The afterwards is dream-like. Tears, calls to siblings, dad on his way down from his Independent Living apartment. We dressed our mother in clothes that Johanna had selected, laid her out on the hospital bed she'd kept trying to escape. Dad sat beside her, head bowed, and held her hand. The nurses arrived to mark her departure. They called hospice, who contacted the Illinois Cremation Society. These are the protocols of death. My mother's body stayed warm, but turned a kind of caramel white. Her death grimace softened. Joy, her minister, arrived to help us pray, and sing, and say a bodily goodbye. I climbed onto the hospital bed to lie beside my mother's body for the last time. Joy, bless her, finally went home. A cheerful hospice nurse arrived. The next shift's caregivers paid their respects. When Precious, a Nigerian caregiver on "graveyard" shift, learned Eunice had died, she gave a great shout of grief that caught up all the great sorrow in that place -- mothers sick or dead in faraway places (West Africa, Asia, Latin America) and souls on the Memory floor unable to let go.
Finally, inevitably, the Cremation Society man wheeled in a gurney which held a velvet casing. A nurse helped him shift mom's body onto the gurney. With great care, he zipped up the case, leaving her face for last. It was almost midnight.
There were so many tasks after that Monday breakfast -- social security calls, her death certificates, her closest ally Anita and Beatris (above) doing the work of closure: emptying out her room, redistributing her goods to Chicago's Brown Elephant, determining the memorial. We left black trash bags packed with her clothes. Anita ordered take out Lebanese for lunch. When Erika organized a "Presbyterian shiva," that brought an overflow to dad's apartment, I hid in the back room. The next Sunday was Easter, a resurrection thick with grief. And grief is exhausting. I returned to California to continue teaching the semester. While others had an inkling of her presence, I couldn't feel her, so mired in the entanglement of her dementia and excruciating physicality of her last months alive.
I've had several years of dream drought. She arrived last week.
In the dream we siblings are clearing various rooms, selecting, packing, giving away. (We have also closed down dad's Independent Living apartment in Chicago and settled him near Scott in Philadelphia, and this dream closing felt a little like that.) I am lying in bed in last room. Mother comes in and stands at the left corner of the bed. She is tall, younger, placid. Has she been coming down the hall? I'm surprised, "mom, I didn't know you were here!" She is now at the right corner of the bed, whisking her arm briskly, back and forth. I wake.
When I am ready to leave, will she come for me like that: softly, wordless, gesturing, "I am not like this anymore"?