10 August 2007
In moments like now, time is a blank slate experience. I arrived in erie at 8:30 last night, after a long day of delays and sitting. Hoping. Silent praying. Flying and driving.
On the 7th floor, I hugged my mother and sister for the first time in nearly two years. together, we gathered around mh’s hospital bed. I kissed her forehead, held her soft, fleshy hand for a long time. She breathed slowly and deeply and I wondered if she knew I was even there. And then her eyes fluttered open a little and she spoke three raspy syllables: there you are. Her fingers almost grasped my hand. I’m here, I said. I love you so much.
Soon she was agitated, thirsty, and cried out for water. My mother swabbed her mouth and her tongue, as I stood there, staring and holding her hand.
I knew that this moment of three women gathering around our dying matriarch would one day be a memory, a story. I tried to be present, but the exhaustion, the suspense of ‘will I make it in time’, and the sight of such fragility all brought me to a halt. I could only stand there dumbly. I was hungry. I asked my mom for a piece of gum. My back was stiff.
Today, mh was piqued. Her fluttering eyes didn’t see us anymore. My sister and mother and I chitchatted all afternoon. A friend came by to pay his last respects. My cousin tom, mh’s son, arrived after work. we alternately joked and sat quietly with hands on mh, holding our breath when she waited to inhale after a long exhale. peter fonda is in town today, leading a rally of a bazillion bikers for a cancer cause, and all the streets around the hospital were to be closing down soon. And so we left her at five o’clock. I kissed her on the head twice. I told her I loved her. Her forehead was cool and smelled like hospital soap.
I spent the evening at tom’s house, drinking beer with him and his wife, jean. We told stories and laughed, and when I left a little after 9:30, I told him to call me if he got ‘the call’. Twenty minutes later mh was gone.
It’s 1:30 am as I write. I am sitting on my mother’s couch, in the same spot I sat ten years ago the night my father died. Mh said his name the other day when she was still sort of lucid. She talked of her mother and her husband and then her brother. Bob. I wonder if he is near, if he helped her over the threshold between here and there.
Ten years ago, I held my mother as she wept, and I knew that moment would one day be a memory, but I was numb and blank. Two hours ago we sat on separate couches, drinking a beer, and her tears were gentle and sad. She lost a companion tonight.
I am grateful that I am here in this house of ghosts and stories, where my family has lived and died since 1928. Every creak and groan of the wooden floors is familiar; it was my home once. It was mh’s home once. My father was born here. Their mother died here.
I have not yet cried. This will be a story someday, of how I made it to erie just in time to say goodbye to my beloved mh. I will remember the relief and the grief, the stories tossed back and forth across her hospital bed, and the chance to be here with my mother, my sister, and my cousin.
Tonight, I am simply an exhausted girl sitting on a couch, who hopes she will sleep well.
How is it possible that mh is gone?