It is 3am, and I am awake.
If mom were alive, she would probably be awake, too.
I am in the walk-in closet, hiding so I don’t wake up Nathan. There is no place else to go to write, with my brother’s family spread out on air mattresses all over the house. The air mattresses were dropped off by ward members while we were at the funeral home yesterday. Natalie Bird, my visiting teacher, brought yummy taco soup, and the Perkins brought paper plates and napkins and cups, for which I (and my dishwasher) are grateful. I am so glad there are such servant-hearted people who are working so hard to make my family cozy and comfortable while we grieve and mourn this very hard week. I am so grateful for my home, which was built and promised for the purpose of caring for my family, and so glad my family feels safe and comfortable being here – even though this visit is a sad one.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
I need to write. Writing is what I do. Writing is how I breathe, and I am running out of air.
I was writing when I first got the message.
It was a text message from a woman who said she was an ambulance, who said she knows I can’t hear to talk on the phone, a woman texting from my mom’s phone asking me to have Nathan call her. That’s when I misplaced my air.
Nathan was on the phone in the nursery, talking to his composer and burning CDs for a musical theatre something or other. It was the bad-dream-real-life-moment where you move through molasses, trying to run but not being able to move. The second it took me to leap from my chair in the study into the nursery across the hall felt like hours.
I burst into the room, unable to speak in complete sentences, signing frantically and crying.
Nathan jumped up, hanging up on his composer, somehow understanding enough to push the favorites button on his phone to call mom.
I could not hear what she told him, but I saw his face.
I saw his face.
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
The words made me cold, each phrase punching the air out of my body and pouring ice into my veins.
I could not stand up, my legs collapsing under me. Nathan grabbed me, slowing down my fall, sinking us to our knees where he wrapped me up in his arms and began to pray.
That’s when the phone rang again.
Taking her to Pryor.
You have ten minutes to get there.
By then, I couldn’t even think in complete sentences.
They said they would call us back, and to meet them in Pryor immediately.
We flew into action, some part of my body remembering the four months of dad dying of cancer, my arms reaching for toothbrushes and a change of clothes and snacks on my way out the door.
My mind was racing of how difficult and long her recovery would be, how I would work more to pay for it, how I would not leave her side until she was okay.
While we drove, we called my brother, telling them the pieces we knew.
Kirk, still in Joplin with his wife and kids, texted mom’s phone asking them to call him. They did call, telling him they were taking her to Pryor, and then would life flight her to Tulsa.
Nathan called his parents, who were visiting Dan and Miranda in Broken Arrow. They agreed to meet us at the hospital for a blessing.
We were in Claremore when we got the message that the Pryor hospital was sending her to Tulsa.
We turned around and headed to St. John’s. The hail started then, and the drive from Claremore to St. John’s in Tulsa seemed to take days. Time stood still, stretched out into one gasp for breath, with tears and prayers and impossible waiting.
Nathan was amazing, his first emergency with me for calling for interpreters. He got the emergency after-hours number for interpreters, and called the hospital on the way, explaining that mom was being flown in, and I was her daughter with cochlear implants, and that we needed an interpreter to be sure nothing was missed and everything understood.
Nathan also called his parents to have them meet us at St. John’s instead of the Pryor hospital.
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
Mom is notorious for sending misspelled text messages full of words other than what she intended. The irony is her degree in English, her professorial rule of our grammar our entire lives, and her demand for perfection. But ever since chemo ten years ago, she kept her nails long and fancy, and could not type on the touchscreen well. She chose to just send random word messages rather than keeping shorter nails, which meant any message we got from her was a game of decoding. It was even more confusing when auto-correct was thrown into the mix.
The last text message I got from mom was around lunch time, and it said “aprons poolside”.
I finally figured out that meant that April, her favorite poodle, was still inside her house and mom wanted me to let her outside.
So I went in the afternoon, not knowing it was the same time as the accident, to mom’s house to let her dogs out and deliver some super early Easter candy that she loved.
When I let the dogs out, I set up the pile of cookies and candies, making just enough of a mess to annoy her, but knowing she would be surprised and delighted.
I turned around to see what else I could do in her house, and this sudden stillness fell on me like snow – cold, and like a mantle. I do not know how to describe it. It was a deep and heavy stillness.
I did not like that feeling, so instead of doing anything more at the house, I went home to Nathan.
