Cracked foundations

Now – Back to the Future

I just want to take some time to let you know why I’ve spent so much time talking about my past. Primarily it is to explain why my present means so much to me and how thankful and grateful I am for the life I have now and the people in it.  I don’t want pity or anything like that because my life is what happened, but it is not part of who I am or who I will be. 

By going back and forth between myself and Seraphina I fear I have given the opinion that I am some brain addled miscreant.   I was wondering when I should explain her, but it seems like there is no time like the present.

 As you read, I have gone back and forth between us – and sometimes it may have seemed like I messed up in my writing. In all truth I didn’t.  Seraphina is my alter ego, my imaginary friend, my safe place to go when life was too much to handle.  I’ve been told that this is a healthy way to deal with any trauma in ones life and if she was the only addiction I developed – I don’t think that is too bad, considering what we went through together.

 In my mind I created her to be the exact opposite of me in hopes that she wouldn’t get hurt and on some level if someone that perfect loved me, then maybe I could love myself.   I’ve known the entire time that she and I were one, but it helped me at times thinking we were separate. Some people say its compartmentalizing things – I think its dealing with life in whatever way you can. At 2 ½ that was the only thing I knew to do – the only protection I had.   I’ve always known that someday I would not need her and would be saying goodbye to her; I just never knew when it would be. I have some ideas but am not sure. It is hard to say goodbye to the only person that has been with you your entire life, who accepts you and loves you know matter what.  

She has been my only family for too many years to count and together we have learned that it really is never too late to be part of a family and share in that love.   I also think it is sometimes important to know the history before you can understand the present.

Now – The Day the World Stopped

On May 23, 2007 I held my mothers hand for the last time.  I don’t know how among a dozen or so ambulances that were at the emergency entrance, I knew which one she was in. Nor did I stop to ask, I just walked towards it telling my husband it was her. I could feel here there and went straight to the back of the ambulance with the opened doors. I will say that the ambulance attendants upon seeing us did attempt to look like they were doing something and kept on pressing the oxygen bag.  My husband took one look towards the back of the ambulance then left to find his brother and father. As I gently took her hand, I told the paramedics that I could see that she was gone so they didn’t need to continue making those efforts on my behalf. They said they were sorry and they had done all they could. I never really looked at them again I was too busy looking at mom.

I could feel her rings pressing into the top of my hand the entire time they were wheeling her body into the hospital. I don’t think I was holding too tight – but maybe I was, because I noticed they had left an impression on my palm. I know part of me was holding her tightly so I could will some life back into her through the rings that represented the family she loved so much.   I stayed with her until they had her settled in the room the doctor would do the final check and pronounce her dead and we would eventually return to say our final goodbyes.

Earlier that night I had talked to her for quite a while – one of our usual 40 minute gab sessions.  She had had such a wonderful day. She and dad had played with one of their grandsons during the day, then shared a dinner together and talked about their upcoming cruise that was a birthday gift for her 70th birthday which was had been 9 days earlier. Giggling, she told me she spent the evening in the garden and was listening to Il Divo as loud as she wanted because Dad was out at his philatelic meeting.  She had a great day and was excited as we talked about our hopes for a new baby, our shopping trip for her to get kitted out for their cruise, our new kitten to be picked up the next day and our plans for watching The Queen and Ladies in Lavender while Robert was away at the Grand Prix in Montreal.

We ended the conversation with our usual I love you’s and I am forever grateful that those were indeed the last words I said to my mother. I cannot imagine otherwise.

After we said our love you’s – I was sitting alone on the couch at about 9:30 and got a feeling that I didn’t understand at the time.  I called Robert and told him I didn’t know why, but he needed to come home right away.  He got home just before 10 and at 10:15 we got the call from Dad to say that he had come home and mom had collapsed and the ambulance people had been working on her for 15 minutes without a response.

I have no doubt in my mind that it was mom telling me to get Robert home because he needed to be at home when the call came, and he was. He would be there for his father, just as his mother had arranged in her final moments. True to form, her thoughts were always to make sure others were ok.

While I was answering a few questions for the doctor, Robert found his brother who told him the ambulance attendants told him it wasn’t good. Having just finished with the doctor I went to find Robert and Anthony to see if dad had arrived yet – and I did one of the hardest things I’d ever had to do.  When Robert told me what Anthony had said he looked at me and asked me if it was true.  They both turned to me and I had to say yes, that she was gone. My heart broke in that moment watching them.  I will never forget the look on both of their faces as their hopes disintegrated and they each stumbled away in opposite directions to deal with their overwhelming emotions.

I went back inside the hospital and called my sister in law to tell her what had happened and to ask her to come to the hospital, then went back outside to be with Robert and Anthony and wait for dad to arrive.

 He arrived with his neighbour about 5 minutes later in complete shock. He slowly exited the car and was paler than I had ever seen him. But knowing how much he loved her, I knew he was holding out hope for some miracle – no matter how small or faint of a chance. 

