America’s Independence Day, a time of getting together with friends and family, barbecues and fireworks…
For me, this day is almost always a sad one, it’s the anniversary of my Mom’s death. We had been at Disneyland, of all places, when she’d taken ill with what we thought were flu symptoms. In the very early hours of July 4th I awoke to flashing lights. I’d been sleeping in our ’67 Ford station wagon (my brother and I took turns sleeping out there as there wasn’t room in the tent for the four of us.)
I looked out the window and saw my brother standing with arms folded, Mom being placed on a gurney. I asked my brother what happened, if it was Mom, and before he could answer I started crying. He asked what was wrong, I told him I’d had a dream where the three of us (my brother, Dad and I) were standing in a hospital crying.
The last thing I ever heard Mom say was, “Oh God, I don’t want to die.”
I did not end up going with them to the hospital, my 16-year-old logic thought if I didn’t go, she wouldn’t die. The neighbors at the campground offered me a ride, I tried to explain saying “I had a dream….” but again, tears got in the way. The officers who responded to the initial call came by a couple of times to check on me, asking if I’d like to go to the hospital, each time I refused.
I spent the sleepless night pacing the concrete campground crying and waiting. After several hours the patrol car dropped off my Dad and brother. My brother passed by me first, completely silent with that far away look, I knew. Dad, who I’d never seen cry, hugged me and told me she was gone. (He then asked me the most odd question, if I wanted her watch…Dad’s timing and tact have always been questionable. At any rate, I told him I didn’t want her watch. My heart wanted her, not her watch!)
Grief can bind people together or it can tear them apart. My family was fractured before Mom’s death, that fault line would only continue to grow one direction. It’s hard to think that at one point in time we all went through this together, but apparently not ‘together’.
I would take over Mom’s place in the family as Dad was devastated, I have three brothers, and was the only female left. My brothers are all older than me, one 18-months, one 8 years and the other 9 years. I assumed the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, decorating, even sending Christmas cards, pretty much every job Mom did that I could. I didn’t know how to cook and received terrible criticisms from my brothers and Dad. To this day I loathe cooking. It doesn’t take one too much to see they could have helped and encouraged instead, but to do so, that would be completely uncharacteristic of my family! I learned quickly the narrow limiting roles women have in our family, and how, sad to say, we are considered much, much less. A big disconnect where everyone silently suffers.
When Dad was in the hospital a couple years ago with Open Heart surgery, I visited Mom’s grave, something I used to do often, but not in recent years since moving to Kitsap County. That year marked the 25th anniversary of her passing. I did not think I would cry, so many years later, but I did. It was almost as if no time had passed and there I was that fragile little 16-year-old girl whose life was abruptly shattered.