I feel wide open and cold all the time. A north wind sweeps through me. It’s bracing, kind of, and my frequent tears are warming.
She was very cold. I asked to see her. My brother didn’t want to, nor did my uncle. But I did. I wanted to see if she looked like herself. I wanted to see if I could sense her there. She did, but I could not. Well, there was one brief moment, when I touched her forehead, laid my palm across her forehead like I used to do when we were little. She would have headaches and ask us, my brother and me, to rub her forehead with our soft cool palms. I couldn’t bring myself to kiss her, but I touched her face, and stroked her hair and said “goodbye” and “I love you” and “I’m sorry”.
I’m sorry I was impatient, I’m sorry I wasn’t with you when you died, i’m sorry i didn’t write down all the stories, i’m sorry your life wasn’t all you wanted. But I love you, i love you, I love you Mom. I know you were proud of us, and you loved us more than I can fathom. You gave me my sense of humour, my terrible feet, my capacity to love, my asthma, my ability to keep friendships —
She was found fully clothed on her bed in the mid-morning. Probably she had been dead for an hour — two at most. Lately, the effort of getting ready for her day had tired her out. She probably got ready to go to her physio appointment, then had a little rest before heading out to meet the bus. She had some card-making stuff on her table, her purse there, too. Her door was unlocked. She NEVER left her door unlocked when she was home. A copy of her will was on the table too. And a birthday card for a friend who lived a few doors down the hall.
That was like her, you know. It would have killed her to have been found in her nightie.
I hate goodbyes. I always have. I didn’t know the last time I visited when I said goodbye to her that it would be the last time, but I had a feeling. A feeling I pushed away, because I had a feeling like that last Christmas, really strong and sharp, when I woke up in that narrow bed in her spare room, the first thing I thought was, “this is the last time”. It wasn’t the last time, though, because I returned this summer, just for a few days. So I put that very strong feeling of ending into a box and shoved it into the corner where it sat, glowing a bit and every once in a while giving a little rumble. And it would rumble a little louder each time I talked to her on the phone. the Monday, that week that she died, I talked to her on the Monday, and she sounded tired.
“Did I wake you up Mom?”
“No. I just got dressed” she said. And at the end of the call, she said, “Well, I should let you go.”
I didn’t know she meant the BIG “let go” — I was going to call her on Thursday afternoon, and have a good long talk. I always called her when i had a million things to do, and i would walk around with my phone tucked between my shoulder and my ear — washing dishes, picking up trash, idon’tknowwhatall — while she told stories about people I didn’t know — But Thursday I was going to sit in one place, and listen to all those stories for as long as she wanted to tell them.
I went to visit this past summer after I finally finished my PhD. We had a good time, and lots of long talks, and we went for drives and out for meals and I took her to the mall to get some clothes. My brother Shawn was great about groceries and appointments and helping around the house, but not so good about blouses and knickers. Not that I’m such a good choice when it comes to sartorial matters, either, but one takes what one can get. I tell you what, glaciers melted in the time it took Mom to try one a couple of t-shirts. But I wasn’t impatient at all. didn’t act it, didn’t feel it — which is most unusual for me. She said to me near the end of our adventures in retail, “Erin, you have so much patience!” — she was surprised.
“I know!” I exclaimed, “what’s happened to your daughter?” and we laughed. Then I said, in the fine tradition of the Morgan women, “I think it’s on account of I’m a doctor now, doctors need patients”.
She herself was a relentless and unrepentant punster — she appreciated the joke. After she died, as I was ticking through my memories of recent visits, looking for clues, maybe something I could have done, I realized that Mom hadn’t been so quick with the puns lately. Not for a long time, in fact. She just wasn’t as sharp. She forgot appointments, she fell asleep in her chair, she misplaced things more often–not entirely, you know, she was still tracking most things, but the puns stopped. She wasn’t firing on all cylinders, you know? But i didn’t want to see that.
I made Welsh cakes a couple of nights before her funeral. When Dad died, we put out a bowl of licorice allsorts for people to take. They were his favourite candy. Mom used to make Welsh cakes. They’re easy, and one batch makes A LOT of cakes. But they’re time consuming, and lately Mom made them when I was home, (’cause I could make ’em and she could boss me around from her chair) but not really any other time. So I made a double batch late Sunday night. I used both of her electric frying pans, (one that I’m sure is over 50 years old, the other only about 40), her rolling pin, her pastry cloth, the cookie cutter she’s had since the farm (older than the frying pans). I wore my shoes and my hat in the house, and I wept as I mixed up the dough, rolled it out, cut it and fried it. tears mixing with the currants and eggs, “Mom am I rolling them thin enough? Will you please watch so they don’t burn? Is one of these frying pans hotter than the other? When was the first time you made Welsh cakes?” She didn’t answer, of course. I didn’t feel her near, even if I was using all her stuff.
