This time she really died.
Not like the other times when she sort of died, when her heart stopped and they resuscitated her and we didn’t know if she would come back. This time, apparently, she is not coming back.
This time there was a plastic bag from a hospital with her possessions to take home. Inside were clothes that had been violently ripped off her body in a fruitless attempt to restart her tired heart, clothes stained with her blood and fragrant with her perfume.
This time there was that dreaded phone call pronouncing The End. There were condolence cards, tears, old friends. This time I stood in front of a chapel filled with people and relayed the magic of who she was to me. And I watched a beautiful mahogany casket lowered into the ground. The black limousine drove away and she was not sitting next to me. This time I had to say good-bye for real, good-bye to my mom.
I knew she would leave one day, but not this day. This day when the sun was shining and she hopped into the back of a yellow cab on the Upper East Side and headed ten blocks to an appointment. Not this day, when I had just emailed her a picture of a leather jacket to ask her if it was “too girlie” for my son to wear. This day, when we were arranging for her to see my son play guitar in his school concert tomorrow. No one warned me that this day would end up being that day, the final day, the only day I have ever known that came without a tomorrow.
She was a woman of courage. A survivor of a rageful father who denied her an invitation to study ballet abroad, who forced the annulment of her secret marriage to her college sweetheart and destroyed their dream. She survived the death of both her parents before her 24th birthday, the betrayal of her husband of 10 years, a heart attack at age 39, a number of loves, one who died suddenly by her side, another heart attack, two cardiac surgeries, a stroke, a stent, two resuscitations, two internal defibrillators.
Her spirit was never tainted by her misfortunes. She was a single mother who returned to school in her forties, graduated from college, got her Master’s degree from Columbia University, performed in community theatre, drove carpool, loved babies and dogs, befriended doormen and shopkeepers, cab drivers and neighbors. She loved not only her three children but mothered many of their friends who needed her. She included all in her family, the family she created after her blood ties had passed and her marriage was stolen away. She was generous to a fault, graceful and elegant, classy but simple. She had movie-star beauty but her eternal radiance was her spirit. Her glass was neither half-empty nor half-full; it was always overflowing. The thorns in her life were painful yet she never let them overshadow her flower. She bloomed bright even on the darkest days; her petals always silky, her stem forever sturdy, her colors awe-inspiring. An exquisite Iris.
In the blink of an eye, “Iris is my mom” became “Iris was my mom.” All in a tragic second at 3:30 pm in the back of a taxi cab in New York City, I became motherless and my mother became past tense. No one checked with me first. I never gave my permission and I certainly never requested enrollment in this inevitable club. She died and I earned a lifetime membership that I cannot refuse. I yearn to protest but there is no appeal process, no complaint department, no supervisor to summon. There are just other members who sadly welcome me with knowing looks and shared tears.
My mourning is about to begin. The events are all done, the physical remnants of her time here have been packed up, given away to loved ones and charities, commissioned to be sold or simply thrown out in large Hefty bags meant to hold lawn trimmings. I am reluctantly approaching that black hole of feeling and words seem inadequate to describe my fear. I don’t know the depth of the abyss that awaits me or how far I may fall. I will enter this uncertainty, with one foot following another, holding the hands of those who have come before me. I beg my strength to find me. And although my mom cannot join me as I walk forward, I am clear that I am not alone on this road.