Later Nathan noticed his phone gave a hail warning for the evening, and so he went back to mom’s house to bring her dogs back in. The little ones went right to their crate (“castle”, mom would say), but her favorite one, April ran straight into mom’s room. Nathan gave up trying to get her out, and so started to leave. Right as he got to the door, he heard a sound like a sad cry, a whine from April he has never heard before. He turned around, and April came crawling out of mom’s room on her belly, all the way to Nathan, and then just rolled over on her belly and stayed on her back.
She never does that. It was weird. He picked her up, pet her, and put her to bed.
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Mom was very proud that she had gotten a job of her own so that she could move out of my house when Nathan and I got married. She retired from her library work years ago, but she was a career woman and did not like NOT working. She wanted to be independent in every way, and thought of her new rental house one block over as a kind of wedding present to us. She had worked so hard finding a job, and so many had illegally treated her unfairly because of her age. She was so proud of her work, and had been so courageous in facing those challenges.
She loved, more than anything, even more than the poodles, she loved her grandkids. She wanted nothing more than to be a grandmother, and wanted any and all of them staying with her as often as possible for as long as she could get away with. When they grew into teenagers and got busy, she went to their events and activities, driving for hours just to get to watch them play or perform, trying to be content with quick smiles and drive-by hugs. She was so proud of them!
That’s what she was doing Saturday: coming back from Missouri, where she had watched Rilie’s swim meet and Sarah win in the debate tournament. It was unusual that I was not driving her, but these were day events and she had done a good job of leaving in the afternoon so she would be home before dark.
When I said it was my fault because I was not driving her this time, he said that false. He said that when the jeep hydroplaned and bounced off the center wall into that semi, and the whole mess crashed through the barrier into mom’s lane, there was nothing she could have done. He said if we had been driving her, we would have died, too. He said it would be better for us to consider for what purpose God kept us alive.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
The year mom moved into my house was a hard year. She was sad to be out of work, and in such pain. Her severe pain and spine problems were from a car accident in Ohio when I was in junior high. A state patrolman fell asleep at the wheel, crossed the center line, and hit her head on. Not unlike what happened Saturday, they found her crumpled under the dashboard all the way on the passenger side and had to cut the car apart to get her out.
She survived that, she said, because she knew Kirk and I still needed her, that her job with us wasn’t of yet.
She said that’s why she survived stage IV ovarian cancer, too.
She has survived much, enduring the loss of her own parents, the absence of my father, and the traumatic assignment of raising me and my brother. She wanted nothing more than to see her parents again, to be loved by her sister, and to spend every moment with me and my brother’s family.
We tried, specifically praying for every interaction to be consecrated, that our testimony to her would be that of love, knowing that if she could feel loved then she could know God.
We messed up plenty, and together we learned forgiveness.
This was the softening, the gathering, the turning of our hearts.
That was our miracle: the restoration of our family.
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
It seemed like hours before we made it to St. John’s on Saturday night.
I broke out into hives as we rushed into the ER, asking for the trauma room as they had told us on the phone. Nathan went ahead of me, to find the interpreter and figure out where to go.
I had to go to the bathroom. Again. And throw up. Again.
My friend, also an interpreter but not the interpreter on duty was there, and I lost it, beginning to cry soon as I saw her.
She took me to the room where Nathan was, and I knew when I saw his face.
I knew there was no air there.
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
Nathan is my blessing. He is a pure heart, and he is good and kind. He has literally held me up these few days, and has often held me tight. When information was too hard to face, and scenes too gruesome to see, he held me steady and strong in a way I have never known. When I cry in my sleep, he holds me tight. When I jolt awake in panic and screams, he wraps his arms around me and lays me back down. When I lay there unable to sleep, still and quiet but with tears pouring down my cheeks, he rubs my hands and rubs my back and just lets me be.
In the day, he works hard at his job, knowing that I cannot work this week. He works hard at serving me while I am in a daze. He went with me to the funeral home, and went with us to the bank, and stops me randomly to look in my eyes and make sure I am breathing. He brings me bits of food and urges me to eat, and he takes me for little walks so there will be air in my lungs.
He gently reminded me there are only two weeks left in the month, and that we must move quickly to get mom’s things out of the house. He moved over all her costume jewelry so I could go through it for the girls (I don’t have enough air for that yet), and he helped me go through her clothes. He helped me take down pictures so my brother could fill a suitcase that went back with Carolyn’s mother to Kirk’s house, and helped get mom’s play station so the teenagers have something to do all these hours we sit around crying. He got the food out of mom’s refrigerator and brought it over, and started packing her pantry full of gluten for Kirk to take back to his house. He has fed the dogs, and done the dishes, and held my hand, quietly in the background or coming forward to make us laugh until we are breathing again.
