Reality is a sneaky bitch. Reality is totally undependable. At times reality comes at you like a mad elephant, bent on skewering you with its tusks first, then stomping the bloody remains into the earth with no emotion, and topping it off by triumphantly trumpeting its victory for all the jungle to hear. At other times reality sneaks up on you with deadly intent and takes its sweet time; announcing its arrival in the quiet of the night. Worst of all, when you want some reality in your life it simply declares a game of hide-and-go-seek.
In the last 3 weeks I have been subjected to every one of reality’s whimsical personalities. It started with a 10 day stretch at work so I could take the time off to return to Utah without losing any pay, in order to do my part in packing up the equivalent of nearly 200 years of family history. This last week was the most aggravating mix of tears and laughter I have ever experienced.
Ever since my last real visit with Mom the end of July, I’d been aware that she might be declining at a more rapid rate than before. However, it wasn’t exactly an awareness that seemed “realistic”. It all seemed academic somehow; totally void of emotion. In my experience, emotion of some type always accompanied reality, which is not to say that emotion can’t coexist in a reality void. I don’t know about you, but when reality is unpleasant, I for one tend to live emotionally in a bubble of sans-reality. But it’s not for reasons you might expect.
If I’m ultimately faced with reality, an unpleasant reality, in order to avoid painful emotions I tend to “look on the bright side” so to speak. I imagine some form of personal advantage to me as a result. When I realize what I’m doing I feel terribly guilty and immediately seek to detach from the reality. The Scarlett O’Hara in me comes out and I say to myself, “I don’t want to think about that right now.” That’s when the “sneaky bitch” reality begins to sneak around.
I didn’t want to think about life without Mom, but the reality that she wasn’t going to be around much longer begin to slowly seep into my conscious. I used to call her every night, or nearly every night and that first night that she wasn’t able to talk to me, though she was awake and conscious, I shrugged off as the effect of her new meds. The next night was no better. And then the night when she couldn’t hold up the phone or speak. The next night there was no response at all. I just couldn’t admit that I’d had my last conversation with her. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t happening. The sneaky bitch wasn’t so sneaky now.
Then came the phone call from my sister Sally telling me that she was making plane reservations for me for the next morning. Next the memory of the same call I made to Peter a week before his mom died welled up in me, but I still couldn’t grasp the reality of what lay ahead. In spite of it all I wasn’t prepared for what I found when I arrived. All the memories of Marilyn’s last few days rolled out for review. Both of me said our goodbyes and I returned to my home and work. A day and half later the call came from Sally that Mom was gone.
Time off from work was arranged, the trip planned and made, funeral attended. When the time came before the funeral itself and I arrived at the church I couldn’t bring myself to view her body. The memory of Marilyn in her casket made it impossible for me to see Mom in hers in spite of what others said about how good she looked. “How good she looked?” A voice inside of me screamed, “She looks dead.” No, I/we had said my/our goodbyes when she could still acknowledge it and there was still an ember of life in her eyes.
I had been the last to leave the house a few days after the funeral. And I had purchased and posted a “For Sale” sign in front of the house then left for home again after one last walk through the house stopping a moment in each room to lock in the memories.
Then the return trip to pack up the house when it sold. That’s when the mixture of tears and laughter occurred. When it came time for me to leave, Sally asked me if I wanted some time alone in the house. I said no, I’d had that on my last visit. I did take one last walk through though, but the chaos of the packing left me with an empty feeling so it was a hurried tour. Still no real emotional pain; no reality consciousness.
I was exhausted from lack of sleep but left for home with my car packed to the roof with cherished memorabilia around 8:45 the evening before Thanksgiving. I felt a tightening in my stomach as I left Sally standing alone in the driveway with her dog. I stopped to say goodbye to Kim on my way out. She had been a God-send for most of the last 8 years; paying the bills, looking after the needs of Mom and her house faithfully. And still no reality consciousness.
Our brother, his two sons and his wife’s nephew showed up just after Sally left the day after Thanksgiving to begin loading it all in a truck, 2 trucks and a big trailer actually. They emptied the house and left Kim to hire people to clean it before the closing. Still no reality consciousness.
Then came the text message from Kim with a last picture of the front door, but this time it was dark, inside and outside. Kim’s only text was, “I can’t stop crying.” And then … I cried. I sobbed. I wept at last as the reality of what was lost forever finally hit me.