“You have any stories for me Uncle Bill?”
“Well, I just read about this pregnant lady in Poland. She was in labor for 75 days. For two months, the doctors made her lay upside down to keep her from giving birth too early.” I smiled picturing polish hospitals full of upside down patients.
“That can’t be true.” Iris shook her head.
Iris missed the point of the stories. Uncle Bill and I always looked up strange facts on the internet. I liked the stories. Even if I was old enough to know that they weren’t all necessarily true.
I was 13, old enough to be left alone with Aster. Still, while we waited for Daddy to come back home, Uncle Bill came to sit with us anyway.
Daddy was at the hospital awaiting our new baby sister, about to become the proud papa yet again. He never said it aloud, but I could tell that he was worried about how he was going to afford a new baby. Every time Mama excitedly brought home a new item for the baby, he would smile, but he would get a worried look in his eyes and his forehead would wrinkle.
Uncle Bill ordered a pizza from my favorite restaurant. We all laughed at how Iris dabbed at the slices with a napkin before eating them. I personally always thought the greasiness was the best part of the pizza. And, I loved how the slices were cut huge, each one the size of your face.
We sat up late, eating in the living room, watching The Wizard of Oz. I was picking out a piece of pepperoni buried under layers of cheese, when he got the call from the hospital. He was still on the phone when he got up and left the room. It was twenty minutes before he came back.
“Dolly, why don’t you turn the TV off? I need to talk to you girls about something important.” Nobody argued with him, not me, not Aster, not Iris. There was something in his voice. Something told us this was not the time for that. This was serious. After he sat us down, he gave us the news. Mama had started bleeding. They tried to stop it but they just couldn’t.
Growing up in Lewiston Idaho, you come to expect a certain degree of safety. You never expect to hear a loved one has died. And, no matter where you live, your mother is never supposed to die. Uncle Bill started crying and Aster hugged him. Iris had an almost expressionless look on her face. It was as if she was only still sitting there because we expected her to, as if maybe she was waiting for something. I was sure that Uncle Bill was overreacting, sure that Mama was only sick not dead and the doctors would find some way to bring her back.
When Daddy came home, he didn’t say much. Aster cooed over the baby and marveled at how tiny she was. Iris wouldn’t even look at Lily when she first came home. Me? I didn’t have any choice in my relationship to Lily. Daddy slacked a lot when it came to things like diaper changings and feedings. Uncle Bill stayed home and “watched” us, after Daddy went back to work. That meant that he was there, but I did most of what needed doing. Of course, Aster helped as best a seven year old could. Iris, however, was no help at all. She was always doing her own thing. When Daddy came home, he would take care of some things, but like a robot. As if, if he did anything more than necessary or displayed any kind of emotion it would show he didn’t miss Mama.
I guess sometimes when someone you love dies, if you aren’t careful, a piece of you just might die with her.
It could be a coincidence, but not long after Mama passed away, I decided to clean out my room and give all my toys to Aster. I had things to do that were more important. I guess after the day we lost Mama I took it on myself to make sure everyone was all right. I spent most of my time thinking about the living, worrying about my family. But, my spare time I spent thinking about Mama. I spent a lot of time on the computer, reading. In 1996, a coroner declared a woman declared dead, only to find her snoring in the morgue, a day and a half later. They called it Lazarus Syndrome. Part of me could not help wondering if Mama was still alive. Somehow, reading about these stories gave me hope, even though we had buried Mama long ago. There was a church in walking distance of house. Aster and I started going to church on Sundays. I knew that miracles could happen. It was a fact. I read about them all the time on the internet. If a miracle could happen, then there was no reason why Mama couldn’t be waiting for us when we got home? Nevertheless, even with my newfound sense of religion and no matter how hopeful I felt, a part of me inside, where no one else could see, felt angry about Mama’s death. It seemed twisted Irony that I became my baby sister’s main caregiver. I would never say this to Lily, but when she was born, I could not help feeling that a new baby was a poor replacement for a mother. I do not know if it hurt my chances of getting my prayers answered, but every time I spoke to him asking that he bring Mama back, God knew that I was willing to make a trade for her. A huge part of me wished it had been different… wished that Lily had died instead of Mama. Lily was two years old before I realized the sad and beautiful truth. Like all tragic events, my mother’s death would not have and could not have, happened any other way. It was all, as people say, meant to be.
Barbara Eastwood’s the author of the recently released book, "The Dozen
Lives of Erica Whitefield," available at all major bookstores. She’s a
resident of Fredericksburg, Virginia. Holding a degree in Psychology,
she spends much of her time helping at risk children and families. You
can follow Barbara on twitter @eatingtheburg.
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