On a Sunday afternoon she took her last breath and our hearts broke. There were no profound last words. There was no Hollywood scene to soothe her passing.
Hospice never showed up. On the other side of the curtain her rehab roommate did exercises with her physical therapist. We held our vigil alone, unseen, and ignored. Our chairs pressed against her bed, chairs we'd sneaked from other parts of the home.
We love you.
We're staying here with you.
Once I held a vigil at the bedside of a friend's child. Machines were turned off while hospital noise and nurse laughter filled the hallway.
Maybe that's how it should be. The world does not stop for death. You get your purse and dig out car keys and drive home, leaving behind a child, parent, or a mother-in-law.
At home I stare at nothing and go through motions, dinner, laundry, funeral. I call people and go to the mall so Gummy can have a pretty new blouse for her funeral. I buy underthings too, expensive ones, because this is the last thing I can do for her.
During the next week I think that often, until I follow the minister's eulogy and speak aloud the words I'd written in the notes app of my phone, heated words, loving words. A wise woman once told me to speak even if my voice shakes. It doesn't, but my hands do. They want to hit something. Afterwards I kiss Gummy goodbye and know she's not there. I help carry the coffin that the guys said isn't heavy. It is.
At the cemetery I sit in one of the chairs by the grave, watching light and dark bounce shadows over the mahogany of the casket, like it did over Gummy's life. The minister unexpectedly sings. It's a song about turning into a butterfly. He has a beautiful voice. Mentally I always correct these lyrics. Butterflies do not hatch from cocoons. They drop their exoskeleton and form a chrysalis. It's much more magical and possibly painful, like Gummy's painful struggle with dementia and Alzheimer's.
With family and friends I place a yellow rose on top of her casket and walk away.
Between the cemetery and the church I have time to cry. There will be more time later when sorting through her things from memory care and I find all the little notes she wrote herself.
Call Poppy and tell him to come get you. It's been tough here.
Gummy Karfelt. My phone number is...
My birthday is...
Small stupid things break my heart.
Those personal pizzas they sell at the front of Target that she liked.
Her frog socks.
The broken shard of a ceramic piece in the bottom of her purse—the brown hand of a Native American Princess she'd painted and broke during a tantrum.
A single vintage hair curler from the 50's.
The ceramic hand and curler will end up in a baggie with her notes, and tucked into a drawer in the room she used to live in at my house.
Pictures have become priceless and they go into drawers too. For weeks I move slower and can't shake this cold. But I hold the baby tighter no matter what cooties she brings home from day care, and I buy over-priced Harry Potter LEGOS for kids I don't know from the Angel Tree at the bank. At Starbucks I drink the venti size chai latte and talk to a friend in pain of her own. We laugh. A lot.
At night before the stores close I shop for Christmas gifts for family and friends whether they celebrate or not. It doesn't matter. I'm thinking of you. You need to laugh too. We all do. Gummy would understand. Gummy would be laughing already, appropriate or not. I know this. We had the same inappropriate sense of humor.
Stoics say we only have the present. The past is gone. We'll never have the future, only a series of now's. No matter how many we get, they do end. Gummy's now is over. But she had them, and she made them beautiful and light. Neither dementia nor Alzheimer's could do a damn thing about that. Life is beautiful. If you make it so. It's not easy, but it is your choice how to spend your now's.