I prayed for peace. She snuck in at 8:02 am on Sunday, April 28, 2019.
Just as I realize her “random” presence, I remember: this is the day my mother died, in 1995. I think it happened at 10 am but have no idea if I’m right.
Here’s what I know for sure about the day my mother died:
Not long before the final event, my sister and I were leaving the hospital when a nurse stopped us and said: “If that was my mom, I wouldn’t leave now.” Her eyes implored us as much as her words.
We turned around.
We told our stepfather what the nurse said.
My stepfather and my sister stood on one side of my mother’s bed. I sat on a stool on the other side.
My brother awaited my mother on the other other side.
Somebody had to decide. It almost seemed a dream that my stepdad and sister deemed me worthy of, if nothing else, announcing what we’d all concluded.
In that moment, I wanted to be as brave as my mother believed me to be.
I clung to my faith. God, please help me. Is this the right thing?
A sweet ether of peace, like the kind that sweeps your heart when you see a rainbow or falling stars, tingled from my toes up through my body and back down, pouring peace into me like warm water, loosening my knotted brain and soothing my vulnerable heart.
I told the too-many people in white coats we were a go on the goodbye.
“You can turn it off now.” With the words barely spoken, panic hit.
Oh, God! Oh, God! I’m so scared! If I’m doing the right thing, show me again!
Fear settled. The soft tingles and warm wash spread through my body like butter melting on toast.
The machine to defy death was turned off. My mom stopped breathing.
The medical students and staff tried to smoothly step out, so they could go study and save living patients.
One nurse said, “You can stay in here as long as you like.” She said it as kindly as if she was saying, “It’s okay, honey. Your momma’s going to be alright.”
Her words landed absurd. My mom was gone. Just a body lay there.
My sister said she didn’t need to stay either.
As we walked down the hall, I noticed the staff who’d greeted us by name before now rendered speechless.
Except for one nurse who arrived from another floor, where my mom previously stayed.
I don’t remember this nurse’s name, but Nancy seems nice. Nancy said she felt it the moment my mother passed. She wanted to be sure to share my mother’s words, spoken in late night hours when we’d left her side.
Nancy told me my mom said she was proud of me for living life on my own terms and not letting society dictate my decisions, for being true to myself.
Nancy conveyed directly to my sister my mom’s calling her out as an extraordinary mother and woman. At least that’s what I remember.
I floated in a cloud of angel energy and having my mom’s love passed on to me through nurse Nancy. The medicine of her words entered me like the blood platelets injected into my mother’s veins.
The medicine gave me energy to move my feet, ride the elevator, and walk out of the hospital to be blasted with sweet New Mexican sunshine—bolder than death.
We walked the dirt path back to Casa Esperanza (House of Hope), where families of those fighting cancer stay. We’d be checking out.
A young couple walked in front of us, swinging their clasped hands. I thought they might start skipping. I thought about the rocks under my feet.
The lovers stopped and turned into each other for a kiss. Their voices sounded like a love song, although I couldn’t hear the words.
Their happiness hit me like a cold California ocean wave. My brain troubled with conflicting new files.
We sped past the couple, got back to the casa, and packed our bags. We cleaned the space where I learned to love Jay Leno and late nights laughing with my sister while our schedules overlapped on the roller coaster ride of my mom’s cancer.
Her cancer grew from grief that grabbed her five years prior, when her only son (our brother) died on a cool desert night in December on an Arizona highway that stretched to a place my mother would thereafter yearn to be—with her son.
She couldn’t find peace after my brother passed.
Today, 24 years after my mother’s death, she reminds me of what she didn’t know then.
It’s possible to let the peace sneak in.
I welcome it with the rustling of lime-green leaves on trees before me as I read The Granta Book of the Family and an essay called “The Business of Mourning.”
I sip coffee and think of mornings before my high school classes started and I stopped by my mom’s office for coffee.
Her eyes lit up at the sight of me
Peace. I can feel it still today.