She was going to come to Vancouver for the graduation ceremony. NOW i know that she was too frail to make the trip. Even though I would meet her at the door of the plane with a wheelchair, even though I would have carried her everywhere if I had to, even though…”Do you think I should take my cane?” she had asked me, just a couple of weeks ago [no. not a couple. she’s now been dead for two weeks and three days. tick. tick. tick.]
“yes, bring it along, Mom. It’ll be good to have a three-foot extension to your arm anyway.”
When I was making the Welsh cakes, I said, “Jesus, Mom–if you didn’t want to come to Vancouver, you could’ve just said so, I wouldn’t be mad at you — you didn’t have to be so drastic“. I swore a lot more this trip than I usually do, too. But not around my Auntie Lorna, or the Langs, or at the funeral home or…
One day, the Saturday before the funeral, my brother came to Mom’s house. We were going to go through all the pictures and music and pick some for the slide show at the funeral. Shawn said, “We’re going to go through the pictures, then we’re going to clean this place up, make it like Mom … ” he sounded angry and then he started sobbing. Place didn’t look bad to me, but then again, Shawn is like Mom, fastidious like a cat. I am like Dad. Fastidious like…well, like not at all. I just opened my arms and folded him into me as he bent and sobbed into the top of my head.
There was a lot of that going on. Shawn and I holding onto each other. When he drove me back to Calgary to fly home, he said, “you’ve changed. You’re way more patient now than you’ve ever been.” He was relieved, I think. that I wasn’t as volatile as I used to be. That I was much more steady and patient. It’s because i’ve been working on that stuff, me and my sister travellers “on the road of happy destiny”. It’s because I know we’re not alone.
Louise came to be with us. I called her the day Mom died. She said, “Do you want me to come?” I said yes, but I didn’t know yet — When I got home to Red Deer, I talked to her again and Shawn was with me. “Will i be in the way if I come?” she asked, and Shawn said, “No! Come”. We have been friends for 24 years, were lovers for six of those years, and I played my accordion at her wedding to Diane. She helped me stop drinking, she’s helped mend my broken heart many times, and we hold each other up.
She met Shawn 20 years ago, and they sparked together from the beginning. Every time I go visit, Louise says to me, “Give Shawn a bone-crushing hug from me” and I do and Shawn giggles. I don’t know what we would have done without her. We would have done okay, but she was balm and glue when we were depleted and raw.
While I was making the Welsh cakes that night before she came, I was digging around in Mom’s pantry and i found a box of whisky. There were several opened bottles of rye, blended scotch, drambuie — and some little airplane bottles of johnny walker red, all of which had a tiny sip or two missing from them. I found that very odd. Who would take a sip out of each of those little bottles? weird. When Louise came, she noticed that these bottles were all sealed — the alcohol had evaporated. That would NEVER happen in my house….
Anyway, I was baking and weeping and feeling all of my feelings all at once and it was so painful and awful and i thought, “I could just shut this hurricane of emotion down right now–just go over there and get that bottle of scotch–“. I didn’t do it, and I knew I wouldn’t, but there was the thought, and there was the whisky, and the pain that it would most certainly ease…The next day I called a woman who had worked with Mom to tell her about Mom’s death, and she said, “I want to help, can I do anything?” and I asked her to take me to a meeting. She was happy to do that, and at the meeting i remembered again that all this is normal. This pain, this sorrow, this big grief — it’s human and it’s loving and it’s fine. When Louise came, she said that I knew way too much about what was in that box, and we should pour it out. I didn’t want to, so she didn’t say anything, but when I left to do something and Shawn was with her, they poured it all out. I didn’t know I was uptight about it until I came home (the place smelled like a field of lilies AND a distillery…) and felt such relief.
Even though Mom is gone, she didn’t leave us alone. We have each other. All these beautiful people. Our family, our friends, her friends–We are all family. I will always miss her, and right now it’s almost unbearable. But we are all connected, and this grief is a gift, really, it means the love she gave is every bit as big and powerful as this sorrow. as deep and wide as the prairie sky.