Going into her apartment is like ripping off a bandaid, exposing the raw wound to the cold, fresh air once again.
She's not in the blue recliner just inside the door, nor is the blue recliner just inside the door, anymore. I pick up a fallen t-shirt and remember the cruise on which it originated. I turn to remind her how much Daddooooo didn't want to go to Alaska, and how she prevailed in the end, and how he insisted that he'd had a terrible time, all the while regaling us with stories of ice floes and more food than you could shake a stick at....and she's not there.
She's inside my head in a way she wasn't when her body was still living down the road. Why I could ignore her then but cannot now? Is her spirit that confused? Is it stuck on a cactus thorn? She just can't seem to leave me alone.
I watched a young man with a bandaged foot maneuver the mobile shopping cart through the aisles at Target and I turn to laugh with her about the time she took out the toilet paper display with a similar vehicle. I get as far as moving my head before I realize that, no matter how many degrees it moves, my mom will not be there.
It's the finality of this death business that gets to me.
It makes me very sad, not for her, but for me. She is reunited with the woman she used to be, knitting intricately patterned sweaters out of the world's scratchiest wool; reading, slowly but steadily, novels of ever increasing length; waking up at 2am for a glass of warm milk and another chapter or two; gardening and reading Ann Landers and being herself.
My mother. The woman who knew me better than most and who thought I was just about perfect. She who knew and loved my husband and my children and didn't have to be reminded that the young ones were scattered to the far edges of the USofA.
The things she remembered until the very end were those that were never to be forgotten, under any circumstances. Her birth date, her social security number, the code to the garage on the house she hadn't owned for a decade, the phone number to that same house. The things I wanted her to remember, she did not. From the practical - my children's names - to the profound - why she married my father - she left me with shrugged shoulders and no answers.
Her life, once she moved here to Arizona, became increasingly circumscribed. Making new friends is tough when you can't remember that you've been introduced many times before. Failing vision and memory made reading an impossibility. Following instructions was more than she could manage, so crewel work no longer occupied her time.
She became, at the end, a human sitting in a chair in front of a television. The interesting and interested woman I knew as Mommy was gone, replaced by a simulacrum. Bits and pieces would burst forth on occasion, startling me with their clarity and connection to the past. Those were few and far between of late.
She had no pleasures left, refusing even chocolate and anything more than a gentle peck on the cheek. By the time she smiled and asked for sleep instead of conversation, burrowing gently into her pillow for the last time, all that was left was the love.
I kissed her.... said I love you...heard I love you,too... and walked out of the room knowing that the last words she'd hear would be filled with affection. I'm sad that she's gone, but I'm not sorry. It was her time. She left us on her own terms, getting her wish, dying in bed.
Sad but not sorry.... it will have to do.