The last time he saw his mom, Paul spoke the words he had to say. He recognized her discomfort as she shifted on the bed and redirected her eyes. It hurt to make such an utterance but Paul knew he wouldn’t forgive himself if he remained silent. He had to talk about her mortality.
Frail, emaciated, and with brittle bones, Paul knew she wouldn’t live, couldn’t live, much longer. Cancer had slowly chewed her up and sucked away her strength. She was a hollowed out shell of her former self. Knowing and remembering the vital force she once was made Paul cry. As hard as it was to talk about her impending death, he knew he must speak his heart. That was two weeks ago. Now, ending the phone call from his brother, Paul would never get to sit with his mom as she faded from life into death. She died two hours before the phone call.
The words announcing her death didn’t carry the weight Paul expected. Instead, guilt filled his soul. Like an eerie dream that played over and over, Paul saw a young boy not reaching his mommy in her time of need. He couldn’t escape the guilt and it shook Paul to the core. All the foundations of life collapsed beyond the earth below as they crumbled into the abyss.
soon as Paul heard Greg’s voice, bad news could be the only reason for the call. Greg started, “Hey Paul, I’m sorry to call so early but the time has finally came. Mom died about two hours ago.” There was silence. What words can be added to such a statement? There is no remark to add or diminish the weight of death. It is infinitely heavy and crushes those upon whom it drops. With mind full of swirling thoughts, Paul finally mumbled, “Ok.”
Greg continued, “Grace and I got here about nine o’clock last night. Dad was pretty upset when we got here but, you know him. He wouldn’t show anything. We all were with her when she went. We all sat with her, held her hand, prayed, kissed her. She fought so hard for each breath. She really did. She had so much to live for. You know how she loved her grandbabies. We think she was trying to stay alive so she could see Denise’s baby next month.”
With a smile, Paul said, “You’re probably right.” It was a pleasant thought to picture his mother spoil her grandchildren. It was a sweet, fleeting oasis but Paul was compelled to continue. His mom was dead and he must endure across the scorched sand and find the other side of the desert.
The weight of the loss was now coming to bear and Paul struggled to consider all he must do before traveling to be with them. Paul said something about needing to book a flight. Greg said he would continue calling family members. Thankfully, Paul wouldn’t need to assist with that. The rest of the conversation may have held importance but Paul didn’t remember.
After notifying work and packing a suitcase, Paul went online to book his flights. The earliest flight was four hours away. So he sat alone in his apartment. The silence pressed in upon him.
A lifetime of memories accelerated and froze in Paul’s mind. He saw his parents arguing. He remembered trips in the car. He heard laughter as the whole extended family was together with the patriarchs, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and swapping stories. The visions came and went without pause. The merest glimpse prompted the whole event to expand and it was all experienced in a flash. Like lightning, they were gone. Nevertheless, he felt the thunder. Each memory increased the weight on Paul’s heart and magnified his isolation.
Coupled to these memories was tremendous guilt. Paul didn’t want to face the unfulfilled promised to himself he would be there when his mother died. He wanted to help her through the divine threshold to another life after shedding her earthly shell. He planned to go after his father called to say she had gotten worse, but Paul had used all of his time save one vacation day. It was only May. He decided to stay home this time. His brother and sister-in-law went in his place. He would go next time.
The pressure began building again and his anxiety rose. He pushed away the soggy bowl of Cheerios. When did he make that? He had no appetite and found no cheer in them anyway. He found himself scratching a fingernail on the table around and around in circles. Finally, Paul decided he had to call someone. He needed a friend to help bear the load.
Hearing the ringtone in his ear, Paul hoped his best friend from high school, CJ, hadn’t departed for work. His answer came after the third ring. With a hurried voice, CJ said, “Hello?”
“Hey CJ, it’s Paul.”
“Hiya Paul. What’s up?”
“Um, my mom died.”
There was a short pause. Then CJ replied, “Paul, I am so sorry.”
Paul accepted the comfort of CJ’s words but CJ interrupted the moment, “Hey Paul, I’m sorry but I gotta go to work.”
The venom of this sting multiplied and overloaded Paul’s emotions. He had to escape and switched to autopilot. He absently mumbled, “Ok, no problem. Have a good day.” Then he terminated the connection.
Paul was jittery like he overdosed on caffeine. He couldn’t sit. He couldn’t stand. His life had been smashed and it floated about in the air. His memories and emotions aimlessly shifted about. How long until things started to settle?
There was no one to share his burden. He couldn’t lighten the load. He was helpless. Paul decided he had to leave. He’d rather wait in the airport than this empty abode where his life fell apart.
Paul grabbed his things and went to the door. Turning the knob and backing into the door, he felt the pockets for his wallet, phone, and keys. When he didn’t feel the keys Paul started back into the house. Then he saw them in his hand. Paul closed his eyes and sighed. He couldn’t wait to see his family and share one another’s burdens.