My mom was diagnosed with cancer in early October and died in later November.
It was a rough couple of months.
At first she seemed to be okay, other than the pain. But things progressed quickly.
I waffled on whether or not to rush out to see her. I had just started a new job. The holidays were near.
She told me not to come.
I booked a plane for mid-December, thinking that it would be my time seeing her.
Then she took a turn, as they say, and was unable to talk on the phone.
Then she was sleeping for 23 hours a day.
I booked a flight for the day after Thanksgiving. A friend graciously invited us to Thanksgiving dinner, otherwise I am not sure we would have celebrated the holiday.
The next day, my wife and son drove me to the airport to say good-bye. I took a little plush Wall-E with me and told my son I would take pictures of Wall-E to send to him.
I stepped on the plane to make what would be the most difficult journey of my life.
Every minute of every hour was more grueling than the last. I was traveling from California to Georgia with stops in Houston and Jacksonville, Florida.
The sun was falling as I landed in Houston. It was noisy and overcrowded, adding to my stress. I do not travel much and when I do, I do not enjoy airports and flying. I long for the day the Star Trek transporter becomes a reality, I always think when I am traveling.
In the back of my mind, a terrible thought lingered. During the entire twelve hour trip, I had the feeling that my mother would die before I got there. This was most acute in Houston where I had a long wait in an uncomfortably, claustrophobic, narrow cinderblock terminal.
The second plane was small, no frills, almost rickety. I heard some guy talking about how this model of aircraft had been popular in the 80s but most were long ago decommissioned. Reassuring.
We landed in Jacksonville where it was butt-ass cold. I hadn’t had time to pack properly and was not prepared for the weather. At least it was a nicer airport.
I wandered around in an exhausted haze, looking for my ride to Georgia.
Without a hello, the rent-a-van guy gave me the once over and piled my stuff into the van. There was a second guy in the passenger seat who spent the whole drive playing games on his phone. The whole thing felt pretty dubious. Probably mainly because I was on the last legs of my journey and even more anxious than ever to see my mom and dreading what I was about to face.
My dad greeted me in the front yard when we pulled up. We embraced awkwardly and he took me inside. It was a brand new house. My parents had lived there for less than a few months. It was my first time seeing the place. I was struck by how beautiful everything was. For a moment, it was all I could focus on. But only for a moment.
My dad rushed me in to see my mom, who seemed to have sensed that I was there. She was awake and calling out. Before I went in, my dad barely had time to tell me, “She’s been up for days asking for you and your brother. Last night I thought we were going to lose her.”
I walked right to her and said, “hi mom” in a voice that sounded like child’s. She whispered a hello and I leaned forward to hug her and kiss her, something we rarely did. I told her I loved her, she told me she loved me too. I told her I was sorry I didn’t get there sooner. She didn’t respond. It was clear she was ready to sleep.
I was given a bedroom across the hall where, after writing a couple of very short stories, I collapsed as well.
She woke up one more time to see my brother who arrived in the afternoon the next day. She asked to be turned on her side.
She never woke up again. She died the following day.
My dad, my brother and I spent that day preparing a Thanksgiving meal. There was a lot of talk about “this is what she would have wanted”. We were all torn between fits of crying and bouts of numbness. The worst part was that I would soon have to leave my dad alone.
The day after she died, my dad and brother dropped me off at the airport in Jacksonville. I took a somber flight home. Another stop in Houston, where I picked up a book for my son.
My son, I thought. I will buy him a ticket to Georgia in December and together we will fly back to see my dad.
At least my dad will have that to look forward to.
But then what?