*reflective, depressing post ahead*
Fourteen years ago I was 17 and doing all the normal teenage things. Dating, fighting with my parents, starting to plan for college (I was a junior in high school), participating in after school activities. At this particular time of year I was involved in the theatrical production of Fiddler on the Roof. No major part, just part of the many “extras”, but it was a pretty extravagant production for high school and a lot of fun. We were set to have our performances the next week and I stayed to watch the rest of the play, once my part was done (I think I was only in the first act or two) because it would be my last chance to watch it since everything else was dress rehearsals from then on.
Let the “what if” game begin. What if I’d left when I had the chance and gone home earlier? What if I’d gotten home just an hour–45 minutes–30 minutes earlier? Would it have been enough to save her life?
Fourteen years ago today, I came home to the sight of police cars and and an ambulance in my driveway. For a long time after, I could hear sirens or see the flashing lights without having a moment of panic: who else in my life was I losing?
That night, I met my dad coming out of the house, rushing to the hospital, ten year old brother in tow. My mom had had some sort of attack. Being young, I chose not to go, instead staying behind with my brother and waiting. Neighbors came over to be with us, but I don’t really recall much of that time passing. My aunt and uncle showed up. They already knew what my dad was coming home to say.
I broke down a little. Okay, a lot. I accused my dad of lying. Might have screamed it at him, actually. I remember very little of that time, the days that follow, but there are a few vivid memories. The first is of my uncle, at my reaction, telling me I needed to “be strong” for my dad. And my aunt shushing him. Too late, that stuck. The second is of my dad’s aunt (my great-aunt) sitting next to me, in the front row, at the viewing and telling me it must be difficult, losing one parent and having the other in such a dangerous job (my dad is a special investigator for the state crime bureau). I’m pretty sure I didn’t respond to that at all. I don’t think I was able.
The first time I saw my mom…my mom’s body…wasn’t until several days after she died. I didn’t go to the hospital, so I never saw her there. It wouldn’t have mattered, I don’t suppose, because she was never able to be revived. So I first saw her at the funeral home, I think the day of the viewing, but many hours before. I did not handle that well. They hadn’t told me, but her corneas had been donated (months later we got a letter saying her corneas had given someone the gift of sight) and she had extreme bruising around her eyes as a result. Also, she wore glasses, and they didn’t have the glasses on. The combination of the two things sent me into near hysterics and I’m pretty sure I claimed that wasn’t her. They took me out and later brought me back after they’d “fixed” her (heavier make-up and her glasses). Right. That made it easier.
I remember that I wore lavendar to the funeral. It was important to me not to wear black. My dad wanted me to keep my mom’s sapphire ring but I didn’t, I wanted her to be buried with it. Just before they closed the casket, I took off her sapphire necklace. Later, the chain broke and I lost the necklace. The loss of that necklace is still something I mourn very much. I remember attending the play and sitting in the audience–they’d added inserts to the programs dedicating the run of Fiddler on the Roof to me and my mom. Ironic, that I ended up being able to see the whole thing from the audience anyhow, when that is the very thing that had kept me from home. And I remember sorting her clothes, her crafts and her prized possessions. telling the Schwann man (frozen food delivery guy) who came to the door that mom had died. He never came back.
Those are my major memories of that time. Anyone who ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if you saw the episode where Buffy’s mom dies, it’s a very disjointed episode, flashing from scene to scene. That’s how my memories of that time have always been. It was a very isolating time for me, because teenagers aren’t supposed to have parents who die and my friends didn’t know how to treat me. For them, I pretended everything was okay and things were normal. I was “strong”.
And now fourteen years has passed and some of the anniversaries of her death have been harder than others. The earlier years were very hard, of course. And the year that my grandfather’s funeral was on the anniversary of her death was particularly difficult. But some years, it’s not so bad. Relatively speaking.
This year, I’m mostly melancholy, watching Brianna grow and knowing that she’ll never meet her grandma, though my mom’s picture does sit on Brianna’s dresser. But Brianna is blessed in having my in-laws live so close, she’ll grow to know them, and my dad and stepmom when she can. As for me? Well, I still miss her, but I don’t suppose that will ever change.
Atomic Tumor’s wife lost her battle today. He’s been blogging about BJ (his wife) and her hospital stay. The entries have been difficult to read and my heart goes out to him and his family. He and his two sons will remember November 17th just as vividly as I do each year now. I hope you’ll say a prayer and send positive thoughts for them. Their journey is just beginning.