I don’t remember who answered the phone that night. I suspect it was initially my father, who sleeps closer to the phone and has killer reflexes when woken abruptly at 3am. But it’s my mom’s voice I remember, calm, sleepy but alert. She told me they were praying. She told me to call in the morning. She told me she loved me, and she asked if I wanted her to come.
It was three in the morning, I was a ten hour drive away. I told her to wait. I didn’t know anything. I knew that my best friend, my freshman year roommate, my Cori, had been taken to the hospital. I knew only what the EMT had kindly come back down the hall and told me, that they had restarted her heart. That was all. I sat in the hallway surrounded by girls in various stages of sleep and just stared at the floor.
My heart knew, I think. That was the only night of my college career that I pulled an all-nighter. Three majors and a scholarship requiring a rigorous GPA, yet the only night I ever stayed awake all the way through was the one we lost Cori. That morning, when the sun had miraculously risen yet again, I talked to mom as my pastor’s wife drove me away from the hospital. I still hadn’t cried much, even when the two ICU nurses reached out to touch my arm when the doctor told me that there was no brain activity and that I “should begin to say goodbye.” Should she come, Mom asked again. She was already packed. I don’t think it was actually a question. I cried then. Yes, Mom, please. I need you.
We called her our National Coverage mom that year. Five weeks with my sister in New York, a trip down to Kentucky to be with me when Cori died, followed swiftly by a trip to Virginia Beach for her funeral. This was all during one of the years when both her own mother in Canada and dad’s mom were struggling with the cancers that eventually took them home.
That whole day was a blur. My pastor’s wife (God bless her for her willingness to drop everything) took me home with her, after a stop for coffee and the worst phone call of my life. I talked to Cori’s dad, also driving frantically towards his own daughter in Kentucky, and talked about what the doctors had said. What words are the right words when someone asks you for the truth and the truth is that there is no hope?
I sat on the couch. I talked to my mom as she drove, watched movies blankly and waited. When Cori’s dad got to the hospital, I went in and held his hand, held her hand, and talked quietly about what we’d done over the weekend, and the last little things I remembered about her last sleep, next to me.
But what I wanted was my mom, to stop being a calm, rational adult and have a chance to be someone’s child.
The sun began to set, the day was coming to an end. I was back on the couch, wrapped in blankets and pacing in my head. When Mom finally walked in the door and hugged me, I cried. And cried, and cried.
And it was okay, because I was finally safe.
That’s a lot of words to say just to explain to you that to me, that’s motherhood. Being my safe place even when I’m 21 and am in my senior year of college. Coming to hold me when I need you even though that means not sleeping and then driving for 10 hours the next day. Sitting in the hospital waiting room for hours while I sat in an ICU with someone else’s child. Praying with other people struggling with loved ones’ lives and deaths while I tell my best friend’s mother that her child was loved through the last moments of her life, that her hand was held and that she was at peace. Traveling to Kentucky to watch me grow up as someone else’s child dies, being there whenever I came to the waiting room to cry and lay on the floor and waiting patiently when I got up and went back to braid Cori’s hair before her last journey, to organ donor surgery.
My mom supported and loved me quietly that week. She was content to be the background while I said my goodbyes and found my new footing in a world that wasn’t as fair as I thought. She held me when I cried, and let me wake her up multiple times every night when I thought that she, too, had stopped breathing on me. She held my hand while driving cross-country, let me sing along to whatever I wanted to listen to, and patiently drove back to my college just to hug me one last time when I panicked after her call to say she was on her way home.
Being a mother is knowing when your child needs you to protect them, to stand in front of them and fight off the world for them, and knowing when they need you to be their backup team, to hold their props and squeeze their hand before they go onstage. Allowing your child to grow up cannot be easy, and I would like to applaud my mother for letting me grow up that week without standing in my way but also without letting me be alone.
Thanks Mom. I love you.