I love him.
And you will keep singing as the days go by.
We got to St. John’s only to be told she had never left Pryor.
She had never stabilized enough for transport.
That’s the part where my mind kept getting stuck, because we had been almost to Pryor when they told us to turn around and go to Tulsa.
We were so close.
When my friend walked me in to the room where Nathan was waiting for me, I knew.
When I saw his face, I knew.
When I looked into his eyes, melted with love and grief, I knew.
He took my hands and pulled me close, looked me in the eyes with all the courage a brand new husband could muster, and told me, “She’s gone.”
That was the second time I fell to my knees, screaming and crying with a depth not limited to mortal frame. I pulled at my hair and hid my face and sat where he moved me and cried and could not breathe and could not breathe and could not breathe.
The doctor came in then, to tell me officially, saying she had expired.
Like milk? It confused me.
Then he said if we could hurry, and if we could beat the medical examiner, we could still see her.
I went into panic, saying over and over that we had to go.
My friend Rene grabbed me and looked me in the face and said sternly, “Go. But do not hurry.”
We left the conference room, with me wondering how to make my legs move when there is no air, and came out into the hospital lobby. Nathan’s parents were there, waiting for us, and I cried out to them, the only parents I have now, crying out that she was already gone.
We told them we had to get to Pryor, and they said they would follow us.
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Nathan drove us those 40 miles on that cold and icy night. The roads were so slick we never drove faster than 40, and it was the longest drive of my life. A million thoughts were flying through my head while I was thinking nothing at all. I was frozen, iced by no air, tears streaming down my face.
Kirk and his family were there when we arrived, the little girls sleeping in an alcove with Cobie watching over them. Sarah and her mother were there, with Zac stuck in Broken Arrow because of the bad roads. Rilie had gone back to Springfield on the school bus, and so was at home with her other grandmother. We were later grateful for this in particular because Rilie was good and brave enough to pack bags for her parents and siblings, so that Carolyn’s mom could bring her and their clothes Monday morning.
Nathan dropped me off at the emergency room entrance of the Pryor hospital, and I ran in to the front desk. My interpreter met me there, and we found out where to go.
Trauma room 5.
I blindly ran through the curtain straight into my brother’s arms, flashing back to the day my grandmother died and he ran to me in a similar way… Something about it reminding me of his little four year old self, something about it making me ancient, with the mantle of big sister falling on me the way stillness fell at mom’s house earlier.
Mom was there, but the medical examiner was not there yet, which meant she was still guarded by the police who brought her and we could not touch her body yet.
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
The doctor came in then, telling us more about her injuries and their severity. He talked about damage to her internal organs, and he told his how long her heart had stopped and that it had stopped so many times they ran out of medicine to get it started again. He said that when the accident happened, her nerves were cut so she was not in pain, and we got to talk to the EMT person who stayed with her. She said mom was just chatting away, telling her all about her daughter in Owasso and her day with her son and his children.
It was when the firemen cut her out that all the pressure was taken off her body. The pressure of the accident had been blocking all the injuries so her heart could keep beating. But when they removed her, there was no where for all the blood to go, and it all just left her, and her heart could not pump without blood pressure. So she lost unconsciousness immediately at that point, and was not in pain.
Count your many blessings. Wealth can never buy
She died then, he said. Her heart was stopped for more than twenty minutes. He said even if they had been able to revive her, she would not have ever been herself again – nothing more than a vegetative state – with her brain missing oxygen for that long. That didn’t even take into account her other injuries.
My interpreter, Don, was good and brave and did well. They amaze me, those interpreters.
When the doctor finished, the police man told us about the accident. He said all the eye witnesses told the same story, and that mom was not at fault. He said there was nothing she could have done. He told us about the jeep and the semi, and that she hit them head on right after they came to a halt in her lane.
He said anyone in the car with her would have died, too.
He said she did nothing wrong, except for not wearing her seat belt. We all groaned at that, because we have fought her for years on it. It was one of those things she was just stubborn about, and only the youngest grandchildren could get her to wear her seatbelt.
That’s when, after having all the information, Kirk had to tell his children.
I can’t imagine.