He was covered in blood that he had shed in his attempts to help her in her final moments.  On some level he knew she was gone when he came in the house and was chatting away to her and then saw her on the settee in the day room between the kitchen and garden. 

Seeing the three of us walking towards him told him everything he needed to know – yet he asked each one of us, one by one if it was true, if she was really gone.  His step stopped for a brief moment as he heard the words, but being his typical dad self, his first efforts were to comfort his sons.  As if in a dream of disbelief, gently the 4 of us headed towards the small room that is reserved for families in situations such as this. 

We had only been there a few minutes when Katherine arrived – in as much shock as the rest of us were. We had 5 minutes of silence before the doctor and nurse came into the room and did their best to make a routine situation for them, human for us.   I cannot say that the truth of the facts had begun to sink for any of us at that moment, but when the nurse returned she went straight to dad and gave her the watch and rings he had given our mother so many years ago.

It was almost in slow motion, first her blue sapphire engagement ring he had given her with so much excitement and promise almost 50 years ago. Then she placed the wedding band he had given her with so much hope and faith 47 years ago. Finally, agonizingly the diamond band he had given her with so much love, thanks and admiration on their 40th wedding anniversary. Then as almost an afterthought the watch he had given her on a recent birthday to both mark the time they had spent together and to prepare for all the time they had yet to share.

My father has always been a strong man and at that moment I saw a part of him die with mom. You could see the pain he felt as he crumbled momentarily before regaining his composure.  We could feel the pain but were helpless to take it from him, but we would have - any one of us, if we could have.

The nurse left us alone for a few minutes then came back to ask if we wanted to see her one more time to say our goodbyes – and obviously, without question, doubt or hesitation, we did.

Her sons went in first, and then Katherine went in with her husband. I walked slowly trying to give them time all the while holding on to our father trying in some way to absorb/remove some modicum of the pain he was feeling and also trying to support him as I knew mom would have.

The boys left first then Katherine followed. I sat down beside mom and took her right hand in mine and with my other hand, rubbed her arms, I didn’t want her to be too cold because she only had a ripped lightweight beige knit sweater on. 

I would have sat there with her for a lot longer but I knew dad was behind me waiting, and it truly and rightfully was his place to be the last one to say goodbye and his timing and needs were the only thing that mattered.

I caressed her hand just as she used to mine – with the thumb moving across the hand as if to say “it’s going to be ok” - then I removed my hand from underneath her arm and gently placed her hand back onto the bed. Knowing this would be my final moments with her I then stood up went to the head of the bed and reached over to caress her cheek, straighten the hair that had been mussed in their attempts to save her and kissed her one last time. All the while telling her how much I loved her, thanking her for being a wonderful mother and promising her that I would do everything I could to take care of our family.

I could feel dad’s hand on my shoulder and I knew it was time to leave him so he could say his own goodbyes. 

 The hospital asked us a few more questions, dispensed some information and without anything left to do, we left to go home.  A place that would never be the same again.  Robert and I took Dad with us, Katherine went home in her car and somehow Anthony managed to drive himself home through his tears.

On the drive home I was trying to think of all of the things we might see when we arrived here. I was so afraid that walking into a horrific scene for a second time, would be far too much for anybody to bare.

Luckily for me, the men in my family are gentlemen and open the door first for women.  This allowed me the opportunity to immediately go to the area the firemen and ambulance paramedics tried in vain to help mom.

I wasn’t sure what I would find, but I felt that it would be far better for me to find it, than dad or god forbid Robert. At least Dad had been there before and his shock would be a bit less - if god was going to provide any gentle mercies in this situation.

 The first thing I saw was the ambulance call sheet with the words “cardiac arrest” which I snatched up before dad could see it.  On the blood marked carpet right beside where her head had been placed, I found the first airway tube they had tried to use when they intubated her.  I took that along with the plastic covers they left behind and placed them all in my purse and came back to try to get the dirt and blood off of mom’s carpet.  She would have hated the mess, even more so if she knew that in some way she was responsible for it.

I still have those items in a box that I have with a lot of mom’s things that I have. I don’t know exactly why I keep them, but I cannot throw them out. I don’t force it and I don’t think of it as a morbid item to have kept, it is the paperwork that tells of her final moments and the piece of plastic that tried to help her breath and bring her back to us.

I could not imagine how my husband, father or other members of our family felt – but I knew somewhere deep within that this would be the time I would have to be stronger than I’d ever been before. There was so much to be done and I wasn’t sure if anybody else would or could do it.

Another part of me knew that this would be one way I could show mom just how much I loved her – by making sure her family and final arrangements were taken care of and represented her.

I cannot accurately explain the depth of pain and sorrow that followed, but suffice to say the pot of tea I tried to make to keep some level of normalcy was quickly replaced by a bottle of scotch.

