For several years my youngest daughter Caitlin has been working in my home office one day a week. She’s my bookkeeper and my assistant. She manages the Monthly Marketing Bundle Program, which she helped me develop nearly eight years ago. I create content for image professionals to use in their marketing. She helps me come up with outlines for articles and tip sheets for that program. She’s my partner in planning and promoting classes. She’s the voice of reason when I take on too much, and she changes ink cartridges in the printer. (Someone over sixty should never have to do this.)
Every Office Tuesday around 5 or 5:30 I’m on the computer when I hear sounds behind me: a plug being pulled out of a wall socket; the wrapping of a long computer cord; the cover slamming closed on a laptop; items being tossed into a workbag; and then the jangle of keys. It’s the sound of leaving.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” I say without lifting my fingers off the keyboard.
She says, “Well, what do you need? I’m going.”
I have a few paragraphs left to write on an article about what to wear for casual or dressy dates when you’re over 50. It’s for the MMB members.
“Just help me organize the ending,” I say. She nails the last three points of the piece in about sixty seconds. Unbelievable!
Okay, I can let her go now. I get up from my desk and walk her to her car. It’s windy and cold. I kiss her twice, thank her for her brilliance once again, and watch her drive away.
I finish the piece after dinner. Now what do I do? I have about forty-five minutes of brain activity left in me before heading to bed with my book. I’m kind of jacked up after meeting that deadline. I feel like celebrating.
And then it comes to me. I’ll call Mom! She loves hearing about our Office Tuesdays. She’d love to know how Caitlin saved the day.
“Caitlin is one of us.”
When we’re back in Minnesota, Caitlin is in Mom’s kitchen a lot, cooking and baking. She goes out in the morning to the rhubarb patch across the road. She comes back with an armful of rhubarb stalks. She’s got enough rhubarb for two pies. Yum, dessert! Other times she’s at Mom’s side making lefse, a classic Norwegian treat that you don’t find in Northern California. It’s a two-person job. Or Caitlin is using the kitchen floor to demonstrate her hip-hop dance moves, making Mom blush and giggle. Although Caitlin was born in Marin County and lives in San Francisco, Mom sees more Minnesota in her than she sees California. She’s a Bay Area girl but to Mom, “She’s one of us.”
I grab my lip balm from the guest bathroom before grabbing the phone. I’m already conversing with her in my head, telling her about her granddaughter—the “one of us” granddaughter—and Mom’s fully engaged. She’s vibrant, youthful, and full of life.
And then I remember: She’s not there.
My left hand grips the bathroom counter. I feel my knees go weak. I let out a wail. Russ comes rushing from the other end of the house. “What’s wrong?” he says.
“It’s Mom. I want to call her.”
The tears come hard. They aren’t a soft drizzle; they hit my face like hail.
It’s just not right! She should be here! She should be receiving my phone call and sinking into her oversized cranberry recliner on the lakeside of the house, relaxed and settling in for a nice long conversation, just the way she likes it.
“God damn it,” I say, crying harder.
I reject the facts
She had a fall.
She suffered a traumatic brain injury.
She nearly died in the ICU, but she pulled through! The doctor said she could be back to her old self in twelve months, “just give it time.” I was doing that. I was being a good girl. I was pacing myself. I was giving her brain time to heal.
WHY IS SHE NOT HERE?
Russ has me in his arms. “How does anyone survive this?” I ask him. “They just live through each day the best they can,” he says. “You’re doing it.”
I used to…but now I…
Before March 25, 2015 I used to read Facebook posts and see messages like, “Mom died seven years ago today. I never stop thinking of her.” I wasn’t heartless but I might not write anything. I’d scroll on to the next person’s post about being a new grandparent and comment, “Congrats! So cute!”
But now when I come across a post about loss, I never pass up the opportunity to leave a compassionate comment.
Because now I know.