While he did that, it was my time alone with mom. Nathan went to tell his parents and bring them to the rooms where our family was. She was all covered with blankets, except for her face, so it was not scary. Her face was the only thing that was mostly okay, and to me she was beautiful. When it was the right time, I kissed her forehead and brushed my hand through her hair. And I cried in whispered prayer tears.
I cried and cried.
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.
That was the last time we got to see her.
The medical examiner showed up and took her away.
We gathered ourselves in an empty room, because gathering is what Mormons do.
The Bishop and his wife came, and Nathan’s parents, and Sarah and Zac’s mom, and me with Nathan and Kirk with Carolyn. Sarah was with us, but Cobie was watching the little ones sleeping in the lobby.
Nathan, with the help of the other men, gave each of us a blessing.
A stillness came, this time quiet and peaceful, and a strength and comfort that was strong and specific for each of us.
This was the power of the priesthood, the comfort from our Heavenly Father, the understanding that this was as things were meant to be.
She had survived so much, and would not have been taken if her work were not finished.
She was taken quickly and without pain, and for that we are grateful.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
The Bishop and his wife took the little girls and Cobie to the Perkins, where they are loved and familiar and safe. Nathan and I met them there to give Cobie his blessing, while Kirk and Carolyn made a dazed wal-mart run for immediate necessities since they had not planned on not returning home that day.
Nathan and I drove home silent and exhausted, his hand holding mine tightly in his.
We were starving, and it was nearly 2am, and I spun myself in circles trying to function enough to make him food. Nathan vacuumed because it was the only chore we hadn’t yet finished before the Sabbath, and I was obsessing about it knowing my family would be sleeping on the floor. He didn’t argue or reason with me, he just did it and took care of it so I wouldn’t have to worry about it.
I found leftover surprise in the freezer, and threw it in the microwave.
When it was thawed, and I pulled it out to see if it was heating up, I saw it was the leftovers of the roast we last had with mom at Family Home Evening.
And so I began to cry.
Kirk and Carolyn got home soon after that, and none of us could settle enough to sleep.
Then around 3am, the organ donation people called to do the hour long interview required for them to do whatever they do, and Kirk and I bumbled our way through answering their questions.
We were exhausted enough that we got silly, trying for anything besides more crying.
When they asked if mom had ever had rabies, he said, “Yes, and her name was Emily.”
When they asked when mom’s high blood pressure started, I told them the year Kirk was born.
We finished by 4am, but before we could sleep, they called back to apologize and tell us there was not enough left of mom for them to be able to harvest anything, and so her body would just go directly to the funeral home for cremation.
Nothing was funny after that.
I went to bed and cried until it was morning.
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
I do not know how we functioned on Sunday. It is a blur none of us really remember. Somehow we got all ten of us showered and into clean clothes, which seemed a miracle even though we didn’t have church clothes for everyone. We ate what Kirk and Carolyn had been able to buy the night before, but none of us finished anything.
Because Zac had been stuck in Broken Arrow, and because I was not ready to face the overwhelming love of my own ward (mostly because we had no tears left and I did not have enough air to cry more), we went to Zac’s ward Sunday afternoon. It was an intense experience, as they only had time for one talk and it was a man who spoke about the death of his wife. We all just sat there with silent tears streaming down our face. An interpreter friend was there, and knew I would not be functioning well, and so interpreted the whole service for me and I just took my digital ears off and rested.
It was good to be nourished on the gospel, to hold strong to the purpose of mortality and our promises of eternity.
It was hard, though, and I kept turning back to look for mom showing up late.
Any minute, I thought. She will walk in any minute.
But she did not.
And the youngest girls kept crawling all over me, and I was very aware of her absence.
I looked a mess, too, barely able to get clean but not able to put myself together.
I lost it when friends came up to hug me, and we left when sacrament was over.
We came home to realize I had forgotten to start the crockpot with a new roast to feed all of us. None of us were fully functioning, and all of us in a daze. The boys went out to the garden to pull vegetables, and Carolyn and Nathan helped clean and peel them, and Kirk and I started notifying family.
I had no idea how hard and sad it would be to tell our story again and again, hundreds of times as we tried to notify mom’s friends and our family. It was awful. And exhausting. It took hours, and kudos to my brother for making so many calls to so many.
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Finally having notified as many people as we possibly could, we posted our public notifications Sunday night. We were exhausted, running on no sleep, and starving because I had started the pot roast so late. I finally remembered we had some bean soup left in the freeze, and I put it in the fancy convection crockpot something or other that mom gave us for our wedding, and it was ready in twenty minutes. We gobbled that up faster than anything, and then went to bed, exhausted.
