-Waiting for the Storm to Pass-
If there’s one thing I regret, it would be not going to see my mother that week. Living with my grandparents my whole life, I didn’t get to see my mother as often as I would have liked. She had three other children to take care of and I had school to attend, but I would go visit her on the weekends often, and we would stay up all night watching TV (usually scary movies) and eating pizza rolls. I went over there pretty often but I didn’t go that weekend. I’d like to say if I had known, I would have gone, but I wish I would have gone regardless, and knowing probably would have just made things harder. And besides, I’ve had to learn not to dwell on things like that.
I still remember the day it happened, but it’s kind of a blur to me now. I guess it started as a pretty normal day. I was fifteen, and a freshman in high school. It was an average school day, and I came home unsuspecting that it was different than any other day. I didn’t think anything was up until I got a call from my aunt. I don’t think I had ever heard her so upset in my life. She refused to tell me what was wrong, but asked me when my grandpa was going to be home. I was worried about my aunt, but I tried to brush it off. I heard the garage door open, and I headed to the garage to tell my grandpa that my aunt had called for him. “Hey Grandpa?” I said as I poked my head around the door. He didn’t answer. I told him my aunt had called, and asked if everything was alright. He still didn’t answer. I walked down the stairs. “Hey, is everything ok? What’s going on?” He stopped in front of me as he was heading to the other end of the garage and gave me a look I’ve never seen on his face before. “Grandpa, will you please tell me what’s wrong?”
When he told me, my heart hit the floor so hard you could hear the thud for miles. My first, gut reaction was that this had to be some sort of sick, twisted joke. My second reaction was shock, and my third was absolute panic. I was still trying to comprehend what exactly was going on as I bolted up the stairs and slammed the door. My ears rang so loud it was deafening and my mouth gasped for air. It didn’t feel like real life. It just couldn’t be happening. She couldn’t be dead. It was three days before my mom’s birthday, and now she was gone. I stood there dumbfounded. Without thinking I grabbed the phone off the receiver and wandered into the computer room in a complete daze, barely conscious of the tears streaming down my face. I grabbed the phone and dialed my best friend’s number by memory. I don’t think it actually hit me until I told my friend what happened, sobbing into the phone and trying to form words in between sharp and painful breaths. She stayed on the phone with me for a long time.
I don’t remember the part of the evening directly after that. My grandma came home shortly after my grandpa and I just remember all of us crying. Watching them cry like that, and crying with them, was the scariest part of the whole thing. It was the most vulnerable any of us had ever been around each other, and that was really terrifying.
All I remember after that is piling in the car and heading to my mother’s house. The whole family had decided to gather there. That was the hardest car ride of my life. I spent the whole ride wondering how I was supposed to cope with this. I wondered when the pain would no longer feel like a knife stabbing through my temples. I didn’t know how people were supposed to deal with things like this. I turned my mp3 player up all the way and stared out the window at the familiar landscape, which on any other car ride would have filled me with wonder at the beauty of the world and of being alive, but not this car ride. This car ride I looked out the window and felt numb. Car rides through that area have never been the same since. Every time we pass her road I look as we drive by and think of the last time I visited that house with my mother still in it.
We turned onto the dirt road and started down the familiar path. Their house looked the same as always, but it seemed as if it had been drained of all its color. The vividness and life in the house had been removed, and had been replaced with a dull, monochrome palette and an emptiness that clawed at my stomach. The paramedics had already arrived and their vehicles were an eyesore on the familiar landscape. I don’t remember who all was there or which family members arrived at the house first. I do remember sitting in the kitchen with my grandparents and my aunt before my brothers and my step-dad got home, then being herded into the basement with my brothers and being told to watch over them while the adults talked. The only one who knew what was happening was my little brother Drew, and I looked at my other little brothers who were 2 and 3, and I could tell they knew something was wrong but I couldn’t tell them what it was, and that was the most awful feeling. Finally my aunt came down and took my two youngest brothers upstairs. My grandma came downstairs, and her and I and my brother sat downstairs for awhile and sat and talked about my mother, mostly sharing memories, and trying to find a way to cope. As we talked, I realized I was sitting in the same chair I used to sit in when me and my mother would hang out in the basement to escape from Gary and the kids for awhile. I thought of the last time we had sat in those chairs and I remembered back on the conversation we had. I was dealing with a bully at school who used to be my friend, and my mother told me about the time she faced a bully. Sitting in that chair, surrounded by my brother and my grandma, I thought to myself that at this point, a bully could waltz right in and sock me in the stomach and I probably wouldn’t notice.
