The long journey that began a year and a half ago ended suddenly this morning.
The Swedish ringtone sounded four times after I dialed the number I had dialed the same time every morning for several years as well as every weekend afternoon, the number I knew would suddenly become meaningless any time as my mother’s disease progressed.
A strange voice answered and in one instant I was orphaned at age fifty-eight, never having said a final good bye. My last words had been “get a good night’s sleep and I’ll call you when I wake up in the morning”.
Hers had been “I am content, take care of yourself”. She was ready, even if I was not.
I have lost count of how many deaths I have attended as a physician, but it is always with an eery swiftness that the moment passes, no matter how long the wait has been.
Instantly the moment is gone, the chance to say the words we wanted to have said. Instantly the feeling of loss overwhelms us as we are hurled from one way of existing to another, just like our loved one is whisked away from our presence.
Hearing a young Hospice nurse struggle to find the right words to tell me what must have happened before she arrived for her scheduled visit, I realized what had happened with the speed of my imagination as her words continued to form in slow motion. Through the receiver, across three thousand miles of frigid ocean and across a time difference of half a day I gathered up the pieces of my mother’s last hours on this earth.
Somehow, I knew it would end like this. I knew it the day my father died and I was the one who walked across my home town to tell her, confined to her hospital room across the river. I knew it every time I said good bye on the telephone, that one day the phone would ring and ring, she would not answer and the familiar number wouldn’t be hers anymore.
I just didn’t know it would be today.