My mom died last week.
I had just finished story time with my son and was prepping a slow cooker lasagna for tomorrow’s dinner when I got the first call. 8:30 pm on a Tuesday, and it was Uncle Bill calling. There had been some kind of accident at work and she was bleeding internally. Details were limited as I was getting information 3rd and 4th hand. She had a preexisting condition, cirrhosis, and that had maybe caused or complicated the injury.
My mom and I hadn’t talked in almost 3 years. I was driving up to visit, with my 3 year old son in the car, when I found out she was still with him. To be fair, he is an addict just like her, but he had come to represent all the worst parts of my mom’s choices. She had assured me that he was out of the picture, or else I wouldn’t be driving up there. I stopped about half way and called her from a cheesy plantation-themed highway gas station to say “What the hell?” It ended in a fight and the last thing I said before she hung up on me was “Mom, I don’t think your life is safe for Z to be around at this point.”
“The doctor is saying that there isn’t much hope,” Uncle Bill said, and I spread a layer of ricotta over meat sauce.
Texts, calls, discussions, and searches made up the next couple hours, and ultimately it was decided that my brother and I would head to Atlanta where she lived and deal with the situation. We were her only living heirs, and so it was on us. The last call came at 3 am Wednesday. She flat-lined, and per her wishes, they did not resuscitate. At 6 am, I put my lasagna on a timer and got on a plane.
I’ll spare all the details of how and why, but the end result is that I spent three days in Atlanta with my brother, his girlfriend, my aunt and uncle, another aunt, cousins, and (quite briefly) him. It was some of the most emotionally confusing days of my life.
I kept remembering a moment from just this past July when I was in Atlanta. I was visiting my Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill. Aunt Peggy is my mom’s older sister, and as would make sense, we often talked about Mom. We would wonder where she was, how she was doing, and how her life could have gotten to this point. She had estranged herself from almost all of her family by the time she passed, and she used to love her family, and there were times we were all a loving group. Huge Thanksgivings with even larger meals taking up every flat surface just to be able to enjoy stuffing and turkey.
Anyways, just a few months ago I told Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill that there were only two ways this estrangement would end. I would either get a call from Mom saying she realized everything she had done wrong and was getting clean, or I would get a call that Mom had died. As I said a few times on this most recent trip, the call came 6 hours earlier than I expected.
I left Atlanta and returned home Saturday morning. That was when the emotions really started to kick in for me. Being up there, things needed to be done, wills found, events planned, people consoled. Once I got home, there weren’t other people to take care of, and it came flooding in. Not in a debilitating kind of way, just in waves. Quiet one minute, sad the next, angry after that, confused always.
Now it’s Monday, the first period bell is about to ring. My students are going to ask, they’re going to want to know why I was gone three days, what happened. Do I tell them? Is it too much for middle schoolers? Or, will the honesty be valuable? Create a learning experience?
And I’m still looking forward to the leftover lasagna I’m having for lunch.