There is a barrier. Sometimes it seems like a shimmer that we can almost see through and other times it feels as wide as the ocean. I have to keep reminding myself that there are things that cannot be explained. The rational mind cannot grasp all of existence. It doesn’t even know the questions so how could it have the answers.
My mother died traumatically. She suffered from scarring in her throat. One of the side effects of this was she often choked on food. When she had a problem she’d go to the sink and cough up whatever was blocking her breathing. She’d often vomit was well.
She had come up to my house to spend Christmas with us. On Christmas Eve, while my wife was still working my mother and I had a serious talk about her ability to continue living alone. I convinced her that night that it would be best to sell her home and move in with my sister (who was already on board or the record). It wasn’t the easiest conversation to have, and I suspect she would have required some additional convincing, but we had made a lot of progress on a major issue. I felt pretty good about it.
The next day, after watching her grandchildren open up their gifts we all sat down to Christmas Dinner. A little ways in my mom stood up and went into the bathroom. My wife went with her to help, knowing what the problem was. A few seconds later my mother collapsed in the bathroom and my wife cried out for help.
I ran to the bathroom and began trying to do the Heimlich maneuver. Almost simultaneously my mother-in-law asked if she should call 911, I answered yes.
A retired firefighter lived 2 doors down from my house and he was also having Christmas dinner with a friend of his who was an EMT. As first responders often do, they had a scanner running and heard the call go out. They immediately came over to offer aid.
Two professionals were working on my mother within two minutes of the time she stood up from the table. They made no more progress than I did. The Fire Department and ambulance arrived in minutes. They were no more effective. They transported my mother to an emergency room within 10 minutes of my home, I followed in my car. She was pronounced dead perhaps 30 minutes after we arrived. She never regained consciousness. As far as I know she never drew another breath after she stood up from the table.
Calling my siblings that day was the hardest thing I ever had to do. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, ever. I can imagine that when Kevin’s father had to call us that morning in October it was even harder.
We’ve speculated what probably happened that day. My mother was acutely aware my in-laws were at the table. When she began to choke we think she may have forced it down to avoid vomiting in front of everyone. By the time she got up from the table and went into the bathroom she had probably not been breathing for more than a minute.
I’ve speculated on other issues as well. I don’t think my mom fought for her life. My father had died only about 16 months before, and I think when she saw The Exit Door, she went through without hesitation. She didn’t really want to live without him.
For several months you could smell my mothers perfume in the hallway just outside the bathroom. For a couple of years there was an occasional faint whiff. A chemist once told me that was impossible. That the perfume would have dissipated in a day or two at the most, but it was there. Despite time and repeated cleaning it was there. I wasn’t the only one to smell it either, even visitors to the house who didn’t know the story could make out the scent.
Kevin was there that day. As a seven year old he watched the whole thing happen. I’m sure he didn’t totally understand, we had him go to a counselor to make sure he wasn’t traumatized by the incident. He bounced back OK. He told the therapist he thought my mom died at the hospital. There was never any need to correct that belief.
Drew was less than 1 ½ at the time. He was a real hell raiser as a toddler. He once took out the screen in his bedroom window on the 2nd floor. He climbed up bureaus by pulling out the drawers to make steps. He teetered on the edge of the stairs, or the counter or anything else he could get into or on top of. I remain convinced to this day that the reason I could smell my mother’s perfume for years afterward was she was keeping her grandson alive. When he grew to the point where his physical abilities were a match for his will and intellect my mom moved on.
Drew doesn’t remember this nana, but I’m sure she was watching over him. Taking care of the kids was what she did best and what she liked most.
My brother had given my mom an angel figurine for Christmas that year. He and his wife took it home and put it in a display case. It would constantly switch shelves or turn around. My brother’s wife thought her kids might be messing with her so she locked the case. The angel kept moving.
I think this was mom’s way of telling us she still existed somewhere. She was alright; she was just on the other side a barrier we couldn’t cross.
Kev has crossed that barrier too. I don’t believe he wanted to go, I don’t believe he was “ready” to go, nor do I believe his passing was part of a Divine plan. He died, but he wasn’t supposed to. He fell through the door unwillingly.
It’s left to us to find a way forward. I find comfort in the idea that he’s waiting somewhere to greet all of us. It makes me feel that perhaps I can go on, that maybe I’ll even be happy again. I can handle 40 or more years as long as I feel we’ll be together someday.
So thanks mom. Keep watching over us, we all need some help from time to time, I certainly need it right here and now.