by Sharon Lippincott
I sprint through the house, finding the wireless handset on the third ring.
“Hello,” I answer, trying not to sound breathless. There is no response, yet I sense someone there. I tense, flooded with apprehension.
“Your mama died a few minutes ago.” Daddy’s voice breaks.
“Oh…” I pause, choosing words carefully. I’ve waited over two years for this call, rehearsing it mentally a thousand times, but the reality deals a staggering blow.
“Well, how are you?” I finally ask.
“I’m okay. A little unsteady, but, I’m okay.” He pauses. “You’ll tell your kids?”
“Yes. I’ll call them.”
“I’ll talk to you later.” His voice quavers again.
“Okay,” I answer, a little shaky myself. “I love you.”
I take a deep breath. So this is it. Mother is finally gone in the ultimate sense. She is no longer bent, shriveled, and imprisoned in that unresponsive shell. She is free. Even knowing this bright side, I convulse in a sob. My voice breaks as I tell my husband, “It’s over. We’re done.”
“What? What’s over?”
“Mother just died.” He wordlessly pulls me into his arms holds me close. I sink into his shoulder, soaking his shirt with tears.
“I’ve got to call the kids,” I finally say, pulling away, my voice a little steadier.
They’re all out of their offices, so I leave messages to call, then dial my brother, not realizing he’s in Russia.
His wife tells me that she went to the LifeCare Center with Daddy to help take care of things. “I talked to the aide who was with her when she died. She told me that when she went to wheel your mom into the lunch room, she looked more animated than usual. She looked aware for a change, looking around. She seemed interested in eating for the first time in months and ate a few bites. Then, suddenly she looked up toward the ceiling, and her face lit up with the most radiant smile. She lifted both hands, and … just …left!”
More tears flow down my face as I listen. Mother has not been able to lift her right hand for a couple of years, and we can’t remember what she looked like with a smile on her face.
This is the most beautiful exit scenario I could imagine for her. It is profoundly reassuring. I am grateful beyond words that this aide was able to witness her transformation and eager to pass the story along to us. What an incredible gift Mother gave us, selecting a time when no family members were there, so nobody could feel left out, and arranging to let us know that it was okay, that she left in a cloud of joy.
My grief fades to relief. I suddenly feel her presence and joy and realize that she’ll never be more than a thought away.
Sharon Lippincott lives in a cottage in the woods near Pittsburgh where she teaches lifestory writing and other fun writing classes. She is the author of THE HEART AND CRAFT OF LIFESTORY WRITING along with piles of blog posts and shorter works. Sharon’s mother died on September 26, 2000.