In hindsight, it was a blessing that father and son had this opportunity to let the alcohol wrestle the grief loose from their hearts so they could share in their loss. Several hours later I put them both to bed in the same room.

As I looked in on them I imagined this is what they looked like when Robert was a child and crawled into his parents’ bed at night after a bad dream. Well, all except for the one place being empty beside him. 

The next few days passed in a blur of tears, phone calls, meetings and arrangements. I think the shocked reactions were the hardest to hear – and honestly, most of them were shocked.  Mom had just turned 70 – 9 days earlier and was not in any way complaining of ill health. In fact, she was healthy, happy and enjoying her life to the fullest. She was always in touch with her family and friends – and none had been longer than a few days since they had last seen or heard from her.  

The time between leaving the hospital and the memorial seemed to drag on one hand and go quick as lightening on the other.  The moments we realized it was true we wanted to fast forward through the pain because it hurt so bitterly right through to the bone. In the moments we realized time and the world were in fact continuing on and we would need to say goodbye to our beloved mother very soon, made us want to scream for time to stop forever.

Time didn’t stop and before long I found myself preparing her clothes, spraying them with her favourite perfume and going with dad to deliver them along with selectively chosen photographs - for preparation at the funeral home.

The night before her memorial service was an agonizing back and forth struggle of wanting to get to sleep to be rested for all the next day was going to present and of wanting to not go to sleep at all, because we knew what we would have to face when we woke up.

Needless to say, we finally got to bed – not sleep, but bed and were laying there wide awake when the alarm went off later that morning.  I’m not sure about my brother and sister in law – but Robert and I were almost silent getting ready and unfortunately, I’m fairly positive it was pretty quiet at dad’s home as well.

We were all whiter shades of pale in general, but even more so against our mourning blacks as dad and I gathered some of moms things that we had chosen to have on display in efforts to make the chapel and ceremony a bit more personal and reflect the character and beauty of who our mom was.

We had chosen the same flowers that were in her wedding bouquet – with some minor changes to not mar the memory of the original event. At the front of the chapel underneath her photo we placed two of her gardening books – one open with her eye glasses placed on it and the second sitting down closed with one of her favourite tea cups sitting on top of it.  To the immediate right side of the tea cup were two of the favourite stamps she used to make the cards for her friends and family – one of her garden, the other had both a butterfly and a ladybug on it.

Maybe it is a fault of mine, but I can get emotional during this sort of thing – but my truest emotions get “distracted’ by the organization of the event.  For me walking into the chapel was nice – I was able to see all the hard work come to fruition and see how they represented the love we had for mom.  The amount of people that attended was unnerving from a planning perspective, but we shouldn’t have been a surprise as mom touched everybody she met in some way.  There was not an empty seat in the house when the service began.

 The man dad chose to do the service was a wonderful fit for both him and mom’s personality – and you could truly imagine that he knew mom by the words he chose to use and the way he used them.  When our uncle stood up to do her eulogy he showed a strength of character that mom would have been so pleased about. The stories he told and the emotions he shared of years of knowing both her, dad and the family – made it hard to listen to without crying.  Besides the wonderful gift of doing the eulogy he helped Dad with the music for mom’s service and for me that was the hardest part.

Music always affects me on some deeper level – so when “Bridge Over Troubled Water” started to play during the video montage – the wall of protection I had up from May 23rd, started to crack.  Not completely, but I knew that the time would be soon.  To our pleasure and amazement some of the pictures drew laughter – and we knew in our hearts mom would be pleased we had happy moments in our hearts that were not stomped down by this hideous thing called grief.  

As the family walked towards mom’s final resting place – it still wasn’t real, it was just a process to go through. A habit or tradition to get lost in – to hide behind. I’m not sure how a man about to be hanged feels, but I suspect those last few footsteps felt a lot like ours on that bright sunshine filled day.  The mortuary assistant dispensed with the details in a way that would cause you to laugh if it wasn’t you and felt the need to cry as we watched our dad kiss the box she was in and place her in her final resting home – in her final garden.

 Then the service was over.  The guests were gone, the flowers and extra food brought to Katherine and Anthony’s, the pictures taken down and the chairs put away. I did save one of each flower for both myself and for dad for his memorial book. Just as mom taught me to do. 

As suddenly as the day began, it too was ending. Not to say we weren’t ready for this day to be over – because we were.  But where to go from here? Stunned nobody really knew how to move forward, what do to, what to say to feel better or to make each other feel better. None of us had ever been used to not being on control or having the answers for what to do next.  These feelings of weakness and vulnerability were completely new and quite unnerving.

 That is not to say that other people were not there for us and didn’t extend their hands to help in any way they could, because they did, in large numbers. It’s just that unfortunately, nothing would help, not even time.

 Yes things would change in time and of course the world becomes a different place.  The solid insular foundation from which we had lived our lives now had been irreversibly broken and we now had to learn how to re-create that stability for ourselves.


The End

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