My 90 year old mother lives nearby in a an assisted living facility. I’ve had the joy to live in the same zip code with her since she relocated 3 1/2 years ago. On the eve of her moving, I imagined that I had the power to recreate her life here, just as it had been: teaching Sunday school, something she’s done with enthusiasm and intellect for 65 years; attending weekly book discussions–ditto; leading women’s bible studies–ditto. I would spend at least 18 months re-thinking how I could make that work for her, all the while grieiving, denying, shaking my fist at God, imagining I would knock on her door and find her ”whole,” that the enemy had vacated.
The day after we moved her in, I cheerily stopped by to pick her up for Palm Sunday services. I did not call the day before. I saw no reason to remind her. She never misses church; even during world treks, she visited worship services in small towns, villages, cities–far off, yet intimate in common faith. That morning, I knocked on 231, and, as the door opened, mom met me in casual blue slacks and a favorite blouse with tiny blue forget me nots, welcoming my surprise visit.
“Mom,” I smiled, “It’s Palm Sunday; you’re not dressed for church.”
“Oh,I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t read the paper yet.”
Stunned, my hopeful shoulders fell, and I stepped inside her sunny studio apartment.
“I’ll change my clothes.”
“Good. We have time.” Disappointed, I sat down in her pale love seat, looking at my watch, as if to telepathically tell her she needed to hurry. I needed to be to church early to practice with the choir. Echoing in the back my mind, “I hadn’t read the paper yet.” Coping mechanisms. How did I not know? How long, how many months or years had she relied on the daily newspaper delivery person to tell her what day it was. Why did my mother, a Phi Beta Kappa, global traveler, reader of world’s greatest books…how did she not know what day it was.
3 1/2 weeks later, still finding our footing in this new landscape of waning years, still trying to find a comfortable perception of the fractures in mom’s being in the world, I answered a call from my sister, Mary. “Meg, where are you?” a distant, muffled teary voice cried. “I’m in my car, driving to choir practice. Why?” “Where’s Dion? Is he with you?” My husband was at another rehearsal with a community choir. “You need to go home.” “No, tell me what’s wrong. I’ll just pull over into a parking lot.” “No, Meg, you need to go home. And call Dion. Go home, and I’ll call you back.”
Turning around, I called a friend to leave word for Dion to come home. “What’s happened?” she asked. “I don’t know. My sister just called and she’ll be calling me when I get home. Just tell Dion to come to the house when you see him.”
“Meg, Michael killed himself.” Our brother, nearly 59, seemingly successful psychologist, father to two beautiful, bright, and tender college students, brother to my sister and me and our oldest brother, my mother’s second born, had shot himself in Dallas.
How would we tell mom? How could he do this? “He can’t do this! He can’t do this, I cried.” Rocking back and forth, doubled over in searing pain– as if volcanic lava bled through every muscle fiber in my middle aged body. “How are we going to tell mom?” I screamed– it felt like a scream, albeit a silent one. Ironic. In my recurrent nightmares as a child, I often screamed out for my parents, who slept just across the hall in our modest house, but sound never left my voice. No one heard the terror, the fear, the loneliness.