The most shocking phone call in my life came at the most ordinary moment. I was sitting down at the dinner table with my husband, my fork moving with my hands as we talked about our day. I was about to ignore the call, but my sister’s name flashed on the Caller ID and on an impulse, I wedged the phone between my shoulder and ear as I pierced the fork into the chicken leg on my plate.
“Hi!” I called cheerily.
There was no greeting back and my sister’s voice came through the line in a breathless yell. “Mom collapsed! We’re on the way to the hospital!”
My cutlery clattered to my plate. “What? Mom!?”
I was talking to a dial tone. I took the phone and stared at it for a dazed moment.
My husband was by my side in seconds. “What’s going on?”
I slid out of my seat and ran to the front door, my husband a step behind. Supper remained untouched on the table. “I don’t know! Mom… collapsed?” I jammed my feet into sneakers; the words hovered over us, a dangling question.
My mother was 51 years old and otherwise healthy. She had no history of… anything. Our untied laces pelted the pavement as we raced to the car. “Tell me she’s okay. Tell me she’s okay,” I whispered. My husband bit his lip, his knuckles white against the wheel. We sped through the streets, the car lurching like my heart.
At the hospital, we dashed right to the emergency room. The doors, the faces, the sterile white walls whirled in a blur around us.
It was a brain aneurysm, the doctors explained. The prognosis was not good. Suddenly, time slowed. Everything sharpened. The lights were too bright, the walls ghostly.
Within hours, it was over.
The doctor wrung his hands. “I’m sorry,” he said, “she didn’t make it.”
I’m sorry. Those vague, trite words that get tossed about for the most mundane apologies. I’m sorry, we ran out of ketchup. I’m sorry your mother is gone.
My world crumpled. As a young child, I had vomited before school at the thought of separating from my mother. The void my Mom left by her sudden absence was enormous, engulfing.
Sitting at the funeral, through a haze of static and blur of tears, I watched people march up to the podium to share anecdotes about my mother. I had no idea who several of them were. The stories were all different but a common thread united them. They all highlighted acts of kindness that my mother did during her lifetime. The little things and the big things that had made a difference in people’s lives. As I listened to the tales about my mother, I closed my eyes through stabs of pain and promised myself that I would dedicate my life to helping others.
As a therapist, I had seen many people in my office who had endured tragedies decades earlier and the pain was so raw, they still couldn’t talk about it. I told myself that I’d summon all the strength I had to face my emotions and overcome my grief.