Sunday, November 30, 2014

Happy First Day

I woke up at 3:50am with a beeping phone.

I rolled over Zoe and swatted around the floor of the dark room for a second before finding the blinking source of the noise.

One new text message from Tita, telling me to not wear perfume when I came down today.

I knew that, I remembered that, but I guess after five days of being at her mother's side for 24 hours, my mom just wanted to make sure that every single detail was in line.

I texted her back "Thank you. I love you. Can you rest?"

She didn't text me back.

I couldn't sleep, so I roamed the house, took a shower, finished some laundry, packed the car for my ride to Fort Lauderdale to take part in exactly what I wasn't sure.

What I did know was that it was time to for the drive.

On Friday morning, during a tearful conversation, I asked my mom, "Isn't it time yet? I want to be there. Please say I can come."

Her response? A deep sigh, a sniff, resignation. "Almost. It's almost time."

That was enough for me.

My mind was made up. I heard what I needed to hear, and I made the decision no one could make for me.

Within hours I'd rented a car, arranged to cancel classes for part of the upcoming week, and took my brother up on his offer of a place to sleep.


At almost exactly 6am Saturday morning, I was all set in my rented PT Cruiser, about to pull out of the driveway when I decided to text my mom again. "I'm leaving now. No texting from the road. I love you & Tata. Happy First Day of December!"

See, we have this little (but fiercely competitive!) game of wishing each other a "Happy First Day" first. This game, which involves our extended family and friends, has gone on for decades.

When I arrived in Pompano Beach, dad and I grabbed lunch and then headed to the hospital.

Abuelo was happy to see me, and told me how proud he was that I was giving a speech in Miami. That was a lie, of course, but I understood. Mom told her parents I was coming down for work, that way they wouldn't think that I .... that I was here for ...

So I only spent about 10 minutes in the hospital room.

My abuela was suffering much worse than I'd imagined.

She was suffering so badly that I was only really allowed to make brief eye contact and touch her cold tense hand before being shooed out of the room.

I had never before seen Abuela unlaughing, rocking, seized with pain.

Gone, already, was her her twinkle, and her wonderful splendid shamelessness.

My father and I caravaned toward the beach where he keyed me in at my brother's rental house.

Alone with my thoughts, I had a nice hard run, unpacked a few things, checked email, and considered a shower.

Beep. A text message.

Before I checked my phone, I prayed..... Please God don't let this be a text telling me she's gone. Please, please not yet.

It was my dad telling me to stop by Publix and buy something for mom.

Hooray, finally, I was part of things.

I arrived at Holy Cross at 6:05pm and headed to the 4th floor.

As I walked down the corridor I could see my abuelo (Holy Cross Hospital's Volunteer of the Year) still in his work clothes and tie, eating potato chips and looking out the sunset out a large long window.

"Geez," he greeted me, "you are too much!" Then he hugged me and whispered in my ear, "You're my number one." Together we returned to the hospital room where my mother's sister, Aunt Milly, and my cousin, Samantha, were sitting with my mom, comforting Abuela.

Abuela's attention was on my mom, like a baby bonding with its mother. "Mari... Mari..." then she'd try to breathe, hold her chest, lean back, lean forward... the entire time focused entirely on my mom.

For a few minutes I sat behind my mom, holding her while she held her mother, then -- in order to keep the room peaceful -- I left the room with Abuelo and stood out in the hall for a few minutes.

A male Filipino nurse joined us for some small talk.

Abuelo told the nurse that Thursday, December 6, would be their 63 anniversary. Did he think that Abuela would be home for that?

The nurse looked at me uncomfortably, stammered a vague answer.

I interuppted. "Abuelo, she can't stay in this pain for another five days..."

He nodded his head, but I don't think he really heard me.

We returned to the room, and surrounded Abuela, gently.

She wanted to go, it was clear that she needed to go, but she couldn't.

Not yet.

Sam, Milly, Mom, Abuelo and I shifted turns so each of us held her cold hand, felt her anxiety, offered her a tiny drop of solace in the sea of pain that was drowning her.

Abuelo sat in a hard chair, saying a rosary.

At 7:25, Abuela called her daughter's names, and then called for Sam.

She didn't call me -- not by name -- I figured I was next so I stood before her, joining the circle.

Abuela took a deep breath, looked right at me, then at Sam, then she didn't breath again.

A tangible explosion of love and peace shot through the room, filling us all, expanding through the room and to eternity.

At 7:25, December 1, 2007, Marta Carmen Polo Fornias slipped out of her suffering and into heavenly peace.

Happy First Day, Abuela!