When I Get to Heaven
Copyright 2017 J.W. Christensen
Published J.W. Christensen at Shakespir
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This ebook contains strong language.
While we are sleeping, angels have conversations with our souls.-- Author Unknown
An Irish Blessing
[_These things, I warmly wish for you- _]
[_Someone to love, some work to do, _]
[_A bit of o’ sun, a bit o’ cheer. _]
And a guardian angel always near.
It was a sunny, but cold winter’s day mid-January. I was at the doctor’s office when I got the call. It was my sister. She never called me. I knew something was wrong. I walked outside and answered my phone.
“It’s mom. Come to the hospital,” my sister said.
“How bad is it?” I asked her.
“It’s bad. Really bad, just get here,” she said.
My blood ran cold. I nearly dropped my phone because my hands were shaking so badly. It was fucking cold outside. And I wasn’t prepared to deal with this…I knew it had been coming for a long time. But I had no idea. I had no fucking idea. With trembling hands, I texted my partner.
“I need you,” I said simply.
Tears filled my eyes. My voice was shaky. He called me, “How bad is it?” he asked me.
It’s funny, that’s the question we always ask. “How bad is it?”
She’s fucking dying, you nit-twit, isn’t that bad enough? But what else do you say in those situations, except, “It’s bad, it’s really fucking bad. I need you,” I said to him.
“I can’t get to you now, but text me tonight,” he replied.
He was never around when I needed him. And that day, I needed him the most. He disappointed me that day. I didn’t ask him for much. But that day – God, I needed him. Why it is the people you depend on the most, are often the biggest disappointments?
I was sitting in the back of a cab when he called me. We spoke for a few moments. I thought I would burst into sobs. But for some reason, the tears refused to come.
I prayed for traffic to move. I held my tongue. It wasn’t the driver’s fault. It was just the way things went. My knee jittered as it does when I’m feeling anxious. I checked my phone again. Still no messages. I had this feeling – this horrible gnawing feeling deep inside that I wouldn’t make it to the hospital on time. I would be too late. I would never get to see my mother again.
Finally, after thirty minutes of yelling and swearing at the traffic inside my head, bellowing obscenities that would make my mother bend down on her knees and say the rosary…the cab driver pulled up to the hospital.
Money was tight that year. I remember paying for the cab with a credit card. I hated doing that. But I had no choice. I had just received the clean bill of health from my doctor saying that I could return to work.
Oh, the irony.
I burst through the emergency doors and ran up to the security desk asking where I could find my mother. They took their time looking her name up in the system. I pounded my fist on the desk.
“Please hurry, she’s dying,” I begged them.
They looked at my sympathetically and said, “She was in ICU. Fifth floor. She’s in a private room.” I thanked the guard and ran down the hall to the lobby. I pressed the elevator button.
“Come on, come on…” I said impatiently.
The elevators in that hospital were so fucking slow. Why is everything so painfully slow when you’re in a hurry?
I ran down the hall and into my mother’s room. I don’t remember who was all in the room. I think my dad was there. He was sitting next to mom, holding her hand.
Mom was sitting up in bed looking happy. She was tired, she was always tired but she looked like she was – at peace. Like she had come to terms with her decision and she was sticking to it.
“There you are!” She looked up at me and smiled.
I rushed to her side and hugged her. I hugged my sisters. We sat next to each other on the small sofa in the room. My thirteen-year old niece, sat on my lap. She didn’t care who she snuggled with. She just needed a hug.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur. People came and went. Aunts and uncles stopped by to say their goodbyes.
That first night, the whole family was in the room. All eighteen of us – that’s just the immediate family.
Mom sat up in bed and said her final goodbyes to everyone. She had a special speech prepared for everyone. I wish I could remember what she said about me. I wish I had written it down. But it’s so long ago now…maybe I don’t want to remember.
She said she was proud of us all. She loved us all. She called me a talented musician. She was proud of the work I had done in our community. And that I would always be her “little girl” even though I was almost forty.
She went around the room – one by one, speaking clearly, coherently. Telling us all how stories about when we were little. And how she loved us all, so, so much.
As the day grew darker, the room started clearing out. The grandchildren all went home to put on their pajamas and sleep. Except for the eldest. He stayed the night.
My sisters and dad shared the sofa in the room. I tried to sleep on the sofa in the hallway. It was not at all comfortable.
I decided to wander around the hospital…I needed coffee. Badly.
I wandered down to the main floor cafeteria – it was closed. I finally found a vending machine that served hot coffee. I plunked the coins into the machine and selected a regular coffee with two sugars, two creams.
The place was empty. I found a table in the back and sat there by myself. I was exhausted. I needed someone to talk to. So, I did what I always did. I texted him.
