Three years ago on December 2, 2008 my mom had a massive stroke. She died in the hospital a week later on December 9th. And so begins what I unaffectionately refer to as “Death Week”.
I still remember the phone call I got from my husband. It was 11:30 am. I was at work. I hadn’t picked up the phone when my brother called three times, and I ignored my husband’s calls until he sent me an email saying to “PICK UP THE PHONE. IT’S AN EMERGENCY!”. That morning work was more important. Oh, how I’ve learned since then!
My husband (then fiance) said my brother had called him to tell him about the stroke, after not being able to reach me . My dad was 30,000 feet in the air, traveling for business. Poor guy barely landed before getting right back on the same plane for the return trip.
I called my brother. He was in the ER waiting room. He was with my mom when it happened, and I could tell he was overwhelmed. He shuts down when scared; I go into full-on survival mode. There is probably a happy medium somewhere in between those two, but we did not find it on that day.
He put me on the phone with one of the doctors who was, given the chaos of working in an ER, extraordinarily patient. She gave me the broad strokes, took my cell number, and promised to call back with more details.
In the meantime, I searched online for flights to DC and tried to finish up all my work so that if I were gone for a week or so, there wouldn’t be loose ends. In retrospect, I maybe should’ve just said, “Fuck it– I’m outta here.” But that was “before”. I didn’t yet have the insight of the “after”. (And like I said– I was in survival mode. I kept pushing through because I just didn’t see any other option.)
The ER doctor called me back a few hours later. I was in my car taking a break because I just wanted to be alone. I jumped to grab the phone. My mom had had a hemorrhagic stroke and there was massive bleeding. Surgery was a remote option, but first the bleeding had to stop. I asked her whether I should make plans to fly back or if it could wait a few days. I essentially wanted to know how bad it really was, without asking that particular question. I will never forget her response. She said,”If it were my mother, I’d want to get on the next plane, and if you were my sister, I’d like you to be here.” Done. I hung up and started bawling in the car.
I finally got it together, went back to my office, filled in my boss (who’d been out that morning), and left.
My now husband came with me. We booked flights with returns the following week. I had no idea what to expect, so I booked it figuring we might change it.
I remember packing and I pulled out one of my favorites dresses. It is a wool black and white checked dress, very “Jackie O”. My mom loved that dress. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, there was a little “What if?”. In my typical fashion, I always wanted to be prepared. And yes, that was the dress I wore to the funeral. To this day the dress is still hanging in my closet. I can’t wear it, but I can’t get rid of it.
We got to the airport and I settled in for the worst plane ride of my life. And that was the beginning of Death Week.
Today I am feeling ok. I don’t know if it will hit me later. I’ve found in the past that this day is actually worse for me than the 9th. The 2nd was really the day everything changed. In the past three years my life has changed unimaginably. Some changes for the better, and some for the worse. Today, I am trying to make an effort to remember the better.