“When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time...Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” ~John Irving~
I didn't know I would never see her again. We stood outside the doctor's office, my sister on the phone to my brother, and Mom started to tear up. What's wrong, Mom? I touched her hand. She shook her head, tried to smile but couldn't. Hey, it's okay. You alright? She looked me square in the eye, her greenish-brownish entirely beautiful eyes nearly spilling over, holding mine. I'm scared, she said.
Those words haunt me now. I'll hear them in random moments and I'll see the ache in her face--the sorrow--and, yes, the fear. She wasn't supposed to die. She just had a routine test in a doctor's office and was supposed to go back in the morning to hear the results to see if anything further needed to be done. I kissed her. Oh, mom. I said. I love you. Everything is going to be alright. We'll get through whatever it is together. Yeah? She kissed me. I love you, too. I'll call you later.
I left her. Went back to work. That night, she did call me and we talked for a few minutes about how she was feeling--weak, still very anxious. She was watching my sister decorate her Christmas tree and having a cup of tea. Her voice sounded quiet, but still exactly hers. We said our goodbyes and our I love yous. We said we would talk in the morning. I'll call you on my way to work, Mom. I can come over to the doctor's when you guys go in.
My phone rang before dawn. I got up and grabbed it from my desk where I'd left it the night before. My sister on the other end, incoherent. Screaming. I felt my body hit the hardwood floor in the bedroom, my knees giving out on me. I dropped the phone but could still hear her screaming. I finally asked her to put my ex-husband on the phone because he was already there with her. There with them. Since he lived in their neighborhood, my sister called him to come as soon as she found her. I'm so sorry, he said, she is gone. I paused. Are you guys sure? Maybe you are wrong. He wept audibly, I'm sure. I'm so sorry. You need to come.
I can't. I'm scared.
I didn't want to go there, but I did. Five years ago today, we lost her. But, I have been slowly losing her ever since. When someone dies out of nowhere like that, it takes time to move from shock to grief. Often, even still, the shock and pain of it will roll through me and I have to pause to catch my breath. I think it has taken me five years to understand that she is really gone--my grief just beginning. She was in her sixties. She was vibrant & spirited & opinionated & stronghearted & she is still needed on a daily basis, but she's gone. I wish, more than anything, I could have a cup of tea with her and ask her advice on a million things and tell her how right she was about absolutely everything. No one on this Earth loved me more than she did. I miss her love. I miss her.