I don’t remember the ride home. But I do remember stopping at McDonald’s and then huddling around the coffee table in my living room with my aunt and my grandparents, the mere sight of food making me sick. “I know none of us feels like eating right now, but we all need to eat,” my grandma had said over the phone as we waited in line at the drive-thru. It seemed like a good idea, and I tried to eat, but food had never looked so unappetizing in my entire life. At this point I had stopped crying. I didn’t know what to feel. Of course, on the inside I was in immense emotional pain, but I wasn’t sure how to process it. It didn’t want to stay in, and it didn’t want to come out, so it just kind of hung there, heavy in my chest, and it stayed there for a long, long time. Sometimes I still find pieces of it when I least expect it.
After what seemed like an eternity, the visitation and the funeral occurred. They were held on two separate days, in a funeral home a few blocks from our house. Family and friends came and tried to offer their sympathy, but I didn’t really know what to do with it, and it made me uncomfortable. I spent most of those two days off in the corner with my cousin, trying to distract myself by talking about anything else. I wrote a poem and read it at her funeral. Everyone complimented it and said I was brave, but standing up there in front of those people and reading that poem was the most surreal experience, and I kept remembering back to the time I spoke at my great-grandmother’s funeral when I was a kid, and how it was nothing like this. My great-grandma was an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s, and we knew she was going to die, but this was completely unexpected and, in my mind, unwarranted. We found out my mother had a virus in her heart and it caused her heart to suddenly stop.
After the funeral, I stood out on the lawn of the funeral home in the sun, dazed out and gazing around at the all-too-familiar neighborhood. It was winter, but it was a bright and sunny day, and the sun was warm on my back which felt good after a solid week of gray clouds. As I stared down the street, everything around me had this foreign-ness to it, and a sudden sensation of peace came over me and, for the first time since she died, I felt like I was going to be okay, even if the feeling was fleeting.
I didn’t cry much after the funeral. Crying just hurt more, so I pretty much kept everything bottled up. It took many years for me to come to terms with what happened, and like I said earlier, I still find pieces of that pain stuck inside me, but overall, I think the experience really put things into perspective for me, if nothing else.
To this day, I still don’t cry much. I guess the whole thing has changed my mind about what’s worth my tears. I am the girl who used to cry at the drop of a hat, and who found it rather easy to make myself cry to get what I wanted. But now crying is something mainly reserved for physical pain, and sad parts in movies and TV shows (They still really get to me for some reason; I can’t explain why. Especially if a character dies.) Trivial day-to-day drama is certainly not worth my tears, and I think I became a less dramatic person altogether. Why waste time being dramatic and unhappy when life is so short, and you never know when you or someone you love will be taken out of this world. Problems that would have seemed so huge to me when I was younger are simply minor annoyances now. I still get really down-trodden with life and responsibilities sometimes, but it’s been put in perspective. It’s not worth dwelling over the little things, and I’ve had to learn how to let the little things go and keep plugging along no matter what.
Nothing can change what has happened to me in my life, but I can change my perspective on them, and on the things that are happening in my life right now. I can either grow from experiences or I can be overwhelmed by them, and I’m done being overwhelmed. It’s a lot easier to cast off your burdens when you know you’ve carried burdens so much greater than these, and that “This, too, shall come to pass.” Every day I am grateful to be alive, and to be surrounded by people that I love - people who have so much love to give in return.
There is no use in counting the seconds you’ve spent with someone. It’s the experiences you’ve accumulated with them that are important. My mother was a wonderful, beautiful woman, and I cherish every second that we got to spend together. There are so many beautiful people in this world, and it’s important to acknowledge them when you find them and let them know it every chance you get, or you will regret the chances you missed to tell them how much they mean to you. There is nothing in this world greater than love, and you should take every chance you get to love as much as you can. Love transcends death and it connects us all, if we let it. There is no reason to live in fear when you live for love. I love my mother and I know she will always be a huge part of who I am, and when I think about her I will always remember that. On the back of her headstone, there is a quote inscribed that reads, “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” It was a quote that she loved, and one that I think everybody should live by.