I was with her when she drifted away from us early Sunday morning. I did not, at first, know what I was seeing: there were some short sharp shallow breaths, and then there weren’t. “Take her vitals,” I said, “take her vitals.” It wasn’t until the night nurse unfastened the oxygen tube that I understood that there wouldn’t be any more.
Finally I could put my arms around her the way I’d wanted to since I got off the plane two months ago; she’d become so thin and fragile that I’d been afraid to hold her too tightly, and it was hard to maneuver in a hospital bed anyway. The last week or so Rebecca and I had started taking exhausted naps with our heads lightly brushing her shoulder, but I hadn’t fully embraced her since the day I left her back in April, when I took such things for granted. Mom was so slight that there was enough room for me beside her on the single bed until my sister arrived and I had to say “Yes” when she whispered “She’s gone already?”
Since then there’s been a lot of errands and a lot of business. We go down to the island next week and before then arrangements must be made, bills must be paid, appointments must be attended. We have to find a new home for the cats and to wait for my passport to arrive. We have to clean out the apartment and dispose of the all the unused meds. We have to break the news. We have to remember it, every day; every day we have to remember it.
There wasn’t anyone better than my mother. There wasn’t anyone more giving or gracious; there wasn’t anyone I loved more. Grief’s road rises up brokenly before me, and now I go along it, trying to hold on to her and let her go at the same time. Now I know what I was seeing. Now I know that that was the last breath.