Thursday, May 27th 2004, a day and its details forever etched in my mind. My day began with a stale bowl of cereal which had lost its crunch. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me as I sat at the kitchen table thinking soon, I too would know exactly what it felt like to lose the core ingredient which made me – me. Nevertheless, I quickly gobbled it down and made a mental note to add a box of Frosted Flakes to my extremely long grocery list. Each new entry reminded me of the chore I hadn’t gotten around to in months. With a robotic motion, I rushed through the last couple of things I needed to do before my daughter and I headed out to Washington Hospital Center; a place my brother and I due to alternating shifts, had reluctantly come to know as our second home. As she and I walked to the car, the heavy presence of the words she hadn’t spoken, the questions she hadn’t asked and all of the answers I couldn’t give walked quietly alongside us.
A somber silence greeted us at the door, inviting us in. The warmth from the sun beaming through the window was no match for the cold air flowing thru the air conditioning vents. It was freezing; just the way she liked it. I pulled the chair next to the bed and began gently rubbing her hand, desperately wanting her to hold mine in return; thinking it absurd how prior to that moment, holding hands with my mom felt silly to me. The sound of her breathing momentarily soothed me as I sat at her side until I suddenly became aware of the absence of the beeps and the buzzes I’d become accustomed too. Hesitantly, I surveyed the room for confirmation of what my ears had astutely ascertained; yes the machines were gone. Immediately, I knew I needed to pray but I’d been praying. I’d prayed about and for everything I could think of and admittedly I was fresh out of requests. The waves of emotions constantly pulling me under left me barely breathing and I couldn’t think; I was slowly drowning. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore. Despite the fact that I hated the roller coaster ride we were on complete with of ups, downs, highs, lows and twists and turns, I wasn’t ready to get off. Both physically and mentally exhausted, I lay with my head on the side of the bed and silently began to pray. I asked God for peace; peace for her; peace for us; Lord, just grant peace, I tearfully implored before dozing off.
I was awakened by the sound of my daughter’s voice softly calling my name. There was something hiding in the softness of her voice which made me very uneasy. Her next sentence set off all kinds of alarms, ringing in my head and throughout my entire body and there was nothing I could do to shut them off. “Mommy, I don’t think Mama’s breathing anymore”, she whispered choking back tears. For a split second, I wanted to just lay there; I didn’t want to move; I didn’t want to think and most of all, I didn’t want to hurt like I was hurting. A hurt unlike any other I’d ever felt before, but she needed me; she needed me to be as strong for her as Mama had always been for me; for us. I raised my head slowly trying to delay as long as I could having to actually see with my own eyes the excruciating pain and finality I’d heard in her voice. Gently, I placed my hand on her chest, hoping and praying my hand would follow the movement and rhythm of her heartbeat. I watched, I prayed, I waited and I waited. Without saying a word, I turned and looked at my daughter; the tears streaming down my face confirmed what we both knew. Instinctively, we were joined by the enormity of that knowing and as if the cue had been given, she climbed in on the right of her and I on the left; for what we both knew would be the last time we would all cuddle together.
I stepped into the hallway with my cell phone in hand, dialing and wondering what I would say at the same time. As best I could, I tried to prepare for the hardest phone call I’d ever have to make. I had to call her son, her baby boy and tell him something that would change his life as he knew it; forever. As much as I dreaded having to deliver the news, I knew he had to hear it from me; his big sister. The one with whom he shared a passage way into this life which bonded us with a magnitude understood only by the two of us; this was our journey as painful as it was. There was no doubt in my mind that he knew from the moment I said hello. The long pause indicating, he was bracing his self and holding his breath waiting for me to say it. “Ma is gone,” I uttered. Up to that point, I hadn’t said it and the sheer weight of the words I’d spoken for the first time pushed me to my knees. With space between us, yet so closely connected, we cried together; he on his end and me on the other. I wanted to reach through the phone, wrap my arms around him and let him know, although I would never be able to take her place, I would always be there for him no matter what and that she still expected us to conquer the world.
Arrangements had already been made, the menu decided, her dress picked out, bio written, solo’s selected, flowers delivered, balloons ordered and limousines reserved. Friday, June 4th 2004, we all stood in line in the church vestibule dressed in white, awaiting our escort to the front row, where the church nurse dutifully awaited our arrival with an opened box of Kleenex ready to serve. There she lay peacefully ten feet away as we readied ourselves for her home going service; the celebration of her life. With tears, I listened intently to my mother’s bio being read, my heart aching with every sentence; painfully aware of how the story would end here on this earth. My daughter too began to cry. I placed my arm around her when I overheard someone sitting next to her say with indignation, Why are you crying? This is a celebration; you ain’t got no reason to cry. She’s gone to a better place! When you have a strong faith, ain’t no reason for tears. You gotta be strong!
Within an instant, I could feel the blood beginning to boil in my body with every word spoken. I was incensed and I wanted to wrap my hands around her stiff neck and choke her until she was no longer able to spew her poisonous venom but thought a home going service was probably not the most appropriate place; or was it, I wondered. Furthermore, I wanted to scream, how dare you, be strong, strong faith, really; as if somehow our tears were evidence of a lack of faith; when in fact it was just the opposite. I wanted to tell her that we didn’t need her permission to cry. We didn’t serve and believe in a God who would question our faith and belief in him because we were mourning the monumental loss of our mother and grandmother, in addition to celebrating her life. I wanted her to know that we too believed that she was in a better place; free from this worlds trials and tribulations, resting in his arms but that we found ourselves in a catch twenty-two because we were also heartbroken because we would no longer be able to rest in the warmth of hers. I wanted her to know that is was only the strength of God strengthening us that we were able to make the most difficult decisions of our lives and still have some level of sanity. I wanted her to know that our hearts ached for the two precious baby boys that wouldn’t have an opportunity to create their own memories with their grandmother and would only know her through ours. I wanted her to know it was only our hope in God that we were able to mourn and weep understanding and believing that joy would soon follow, just like God said. As I felt the comfort of God’s arms surround me, I realized it didn’t matter if she knew because he knew. I took my daughter’s arm pushing her up out of her seat; gently guiding her to the space on the other side of me. I placed her head on my shoulder, resting mine on hers. With tears, I wrapped my arms around her tightly and said, “Go on and cry, go on and cry”.