"Honey, Mom's gone."
Later, my sister and I would confess that our first thought when the nurse had woken us up from our unexpectedly deep sleep in the TV lounge in the hospice ward was "Where the hell could she go?" My mother had been a stubborn woman, which we would all agree is an understatement, but she had been unresponsive since we agreed that a morphine drip would be the best way to keep her comfortable. Still, it would not have surprised us if she had stood up and walked away. She had, that summer, gotten into the driver's seat of my parents' car because she wanted to go home --even though her license had expired, and she hadn't driven in almost two years. My second thought was actually that they had physically lost my mother in the hospital. But no; the nurse had walked by the room and peeked in on her, and she had simply stopped breathing. She quietly slipped away.
The moment I had been the most afraid of was the split second that she passed from Before into After, and we had all slept through it. We had been reassured by many lovely, well meaning people in the hospice ward, that many people choose to let go that way, to wait until no one was watching to make the giant leap. 11/11/13. 1:11 a.m. Maybe it was 1:10 or 1:20, and my brain craftily turned it into 1:11. Poetic license. We noted that it was Veterans' Day, and we would never forget.
We held my father's hand and watched while the nurse listened for as long as she needed to for my mother's absent heartbeat. The nurse told us to stay as long as we wanted to. We stayed as long as my mother would have wanted us to, which was long enough to say goodbye and respect the moment but no longer.
It was strange to pack up our various bags of things: our knitting; the bag of socks my father had brought with us; the rest of the Halloween candy; my mother's clothes; my father's comforts from home; tea bags; laptops; e-readers. We walked off the ward. I thought fleetingly of all the things that happen in the dark of night in the hospital, in the hospice ward, so that families like ours could leave in dignity and peace.
Someone drove my father home. I vaguely remember driving his car at some point. Jamie went home to be with our son the next morning because his parents, who had been babysitting all week, had to get back. I slept for a very long time in my hotel room until my sister called, and I was reminded of all that we had ahead of us.
A lot of work goes into letting go.