A few minutes after 9 PM.
We were enjoying the NLCS championship game.
The phone rang.
I rose from the sofa and walked to the desk.
The caller I.D. said: Nursing Home.
For the last decade, as my eyes focused on that caller I.D., I rapidly drew my breath. My pulse quickened. My shoulders stiffened.
For a decade, that caller I.D. was a flashing yellow warning light.
And the charge nurse would always say,
Hello Hallie this is the nursing home your mother is fine.
Well, not fine really, as the call could be about anything; from her angry mood; to the need to change her meds; to a fall. So she was never really fine, but in the opening moments of these calls, fine meant not dead. I got that.
In the weeks leading up to 10.11, the calls were more frequent and more dire. She was spinning into the last phases of dementia. She wouldn’t eat. They called. They had to move her. They called. She fought with everyone. They called.
They called so many times in the last month of her life that I stopped holding my breath and steeling my shoulders.
The disease was winning; she screamed and hollered and cried HELP. The nurses explained it was my Mother’s primal self fighting as the disease took over her brain.
My Mother was screaming to get out.
And yet, in the weeks before my Mother’s death, they warned me that after this final siege, she likely would live for a few more years.
They called it the quiet period.
That is a euphemism.
At 9.10 on 10.11, the caller I.D. said nursing home.
It was not the charge nurse.
The voice belonged to the Chief Nurse. The Chief Nurse does not call. It could only mean one thing.
I drew my breath. You have bad news, I said.
Yes, she replied, I have bad news.
She told me my mother had eaten her entire dinner; cleaned her plate.
My mind froze. (You’re calling me to tell me she ate her dinner?)
The Chief Nurse continued:
…and then she quickly faded away.
(Faded away…what does that possibly mean?)
There was silence.
Is she dead?
My hand flew to my heart.
Such a cliché…but there it was.
I saw my hand go to my heart.
And then I knew what you do when hear that your Mother has died.
I grabbed my heart.
And I haven’t let go.