Monday was intense. It was not a day for emotions because there were things that had to get done. I had to go to mom’s work to tell them and get her things. I had to go to the bank to close her account. Kirk had to get on Amazon to cancel all mom’s exciting purchases. We had to go through mom’s clothes and pictures, and load up Kirk and Carolyn’s van with the first load to go back to Missouri.
We worked hard, avoiding what we knew was coming in the afternoon: the meeting with the funeral home.
Friends took the little ones to McDonald’s to play while the teens got a break from babysitting, and the four of us went to face the reality of mom being gone. We agreed before we went not to be distracted by any sales-ness, that if she was being cremated, then that is all we needed done (plus the gift certificates). We did not buy anything else, and told them we could do the service ourselves.
They said we will get mom’s ashes within two weeks. When we do, we will take her to Missouri and bury them by her parents. We are going to make our own paving stone markers with the kids, and leave that at the site. We will do all that privately later.
But still, even without anything, that’s a lot of unexpected expenses. So we went to Arvest to set up the funeral fund, and began trying to find mom’s papers for all the bills and things to take care of and notify and all of that.
Even when we came home after that to begin planning the service, it was just a business kind of day. It was a functioning for this duty kind of motivation, too exhausted to feel.
Nathan says today will be harder, now that everything is done.
He says next week will be harder, when Kirk’s family goes home.
He says I am being Emily, coping by doing more and more until there is nothing left to do.
But last night there was a lot to do.
I had to write the obituary while Kirk notified family of when and where the funeral would be.
We had to pick songs: the kids picked “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” because it was their primary song that mom had also known and sung as a child. We picked “How Great Thou Art” for Nathan to play on violin because it was my day’s favorite and one they used to sing together. We picked “Count Your Many Blessings” because it was one of her favorites, and one she grew up singing.
We also had to pick who would speak and pray and play the organ and interpret and all of that.
We met with the Bishop and Relief Society president, and got all that finished.
Then I made the program, and showed it to Kirk, and we finally cried some more.
Then for the first time, we split into our own families again, Kirk and his family in the living room, and me and Nathan in our bedroom, and had our own family prayers before taking our exhausted selves to bed.
Night is hard.
The problem with using “busy” as your coping skill is that it is no help at all when you stop and stand still. It only delays what is waiting to come out, letting it all back up until overflows like a dam breaking.
Nathan cries with me, and holds me, and tells me I am safe and loved.
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
I am grateful for the love I have for my mother. I am grateful for our restoration, for our time together, for our year together just her and me. I am grateful for our learning and softening and progress. I am grateful for our stories and songs and jokes and laughter.
Oh, she was so funny.
I am grateful for Christy and Mandy and the Johnsons who loved her so well everyday. I am grateful for the repeated sets if missionaries that did so much to help her, and for how this helped me. I am grateful for the people who worked so hard to move her here from Arkansas, and then moved her again one street over, and then now will help move her again. I am grateful for the church friends who welcomed her and loved her gently, patiently, and consistently enough that she witnessed covenant keeping and the peace that comes from loving and being loved.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
My last conversation with my mother was special.
On Friday, Nathan and I had gone to the doctor to get our medical clearance for fostering. He examined Nathan and talked to him, and gave him a shot, and then signed his papers. Then he saw me, examined me, and told us he would sign my papers but that we needed to know that I am pregnant again.
We were so surprised!
When I told mom, she said she already knew.
Moms are like that.
She talked with me about my high risk for miscarriage, and talked to me for the first time about her struggles to carry a child and her experiences when she was pregnant with me.
It was so special, and I am glad that was our last conversation.
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Heavenly Father has worked miracles in our family, and been patient to teach us much.
He has had mercy upon us, and by His grace has gathered us.
He has provided and protected, guided and corrected, instructed and led us along the way.
This was a good time for mom to be released from so much pain, and he took her in her dignity, while she had a good job, with all of us in good relationships, and before dementia or residential care.
She got to come to my wedding, choosing to come to the temple, and got to experience the spirit of a temple home and celestial love with me and Nathan.
She got to witness the restoration of our family, and testify of temple blessings.
She got to spend her last day with her grand kids.
Then, when it was her time, there was a car accident. She went quickly, this time passing into the eternities. This trauma was one she was not required to survive – because, she said, now she finally knows my brother and I will be okay, and that her work is done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.