Yesterday my dad asked, “You know what tomorrow is?”
I needed no reminder. Not even the Christmas Cactus that decided to unfurl on the anniversary of Mom’s passing. I knew to the minute the moment Mother drew her last breath.
One year ago, the morning began as any other: alarm sounding, daughter getting ready for school, morning duties.
Then the text from my brother: Mother is in the hospital.
She shouldn’t have been in the hospital. I had just left her. Dirty clothes piled beside the machine were a testament of my late-night return to Georgia from North Carolina.
Besides, Hospice was under strict orders to contact me first if something happened, because I had a 4 hour drive to get to her. They hadn’t called.
After speaking to the hospice nurse I determined it was drop and go time. I placed my daughter in the car, fake smile pasted to my face, and took her to school. Then I hit the emergency flashers and drove as fast as humanly possible -never at a safe speed- with one hand on my lights, blinking them at anyone ahead of me. I was thankful for my fast car, having no way of knowing that two weeks later an impatient driver would hit me, total the car, and alter my life-path.
We never know our future: remember that because it is important.
The nurse called while I was en route: “We’re upping her oxygen, hoping to hold her until you get here.”
“Don’t.” I pleaded. “She’s ready to go. Please, please don’t hold her here.”
They didn’t listen.
Mother wasn’t conscious when I arrived. But she heard me when I said, “Momma, Jesus picked a beautiful day to come get you.”
Those were my first words to her.
She heard everything that was said: remember that because it is important.
Patients hear everything said over their bed. Everything.
And so I stood, for hours begging (silently) for Jesus to come take my mother. When I asked the nurse what happened, their response was, “she spiked a temperature.”
Mother never regained consciousness but she was very much aware of who was in the room. I know this because she waited until my brother left the room to draw her last breath. My mother: protective of her son until the last breath. It is the firstborn’s duty to watch their mother suffer.
She was also listening when I bent low so only she could hear me and uttered the most painful words I have ever spoken, “It’s ok to go. . . just let go.”
It was not ok for her to go, not really; but when it is a matter of death, a daughter bend over and whisper go, must lie and tell her it’s ok.
I will not share how difficult it is to watch someone die, to hear someone die, to be with someone who is in the laborious and lengthy process of dying and have that memory flash in your mind a million times over; I will however share my brother’s wisdom: Everyone will be here one day.
And now a year has passed.
Those will calloused hearts, or those who are lucky that death hasn’t taken a loved one, or are tone-deaf to death rattles, believe that one year is a long time. Listen to me when I tell you that for a daughter who never had the relationship she needed one day is a blink.
Death and sorrow both wear no watch.
One year is but a blink.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches; Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned a SIBA and GAYA nomination. Visit her here.