By Meg Weber
Wait for the elevator to open, the green one in the lobby of the hospital where she gave birth to you. Wait for the doors to close, buttons to light up, the soft rise of the lift and the faint ding of arrival. On the sixth floor, walk the sterile hallway to the same room she was in last time. Brace yourself to see her, frail and exhausted, curled up in her hospital bed.
Wait for her eyes to peek open just long enough to notice you before she returns to fitful sleep. Feel your veins pulse with more emotion than you want to swim through. Wait for her to wake up again or for the shift change. Wait until you can’t bear to wait anymore.
Turn your attention to the view: forested hills to the north, evergreens for miles. Watch cumulous clouds drift across the bluest blue sky. Notice contrast and light. Feel hope and despair. Take photos of the clouds to add to this week’s study of darkness and light strewn across the spring skies of Portland.
Send a photo of the slightest wisp of a cloud to the person who carries you through your grief. Tell her it reminds you of your last time together. Wait for her text reply. Hope that this one won’t be swallowed in the ether but will arrive like an arrow of compassion sent directly to your heart.
When her answer comes in an instant, breathe in her love. Relish the way she calls you honey, taste that sweetness in every pore of your skin.
Wait until you’ve been there long enough that it counts, even though she slept through your vigil at her bedside. Wait until the new nurse comes on. Go back down the hallway. Wait again for the elevator. Doors, buttons, slow descent back to the lobby.
Wait for permission from your five older brothers to leave town with your sister for her son’s college graduation. When they unanimously consent, let yourself finally decide to go. Wait all weekend for updates. Wait for the call you hope doesn’t come. Make an unspoken pact with your sister to not ask if there’s news about mom. When it arrives, wait for her to come to your hotel room to tell you.
Wait as her words fall into your heart: hospice, a few weeks, dying.
Wait for your girlfriend to arrive at eight thirty on a Tuesday morning for a stolen pair of hours in your crowded lives. Wait for it to stop feeling surreal that you have a girlfriend again. Notice your heart abuzz in a frenetic spin.
Wait one extra second before opening the door when she knocks. Bookmark the tension, that grainy uncertain ache. Greet her with open arms. Paint two small kisses behind her ear. Sit together on the couch. Try to knit your emotion into words.
Wait until your phone vibrates twice before checking it. Discover missed calls from your dad and sister. Read the text telling all the siblings to go to mom. The time is now. Wait while her words spark your nervous system. Text back on my way!
Ask your girlfriend to walk out together. Change your shirt. Dress in tangible comfort – your grey hoodie, jewelry bearing words to protect you and make you visible to yourself. Grab your phone and purse. Close the door. Realize you’re locked out of the house and car because your keys still hang on their hook inside. Go to the lockbox on the side of the house. Retrieve the hidden key and fetch the originals. Return the spare key.
Say a distracted goodbye to your girlfriend and get in the car. Wait for your phone to connect to hands-free so you can call your sister then your best friend. When your friend doesn’t answer invoke the signal by calling back. When she answers, “Are you OK?,” tell her no.
Wait for traffic lights, for slow moving trucks, for your turn to merge. Park at the care center as your sister gets out of her car. Think to call out to her and decide against it. Flash to a memory of arriving at the same time to your other sister’s apartment the night you found her dead. Expel that thought from your mind.
Enter the room where your mom is dying. Hug your sister. Kiss your daddy’s cheek. Take his hand in yours as his tears fall freely. Wait for your turn at her bedside, to hold her hand, to stroke her forehead, to say goodbye.
Wait for the nurse to confirm that she really is dying, that she won’t regain consciousness. Watch the chaplain anoint her and pray the last rites. Listen to her breath come in ragged gasps. Wait until the room sweats with anticipation. Step outside to soak up natural light, the taste of damp spring air, and a stronger cell signal.
Send a text reaching for comfort and connection. Do you have a minute? It’s my Mom. I think this is it. Notice your whole body sigh in relief when you read her reply. Oh Honey, let me step outside so you can give me a call. Wait for the sound of her voice and her sweet attention to break you. Let tears drench your cheeks as you hold the silence between you over the phone.
Feel her encouragement land in your chest. “You can do this.” Remind her that you don’t have much choice. Let her words nourish you. “You get to choose to be present.”
Taste bitter reluctance as you say, “I should go back in.”
Force yourself to return. Listen to your dad grant his wife permission to go. “God needs you now. Go in peace.” See his faith as clearly as his balding grey hair and the age spots on his trembling hands. Feel his devotion to her saturate the cramped room.
Wait for a chance to read your mom the wish you wrote for her. Realize you won’t get a moment alone together. Read it anyway, a silent blessing. Hope she can feel your words or your hand on hers.
I wish you the freedom of love given without expectation. Breathe in the contours of that love, let it tickle your insides and bathe you in sweetness. I wish you a gentle, quick letting go and calm, quiet courage that growls at your fears to keep you safe. I wish you the most brilliant homecoming you’ve ever desired and all the love you never received and therefore didn’t have to give.
Hear your sister wrap her own farewell in words mom needs to hear. “We love you so much, Mom. And we’re so proud of you. You never gave up. We’re so proud of you.”
Wait until there is no more breath, until all the noise has stopped.
Wait for it to feel real.
Wait for the siblings not present at mom’s death to be notified. Feel the absence of your dead sister like a cavern in your chest. Stand beside the sister who is still here. Grasp the fledgling comfort blooming between you.
Upstairs at his apartment, watch your dad dial the number of an old family friend. Hear his voice splinter as he tries to speak around his tears. Gently take the phone and introduce yourself. Deliver the news that has become a mantra. “Patty passed away this morning. We were with her. She didn’t suffer.” Marvel at your sister’s phrasing, “She took a breath. And then she didn’t take a breath.”
Wait several days to publicly share the news so your large extended family hears it firsthand. Resent the extra layer of invisibility created by this embargo. Feel relief when you are finally allowed to post a photo announcing your mother’s death. Soothe yourself with the words of loving kindness woven together by your community.
Gather with your immediate family to plan the funeral. Flinch when any sentence begins with, “Last time we…” Because last time was when your sister died just fourteen months ago. Swallow the chalky injustice of that funeral becoming the template for this one.
Wait for the family priest to stop talking. Tune out his irrelevant anecdotes. Taste contempt like poison in your gut. Refuse to let yourself interrupt but give yourself permission to ignore him as funeral tasks are delegated. Wear this conviction as armor over your heart: you will not write the eulogy. Consent to read during the Mass. Know you’ll hear the Byrds singing in your head as you read about how there is a season for everything.
Relish the easy humor your brothers exchange in the face of all this sadness.
Wait for clarity to take root in your mind. Wait for the chilling numbness of this new grief to dissipate. Ignore hollow sympathy. Drink instead from the rushing rivers of genuine support. Let them sustain you in this extended season of loss.
This essay appeared previously in The Quotable under the same title.