Day 25: Think of any word. Search it on google images. Write something inspired by the 11th image.
Fifteen years ago, I was holding Momma’s hand for the last time. She’d been moved from the ICU to a “step-down” unit sometime between Christmas and New Year, giving me a sense of false hope. She was getting better then, right? Her head was propped on a tiny handmade pillow, a gift from hospital volunteers whose purpose it was to make families feel a little cheerier as they watched their loved one fade away before their eyes. My dad had left for work, that much I remember. I don’t recall if it was me or my sister sitting vigil at the time but whichever one of us was there had called the other. “I think you should come.” At some point, her best friend showed. And it was the three of us, huddled around her bedside. She was sleeping, I think. Or at least not lucid. I remember watching her breathing, holding my own breath for long pauses until she drew in her next. I remember panicking and calling for a nurse when I saw the flashes of blue in her face, across her lips. I remember medical staff rushing in as we stepped back to make room. I remember someone—a head nurse maybe—shout a reminder to her staff. “She has a DNR.” I remember watching all the monitors she was hooked up to, searching for proof that she was breathing. That her heart was still beating. I remember feeling helpless and lost. I remember someone, maybe me, calling my dad at work, telling him to hurry. I remember a panic attack and repeating over and over, “I need Chris.” I remember someone rubbing my back as I called him, begging him to come. No one had come out and said it, but it was understood. This was it.
I remember them pushing morphine through her IV and the way her eyelids fluttered as she opened her eyes to look around the room one last time. I remember holding her left hand between both of mine, crouched by her bed, murmuring to her, “It’s okay, Momma. We’re gonna be okay.” I remember holding it, still, after the staff had turned off the machines and told us to take all the time we need. I remember still holding it when my father appeared in the doorway, breathless. I remember the way his body crumpled when he realized he was too late, that she was gone. I remember feeling guilty that we’d been there and he hadn’t.
I don’t remember how long the five of us—me, my sister, our dad, Momma’s best friend, and my fiance—sat in her room after she was gone. She looked so peaceful that she could’ve just been sleeping, a thin white sheet covering her body. There were no more beeping monitors. No more labored breathing. No more blue skin. Just peace. I don’t remember what anyone said because, what can you say really? But eventually we found the strength to leave that room. To leave her. To try to learn how to go on living without her.
Every year on January 2, my sister and I still have dinner with Momma’s best friend to mark the day that the three of us clutched onto her as she left this world. But this year, the pandemic has made that annual dinner impossible. This past year has brought so many changes in routines, in traditions. But this one cuts the deepest yet, I think. This isn’t a shared experience that many people are missing all at once, like Thanksgiving dinner or the chance to have a birthday party. This is a very quiet, personal occasion that the pandemic is stripping from me. And I’m left angry. Sad. Alone.
I’m drowning. So much has changed or been canceled or taken away since March 2020 and it’s all felt overwhelming. I don’t recognize myself. I don’t recognize the world around me. Some days, I feel like the best thing to do would be to stop paddling, succumb to the waters. But it’s a new year. And vaccines are coming; several of my friends in the medical field have already received their first dose. For the first time in months, I feel a sense of hope. Hope that my second grader will be able to return to school five days per week. Hope that there might be concerts and plays to attend. Hope that a trip to the grocery store won’t cause anxiety forever. Hope that maybe we’ll be able to host a party again. So I’m going to stay home alone for dinner tonight, rather than spending it with the two ladies I really want to be spending it with. And tonight at bedtime, I’ll do what I do on the especially hard days—put some of Momma’s perfume on that tiny handmade pillow from her deathbed and cuddle it to sleep. I survived losing her. And I survived 2020. And I’m going to keep thrashing to keep my head afloat until I reach the shore.