She'd gone into the hospital the Friday before with debilitating abdominal cramps. Doctors were confident they knew the cause of her discomfort, and assured my mom and Jim that a simple, routine procedure would have her home Saturday morning, "feeling like a new woman." What they found instead was a dead colon, killed for lack of blood supply by a tumor that had grown exponentially over the course of three weeks since its initial diagnosis, choking off the main vessel. The surgeon reported, "the cancer was everywhere." I jumped online to book a flight, but a dastardly Rocky Mountain blizzard had other plans, for the Denver airport, for all Western Slope airports, and for me. All Saturday afternoon and evening flights from here were canceled. No sleep, I left early the next morning, drove through the drifting white over four mountain passes from Gunnison to Denver, expecting to catch the only flight I'd found available, scheduled to depart at 11 a.m. I arrived to find that it too had been canceled, along with all other flights that day. My best hope was the last flight of the day to PDX, 7:20 p.m.
I received regular updates on Mom's condition throughout the afternoon, pacing the vast expanse beneath the peaked, white canvas at DIA, calls from worried uncles and husband. My cousin Amy reported at one point that Mom was resting comfortably, fast asleep. "She looks peaceful, Toni. No pain. She's even snoring, like usual." It was comforting news after a harrowing day and dire prognosis. Settled into a window seat, head against my coat wadded up against the fusilage, I fell asleep, fast, exhausted. And there she was, riding down the escalator toward baggage claim at Hilo airport. She was ready, in her sneakers and shorty socks, light denim capris -- pedal pushers, she called them -- creamy aloha shirt with brilliant red hibiscus flowers, worn open and loose over a matching French vanilla tank, giant canvas purse slung over a shoulder, hair impossibly-cute in short, impossibly-blonde waves. Cheshire grin. Delighted. My mom had arrived. I moved to greet her, awoke, and she was gone.
When I landed in Portland hours later, I retrieved a message from Jim, her love and life partner. My mom had died. 7:58 p.m.
I've reached for the phone to call her more than once since returning to Colorado. An unshakable ache and emptiness still overcomes without notice, thoughts of her rolling uninvited, but not unwelcome, through my head. Yesterday, I caught myself imagining the trip we were planning for this summer. She'd wanted to go to Disneyland once more, to celebrate her 75th birthday.
Jim said that when someone close to you dies, it feels as if the entire world should stop. In deference to the event, everyone and everything should freeze, for a day, or maybe a week, so you can stop too, to grieve, to remember, to be, to feel the loss wholly, without interruption or obligation. It doesn't. The earth spins on, the universe and planet and people ever in motion.
Ron told me last Saturday that my dog, Doc, was gone. He died the day after my mom's memorial service. Not wanting upset me further during those fragile early days, he waited. Good call. Doc was 14, a quirky, silly dog who lived a long, happy, pampered life. He was our boy, our first puppy. The kitties loved him. Harley still looks for him in the hard, to pass underneath and rub against Doc's legs. BeeCee sleeps on Doc's bed, wondering where his favorite doggie has gone.