When I woke up last Friday, I knew.
I didn’t know what I knew. I just knew.
I do that sometimes – know stuff. I don’t talk about it much because it’s weird to say “I knew that was going to happen” as you watch something unfold. Most of the time, it’s mundane things. An old friend I haven’t talked to in ages reaches out, or a pregnancy announcement is made, a couple breaks up or a co-worker announces they’re leaving. Other times it’s a bit more serious. I’ll think “so and so is going through something” and find out later on that they are.
No one is predicting lottery numbers or seeing the future, but there’s a reason I base most of my decisions on gut feelings. I’ve simply learned to trust those pangs of knowing.
All the same, I knew something was going to happen that day.
I woke up late. 6:20AM. I needed to leave by 6:30 – 6:35 if I pushed my luck – to make it to the studio by 6:45 to teach a 7AM barre class. I was a few minutes behind schedule, but I only had one person signed up for class, and she no-showed. I headed back home to play with Knox and eat my breakfast before going to the office. I was selfishly grateful for the unexpected slow morning having taught the last two mornings.
If I’m being truthful, I wasn’t overly productive at work. I checked to see if a scheduled post went up as planned on my blog, replied to some work emails, did a little testing on forms, shared some laughs and some gossip with my co-workers. It was Friday, after all, and we had been busting out work all week. Programs were wrapping up, many people were working from home, and it was raining again – a good setup for some work, some fun.
I was clearing away my birthday decorations when my stepdad texted me.
“They’re doing some kind of procedure and its not going good.”
My mom had been in the hospital exactly a month last Friday. She had a minor stroke in July, lost her right leg in October, made a great “comeback” as I was fond of calling it, and was doing so well. Then she fell a couple of days before being admitted to the hospital for the last time. Her health rapidly declined over the next few weeks.
My stepdad’s text could have meant so many things. She was a bit of a difficult patient in her last days – she could have been resisting them. She had “difficult veins” and sometimes blood draws and IV sticks caused more trouble than the average person. In this case, it meant her heart had stopped. Just like on TV, a code was called and people swarmed. They worked on her for a long time, and then for a few more minutes, because my stepdad was there and he asked them to. She passed away around 2pm.
There’s no good time to get news like that. While my stepdad was texting updates, I called my dad. Always a daddy’s girl, I needed his voice. I cried on the phone and asked if I could stay with him that weekend – a dumb question because OF COURSE I could stay with him. He cried with me. My parents divorced when I was in third grade, but overall, they maintained a good relationship. He and my stepdad are even friends, in spite of it all. In that moment, I was thankful for the way their divorce shook out.
Co-workers make or break a workplace, and mine are above and beyond. I already knew that, but when I walked back into our open office space and fell apart, there were so many hugs, words of comfort, offers to drive me home. One of them followed me home and the texts came, asking if they could send food, bring wine… One of them sent me David Rose GIFs and if you know me, you know I laughed in spite of it all.
My dad asked me not to drive the three-and-a-half hours that night. It was storming and the weather was only getting worse, both in Chapel Hill and in Charlottesville. My stepdad echoed the sentiment. And so I locked myself away in my apartment, responded to countless messages, answered countless calls, and tried to simply be. And cried. I cried more in one afternoon than I’ve cried in the last year combined.
Grandma Myrtle called. She’ll be 92 next month. My goal in life is to be as sassy and vibrant as her at that age. I said “hello,” she said my name, and I bawled. When I settled down, she said “you’re not going to believe this” and told me how around 2pm – when my mom passed, a time she didn’t know yet – she was sitting in her chair, watching TV when “something passed over me and I knew something had happened to Sherri.” My uncle called her a half hour later with the news.
I’ve always known I get the “knowing” from Grandma. We don’t talk about it much, but it’s always been normal for her to say “so and so is calling” and get up to answer the phone before it ever rings. It always rings and it’s always “so and so.” She agreed that it would be nice to know lottery numbers, for a change.
A lot of things go through your mind when you learn your mom has passed. She won’t be there for my wedding or my babies, the twins’ college graduations. She hadn’t sent her nightly “Love you!!” text in several days, too sick to use her phone for much other than the occasional Facebook like, but I thought, surely, she’d be back to sending those soon. I won’t get those anymore. There won’t be anymore side eyes when I say something she finds ridiculous or a recent favorite line, “I don’t know why you are the way you are,” when I announce my latest grand idea. She said it with such a blend of sarcasm and love that I knew she really meant it with pride. I was the risk taker in her eyes, always the first to try something, the first to raise my hand for an adventure, and while I think that scared her, I know it also made her proud.
What about the holidays? She made a big deal out of holidays. Who does that now? What does Christmas look like without Mama? Will her dog, Jack, jokingly the “favorite child,” be okay without her? He loves my stepdad just fine, but it was her who hand fed him and rocked him when he was a tiny five week old abandoned puppy. He’s an 80lb pitbull mix now that has no idea he isn’t still that tiny, but she still held him like a baby when he climb into her lap every morning.
The list goes on and on. Each thing will come as they come. Easter will be different. Mother’s Day will be hard. I won’t get a random text reminder to put on sunscreen at some point over Memorial Day weekend or a pointed “behave yourself” on the Fourth of July, like *I* was the kid she needed to send that message to.
As heartbroken as I am, I can’t help but think of how incredible God’s works are. My prayer since seeing her so ill in the hospital days before she passed was “please, God, heal my mom.”
And He did.
Not in the way we wanted Him to, but in the way He needed to. He made her whole again, something no doctor on earth could do. There is comfort, too, in knowing this isn’t our permanent home. We only get to stay here for a little while. Some of us stay longer than others. My mom only got 54 years, but she was greeted in Heaven by so many family members gone before her – my Papa and her mom, Katherine, who passed when Mom was a child, leading the way.
I took a tremendous amount of comfort in that image, sitting in my apartment while the rain poured down, lightning popped, and Two and a Half Men played out on TV. She loved that show. She loved it because Papa loved it. I think we all love it because Papa loved it, raunchy and offensive as it is. Sitting there, I saw her, whole, with two healthy legs, walking to meet our family. It was a sweet peace that I can’t describe.
A dear friend who also lost a parent far too soon recommended that I take something blue of my mom’s and cut a piece from it for myself and my sister to sew into our wedding dresses. I did that. She was making Christmas ornaments to sell at local craft fairs and I made sure myself, my brother, and my sister each had at least one to take home with us. I have one of her prayer shawls tucked away, too, so I can wrap my babies in it.
In the days since Mama left us, I’ve been flooded with story after story about her kindness, her generosity, her sweet nature. What a legacy to leave. Her life wasn’t especially easy. She faced a lot of hardships over the years, especially in the last little while. Still, she approached things with grace and made the best out of each situation. Her passing, while it broke my heart, has also left me with a deeper desire to live well. To chase big dreams and continue to do the things that would make her say “I don’t know why you are you the way you are.”
When I have a family of my own, I’ll tell them all about her. I’ll try to make her caramel cake everyone raved about at church picnics that I never got around to asking her how she made it and make sure all my little ones have matching pajamas on Christmas Eve, just like she did for us. I’ll probably make their costumes, too, just like she made mine, and just as over the top. If anyone loved a themed party or event more than me, it was my mom. I’ll do my best to lead a life of love and grace, so they, too, have someone to aspire to. And so, maybe, they’ll know a little bit of their grandma.
I knew last Friday would be different.
And now I know every day from here on will be different, too.