” as the nurse put it. The woman lying on that hospital bed with the dark companions they called dementia, stroke and aortic aneurysm on her chart wasn’t my mother anymore. She had slipped into a coma.

I start looking at the yoga schedule. I need something life-affirming. My brother says he has to go to work this morning and fire someone. I start inappropriately laughing.

Look what’s on TV everybody, coverage of the presidential race! Distraction! Marvelous! Brilliant!

I get a call to sub a yoga class later today. I say no, but I don’t say why.

We’re at the mortuary. It’s not at all what I expect. Picture cerulean colored walls, inside a store front, decorated with rosaries and crosses and operated by Cheech and Chong. My mom would be laughing her ass off.

When we sit down, we’re given options from a guy named Alex, including, but not limited to: purchasing an urn for the cremated remains; infusing the ashes in pretty, multi-colored “art glass;” burial at sea, á la the Neptune Society and an underwater, enchanted garden-like graveyard; and fashioning the remains into a actual diamond. We are made of carbon, after all.

I’m riveted by this, albeit temporarily—there’s paperwork to fill out. (I make a mental sticky note to Google that diamond shit later.) Alex launches into a series of stories that we have no desire to hear, one of which has to do with people who spread the ashes of their loved ones at the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. I don’t know why the hell you’d want that to be your final resting place, but whatever. The Disneyland folks apparently thought it was a large amount of dust mysteriously collecting. Dust? Nope, think again.

All I want to do is go home and see my dogs.

My friends show up at the house, and cook dinner. They want to offer solace, even though I’m not crying. They were all psych majors, you see.

My boyfriend went back to bed today around 2:00 in the afternoon. I never did.

I’m a California girl, I’ve been through a lot of earthquakes and (here I explain the obvious metaphor) I know it’ll all be OK.

The dogs need a walk.

Two weeks ago, when my mom was still coherent, I sat with her and watched movies and had a lovely one-sided chat, because she had lost the ability to talk. I let her know I was happy, and I loved her, and all that stuff we say when we need to say it.

Death is a part of life.

It’s past midnight. I’m sitting on the floor, writing and eating strawberry shortcake. It’s been almost a whole day. I can’t help but think about the day my father passed. I didn’t want my mom to sleep alone that night; my parents had been married almost 40 years. I remember when I crawled under the covers next to her, she uttered, “I have a stomach ache.”

“Me too, mom. Go to sleep.”

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