I'm posting this now, even though it's nearly a week after I wrote it. I was debating whether to post it at all, the timing being so out of order and so many of the thoughts and questions posed in it already answered, but I promised myself I was going to share as much of the journey as possible. So the next paragraph starts the night before the funeral, but after the viewing.
It seems funny to me after hearing so many compliments on my writing tonight at the viewing that now I can't find the words to say. I'm trying to write the life sketch for my mom for the funeral tomorrow, and the words just won't come. Tonight was hard. Awful, even. I'm so grateful for all the people who came to show their love and support and to share their grief with us. I would never take any moment of that away. Walking in to that building, when we came early to set up the pictures and decorations, was fine. Putting things up was fine. But seeing the casket was like being punched in the stomach from the inside out. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't talk.
I ran away.
On Monday, not today but a week ago today, our hospice nurse Katy came to see my mom. Afterward my dad called us up into the kids bedroom so the adults could talk without the kids listening, which we knew wasn't going to be a good conversation. So many things in life are necessary, but not good. We settled to different places around the room, some standing, some sitting, while the nurse told us my mom had begun a final rapid decline and we needed to say goodbye. We needed to let her know we were going to be okay. We needed to be ready for her to fall asleep and not wake up again. And Katy had already told my mom this before calling us up. So she was waiting for us.
I've spent so much time the last 67 days trying not to cry. Trying to be strong. A few tears squeezed through while I pretended to ignore them and by brother-in-law gripped my hand. This was it. How was I going to do this? I couldn't even wrap my head around it. Last words? How was I going to say goodbye for the rest of my life?
Thankfully it wasn't my turn. Not yet. Stephen and Judy went in first. I don't know what they said; when I asked if they wanted to share they declined, as is their right. Not everything is for sharing. They were in there for what seemed like both a very long time and no time at all, before coming back out and staring at all of us.
Ciera and Bryant went next, going into the semi-darkness of my parents' room and shutting the door behind them. I found out later even though they went in together, they still gave each other space in the room in the moment. Ciera put her hand on my mom's shoulder and leaned down so their faces were close together and told my mom they had a unique opportunity to say goodbye, which most people don't get. Ciera also promised they would take care of dad. Then she told my mom, "I love you," and asked my mom to find Kona so Kona wouldn't be alone.
Ciera had a run of heart shattering experiences: Kona was her huge dog who had also recently passed away. Kona was her shadow, and her gentle giant. Ciera's heart is being broken again before it had a chance to grow together, and she is so strong and so brave anyway.
Then it was Bryant's turn. Ciera stepped away and Bryant drew close and took her hand. Then he bent down and gave her a hug with tears streaming down. My mom was crying too. Bry said the burden of grief she carried wasn't about dying, it was about leaving us behind and knowing how sad we were going to be. Bry told her how much he loved her, and added, "I wanted to thank you for giving me Ciera. I promise you I will take care of Mike, and I promise I will make your garden and your yard as beautiful as you did. You are going to a place we only can dream of, and I'm excited for you to go to see things the rest of us can only hope to see." Bry asked her to say hello to his grandmother, and told her again that he loved her. Then they came out.
I was left. My husband had said his goodbye weeks before. Both my siblings and their spouses had said goodbye. They sent me to her bedside, and I sat in the chair next to her and took her warm, soft hand in mine. My mother's hands were always warm, and mine are always cold. As usual, the moment I took her hand she helped tuck it under her blanket and onto the heating pad to warm it and squeezed my hand again.
"Hey you," I said. I smiled, and she tried to smile back. She was exhausted. And I chickened out.
"I think you need a nap." I smoothed and returned her blankets and settled myself down with my own fuzzy green warmth. I propped my feet up and fell asleep holding her hand. I wasn't ready, and I wasn't going to rush it. And I was perfectly happy with my cowardice, because I had something neither of my siblings did. I still had more time before going home. I had an extra day, and I felt she had been through enough for the moment.
So we napped, and held hands. It was warm, and peaceful, and not at all about saying goodbye. Bryant and Ciera left to drive back to Wyoming. Stephen and Judy went back to their lives in Provo. Then it was just my parents and me, mom and I holding hands under the blankets and dad reading his scriptures in the chair next to us. It was peaceful.
The next day was Tuesday. I brought her the breakfast she requested, the amazing carrot cake my Aunt Susie made for her. This was her favorite food, and turned out to be the last meal she really ate. Her coordination was sketchy so I ended up feeding her, a dangerous prospect in itself with how much my hands shake when I try to do anything requiring fine motor skills. I'm not sure she ended up with more food in her mouth with me doing it than she would have doing it herself, but we had the chance to laugh about it. Then we napped some more (my narcolepsy proved quite useful through this ordeal; I could nap holding her hand whenever she could).
When she woke up again, we talked a little. It was the start of goodbye, but not for me. For everyone else. I promised my mom I would tell you all that she loves you, just like always. It was very important to her that you know you are loved. Every time I would go home, she would say "Give your boys a hug for me." The last time it was give everyone a hug for me. And she made me promise to make everyone laugh. It was so important to her that she repeated it at least three times; make them laugh. Help them feel joy. She knew there would have to be tears, but she wanted to make sure there would be laughter to balance them.
I'm having a difficult time putting my thoughts together for this, because there are so many different parts of her life to share. There are the things she did, and the things she valued, and the way she lived. She was and is amazing. I can't really conceptualize a life wherein my mom is more than just a phone call away. Tonight at the viewing her body was laid out in the casket and I couldn't look at it, for the first hour couldn't even be in the same room with it. It was too real, too much.
Sometimes God allows your heart to shatter so He can help you add more to it. We cannot love more deeply, believe more strongly, or understand more fully until our hearts have greater capacity. Ciera said that tonight, while we were sitting around the table. I'm trying to hard to write something that I can say tomorrow, but everything I write is wrong. Every time I try to write my mother's life sketch I'm stalled out, and all this came out instead.
I miss her. I'm going to miss her until I get to see her again. I hope whatever I say tomorrow is the right thing, because I'm certainly not being allowed to prep much beforehand. Then again, I've been writing about her and thinking about her for months now. My brother and I had a very personal conversation one on one tonight, where he said she was being called on a mission. He's right; and I know who her mission companion is going to be.
I did finally go into the room at the viewing where my mother's body was laid out in her casket. I came in through the exit so I could take my place in line without walking past her, shuffling everyone else around a bit until I was standing between my brother/brother-in-law Bryant and my husband Will. The rooms were decorated with the miracle "M"s, pictures of my mother, and her Christmas tree. I met hundreds of people who knew and loved my mother through every stage of her life, even those who drove up from Las Vegas because they'd been in her ward while she was growing up. One of those was a couple, approximately the same generation as my grandmother. She was short, and smiling, and average. He was tall, with white hair and a flowing white beard, a ready smile and a round belly. He even wore a red shirt.
"See?" my husband whispered. "When you put out a Christmas tree, even Santa Claus comes."
That was the first time today I'd laughed. My husband is the best, and he knew about my mom's request too.
After the viewing was over and everybody had left except the immediate family and a select few others, I knew it was time. But not by myself. My husband had already left at my request to take our sons back to the house to get ready for bed. So I held out my hand to my sister, mutely asking for help. She came and stood next to me while I finally looked into the casket.
What I saw both was and was not my mom. It's hard to describe- it was her body, but empty, like an outfit she'd worn and discarded. But it was everything about her that I could touch, and feel, hold. It, like me, had been left behind.
Maybe this is what I need to work through right now, because I can't write down anything about tomorrow. Tomorrow, the funeral and the gravesite, the last parts, the last chances to say goodbye.