“I really need you,” I said.
“I’m here, what can I do?”
“No, I need you – here,”
“You know I can’t, not tonight…I’m sorry,” he said. He was always fucking sorry. But he never did anything about it.
“You’re never here when I need you. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with you,” I complained.
“You don’t mean that,” he said, “You’re over-emotional and you’re tired. You’re just tired,” he tried to tell me. That just pissed me off even more.
“Don’t tell me how I’m feeling. I fucking hate that,” I said.
The phone rang within moments. He whispered quietly into the phone. “You know I can’t be there tonight, I wish I could, but I can’t…I do love you.”
“No, you don’t, if you loved me – you’d be here,” I said stubbornly.
I heard him sigh into the phone. I was in the mood for a fight. I was picking. I knew that he was probably right. He always was. But damn it. I needed him. And he wasn’t there – again. Everyone in the family had someone. I was the only one there in the hospital alone. He was never really mine. I know that now.
“I’m not going to argue with you when you’re like this. But if you need to talk, I’m here. I love you,” he said and hung up the phone.
I sat there in the coffee shop with my head buried in my hands. I rubbed my eyes. Still, the tears wouldn’t come. Why is it you can never cry when you need to? Perhaps it was because I was fighting the tears too. An hour went by and I went back up to my mother’s room. The lights were out and my sisters and dad were snuggled under a blanket on the sofa.
“Go home,” Sharon, the oldest said to me. “Really, we’ll call you in the morning. You haven’t been well, you need your rest.”
I was too tired to argue. I hugged them all and kissed them goodnight. I looked at the clock – it was three in the morning. I hailed another cab, and paid another twenty-five bucks and headed home for a few hours of sleep and a shower. I needed a shower so fucking badly.
The next morning, I was at the hospital by ten. Dad was sitting by her bed when I got there. He looked like hell. He stood up and hugged me.
“Can I get you anything?” I asked him.
He shook his head sadly. “No, your sisters just went home to take the kids to school. They’ll be back soon. Your aunt is on the way.”
I nodded. Mom opened her eyes and looked at me. She grunted. I leaned down and kissed her cheek. She tried to speak.
“What’s wrong with her?” I asked him.
“The medication is wearing off. It won’t be long now,” he said as he reached for her hand.
His best friend and wife of forty-five years was dying before him. I knew how I felt. But I couldn’t even imagine what he was going through. She was all he knew. She was his life. She made all the household decisions. She made all the financial decisions. Now everything would be left up to him.
“It’s okay dad,” I said to him. “It’ll be okay.”
He nodded despondently at me. Mom opened her eyes and looked at dad. For a little while, she was coherent and we could talk to her.
My eldest sister returned and sat on the sofa next to me. We both looked up in surprise when dad asked…
“What did you ever see in me? Why did you marry me?” he said.
“I was the lucky one,” she whispered to him.
“Is it because I’m so good looking?” he joked.
She rolled her head over and all she could muster was, “Yeah.”
As the day went on, more family members stopped by to say their farewells. The room was starting to get crowded so I waited out in the hallway with my nieces and nephews.
We laughed, we joked – they played games. We tried keeping them happy.
But deep down everyone knew what was going on. It was a charade. It’s hard to put up a false face when your insides feel like they’re eating at you. My stomach was in knots. I couldn’t eat. And I didn’t want to sleep.
My aunt and uncle came out of the room and we hugged. “We’re going for lunch – do you want anything?” they asked us. The kids jumped up and followed them down to the main floor. I went back to my mother’s room.
“I’m taking dad home to shower and change, we’ll be back soon,” my sister Anna said. She gave me a hug. Her eyes were red. “The others will be back in a couple of hours.”
I nodded and sat down next to my mom. I put my hand on her arm and kissed her forehead. I sang to her. Some of her favorite songs. I talked to her. I told her that I loved her. That I would miss her.
She looked up at me at one point and said, “Why can’t I die?”
I looked at her, “Wh- what?” I said.
“Why can’t I die?” she repeated.
She stared up at the ceiling. Her eyes were vacant. Her body, limp. Her skin had already started to turn yellow. They say the kidneys are one of the first things to go.
Sharon came back into the room. “The priest is here,” she exclaimed.
I looked up and saw an elderly nun standing behind her. She was carrying a large bible and had a rosary in her hand. The priest followed closely behind. His face was solemn.
I sat on the sofa with my sister. We watched as my mother confessed her sins and recited the Lord’s Prayer. It broke my heart when she looked up at the priest.
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A short personal story about my struggle accepting my mother's death and learning to say goodbye. This book is to help others through the grieving process and know that you are not alone.