As the miles ticked past, thoughts continued to flood my mind.
In between offering cheerful comments to my children about, “Isn’t it going to be GREAT to live in Utah? Are you guys as excited as I am to live in Utah? Think how LUCKY we are to get to move and make new friends! We are going to have a fabulous new life!” and silently wondering how, beginning the next day, I was ever going to leave my children all day and work full time in another city, and how I was ever going to live through the next 50-60 years, much less ever smile for real again, I marveled at my ability to say one thing and think another! Must be my public relations expertise and crisis training. Lol. (Just kidding, my fellow PR professionals out there!)
As if my heart weren’t broken enough by all that I’d already lived through and had to endure, the giant cherry on the largest ice cream sundae of the grief and devastation that had become my lot in life was knowing I was spending the last day of my life as a “homemaker” (totally ironic–didn’t I just break my home up when I got divorced earlier that day?) and stay-at-home mom driving. Not the memory I wanted to make the last day before I’d have to leave my two youngest children, for the rest of their lives, to go to work to support my family. THAT had certainly never been my plan. I never dreamed I’d be anything but a stay-at-home mom. But again, I tried not to think about that as I continued to head west.
As a younger woman and younger mother, I’d made this same drive to Utah 6-8 times each year to stay in touch with family. As my children had gotten older and their schedules had gotten busier, I’d driven it less. And suddenly, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d made the drive alone. And then it hit me.
It was the day my mom died.
In that moment I decided I HATED the drive from Denver, Colorado, to anywhere in Utah.
That day had started out like any other. Get up early, exercise, nurse the baby, get the other kids off to school, straighten the house, return phone calls, take care of the business of the day, etc…Oh yes, and that day I was supposed to host a church function for 20-30 girls and their mothers for Mother’s Day (totally ironic, now that I think about it) so I was gathering decorations and items needed for that night, and making desserts.
And then my brother called. Totally unexpectedly. His words changed the course of that day. The ensuing events changed the rest of my life.
“They found mom this morning, unresponsive. They think she’s had a massive stroke,” he said.
“What? I should come right away! Let me gather my stuff, I’ll jump in the car and come there,” I offered.
“Lets not jump to any conclusions. Why don’t we wait and see what the MRI shows,” he said.
Relief flooded my soul. That didn’t sound as serious. Thank goodness, because my baby had the stomach flu. It would take me HOURS to make the drive to Utah, by myself, with a sick baby. So like an idiot, I continued to complete my tasks for that night and actually took the time to finish baking the desserts and called a good friend to substitute for me and take over the hostessing duties of the evening. (And in my defense, it is how my parents raised me to be. Serve others, go the extra mile, NEVER drop the ball on anything you have committed to do.)
A few hours later, the baby was still throwing up and the phone was ringing. It was my brother calling again. He was crying.
“The MRI shows a massive stroke. They’ve given mom 24-48 hours to live. How fast can you got here?”
Eight hours to drive.
More proof I really must be the Queen of Denial: I didn’t even pack a dress for a funeral. What was I thinking? That’s right, I wasn’t thinking. I threw some stuff in a suitcase, pulled my 5th grade daughter out of school to tend the baby as he threw up so I could keep driving, and headed to Utah.
It was an eight hour drive.
Plenty of time to think.
And my brother called every hour or so to ask if I was almost there. My mom was fading fast. All of my siblings were together, holding her hand and saying goodbye. I was alone. Driving to Utah.
About three hours into the trip I had an experience that was unusual enough I noted what I felt and the time I felt it. I didn’t have cell service at that moment, but as soon as I did, I got another phone call from my brother. He managed to choke out, “She died.” And somehow I managed to not crash but to keep driving through my grief. (Little did I know how expert I was to become in that over time.) And sure enough, I knew the moment in time my mom had died. I had felt it.
She hadn’t made it eight hours. So I cried and I drove. I drove and I cried. Maybe I should have appreciated it more. Because the next time I made the drive, in 2009, I wouldn’t have the luxury of tears.
Keep driving, Andrea.