I did everything I could think to do before opening that door. Went to the bathroom, washed my face, patted it dry, checked for stray hairs. When I ran out of trivial and time-wasting tasks I stood in the hallway and gulped air before finally turning the knob.
The room was unchanged from the day before. A picture window with a showily pretty blossoming tree filling its frame. A clock on the wall. A hospital bed. Four framed pictures on the nightstand: her three grandchildren, and one of me at thirteen with my grandmother. A TV sat on the bureau that contained no clothes. The TV had never been turned on.
She wasn't cold, but neither was she warm. And she was beautiful. I hadn't expected that, and it was a comfort. Her face, free of anger, sadness, reproach, and pain, for the first time in so long, looked not much older than my own. I took her hand in mine. Her fingers had already curled under.
And then I was crying loud and ugly bursts of tears. I sobbed for the awfulness of the last year and a half. I sobbed because I had never found a way to make it better for her, for me, for my brother. I sobbed because of all the people I have ever known, my mother was the brightest, and could have been the best.
She was all potential, unrealized potential.
I sobbed for who she might have been. For the person I found once in a long while, but only in my dreams.
My mother was the smartest, most talented person I have ever known. Had she been psychologically healthier, she might have moved mountains.
As I cried I found myself repeating, "I'm sorry." Not for anything I did or didn't do, but because there were so many obstacles in her way, because she was miserable so much of the time, because we only have the one life, I believe, and my mother, though she was seventy-two when she died yesterday, never really learned how to live hers.
And that makes me sadder than any of the rest of it.
When my tears relented, I tried to uncurl her fingers, but they wouldn't budge. I pulled the sheet up over her shoulders as I do for my children each night when I check on them just before I go to bed.
People I love? I don't want them to be cold.
I shut the door in order to grant her privacy that she is past needing. Habits that preserve and defend life are curiously strong.
And, eyes dry and aching, I drove away from her and to my brother's house, where my own life was waiting for me to grab it by the reins and show it the way.