Public Republic random header image

Her Last Day

January 4, 2009 by · 5 comments

Linda Cruise

Photo: tonythemisfit

The idea that such a beautiful day could morph into the darkest one of my life is inescapable to me, now. So, too, is the irony of my mother’s inherent nature to never jaywalk not being enough to shield her from a most-violent death, in the painted crosswalk of an idyllic, New Hampshire town, only yards away from a white, metal sign, posted overhead on the cold, steel sheen of a streetlamp, which reads: “Yield to pedestrians. It’s the law.”

My parents had gotten up earlier than usual on that cold, sunlit morning. My mother needed to get a blood test at their local hospital, to check her cholesterol level, a problem that had plagued her for half a lifetime—due to bad genes, mostly. For decades, my mom committed herself to a regimen of dietary restrictions, anything that in theory would lengthen her life.

She routinely measured her food portions with Nazi-like precision and deprived herself of sugar, chocolate, butter, and cheese, while punishing herself with the habitual intake of pseudo-foods—you know, those unnatural, barely-edible products, like non-fat cheese, fake butter spray, and egg beaters, that cannot exist harmoniously within a true, culinary worldview.

After my mom’s blood test, my parents parked their car along the town’s snow-lined Main Street. It was a seemingly ordinary, Wednesday morning—January 23rd, to be precise—a date singed into my memory with the ferocity of a hot-iron’s brand; you don’t forget when someone so dear to you dies, one-two-three, on the date one-two-three.

The sun was just beginning to clear the low-rising, brick buildings—mostly mom-and-pop storefronts, consisting of a couple of competing coffee shops, a used bookstore, a music shop, a photography store, and the bank, which has stood next to the First Congregational Church, for at least the last fifty years. With my mom having fasted since the previous night, my parents stopped into one of the cafés, to catch a quick breakfast, before heading back out to finish up the rest of their morning’s errands.

My mom ordered her usual: a cup of herbal tea, a glass of orange juice, and a bagel with margarine. Only, the waitress mistakenly returned with a toasted bagel, drenched in golden pools of 100% real butter.

My mom hesitated. Should she point out the error and ask for another bagel with margarine—or should she opt not to make the waitress feel bad and just accept the one she had been offered? She did the latter—and I know, this may seem like a small matter—but I am so grateful to that waitress, whom I realize I will most likely never know by name.

I am grateful because she is the person who served my mom’s last meal, but not just any meal, and not just any bagel; for she is the one whose actions allowed my mom to taste and savor the sweet cream of butter, after a void of 35 years.

After breakfast, my parents scooted over to the music shop for a new E guitar string. My mom had decided the day before that she was going to pick up her guitar again, after a five-year hiatus. They then crossed the street and made a deposit at the bank. Walking out of the bank, they followed the sidewalk to the corner crosswalk. Their small, white sedan sat parked just on the far side of the street.

My dad, being my dad, had kept a tiny scrap of paper in his pocket, listing their morning errands. My mom, after 42 years of being married to her high-school sweetheart, turned to my dad and asked with no awareness of the irony in her question: “Are we done yet?” To which, he replied, “Yes.”

That was my parents’ last conversation—my mom’s last sentence, a final question of a naturally-inquisitive mind. (She was a librarian, after all—the most well-read person I have ever known.)

My dad was standing on my mom’s left; they were holding hands in their usual way. They looked to see if the traffic was clear. There was a white van in the distance, still a good hundred feet away. They stepped off the curb in unison and proceeded to almost the halfway point in the crosswalk. Now, bear in mind, this is New Hampshire, we’re talking about. Pedestrians have the right-of-way. And there is a mindset among New Hampshire folks: that a right-of-way puts you in the right—and that you, therefore, logically, cannot be wrong.

Photo: randysonofrobert

However, the van never slowed—its driver seemingly distracted. He was the locksmith for the town police—a fact that would later help him avoid criminal prosecution. Perhaps, he was looking at his appointment schedule—or maybe fiddling with his cell phone or the radio dial.

My dad sensed the danger too late. He cried out, “No!” and hastily stepped back, twisting toward my mom, to pull her back. But it was too late. The van, unimpeded by its wrong-of-way, collided into both my parents. Being struck by the bumper, my dad landed on his knees a few yards away—but my mom, in her petite 5-1 frame, flew up onto the van’s stumpy hood and windshield, ultimately landing a good 35 feet away.

Later, at the same hospital where my mom had received her early-morning blood test, a nurse asked me if I wanted to see my mother’s lifeless body. I said, no. I had watched ER enough to have my imagination fill in the unthinkable details. Besides, I wanted to preserve that last memory of my mom, alive, from just three days before the accident—when we had kissed our last kiss, said our last good-bye.

I cherish the fact that the last words we ever said to each other were: “I love you.” And that’s the way it should be. I cherish the fact that during that last weekend visit, I was able to put into my mother’s hands a leather-bound copy of my first novel’s manuscript—how tears had swelled in her eyes when she read my words of gratitude, in my Acknowledgments, thanking her for teaching me the art of writing. To this, I owe my mother. If not for her unimaginable death—an event that has taught me the urgency of living every moment with passion and purpose.

It came down to a simple realization; I refused to allow myself to reach the end of my life—whenever that moment is destined to be—without wholeheartedly pursuing my dream, at least once. Trying and failing, as I’ve come to appreciate after my mother’s death, is a far better option than never attempting and wondering “what if” forevermore.

It has taken me two, full years to accomplish my goal of earning a graduate degree in writing. I might never end up a household name, like Hemingway—or dripping with euros, like J.K., for that matter—but I will never once regret the decision to embrace my passion for writing. So I encourage you, as well, to follow your heart, your gut, your dreams—and to do as my mom always told me: live each day as if it were your last.

Categories: Frontpage · Prose


Tags: , , ,

Related posts ↓

5 comments so far ↓

  • Nobody has commented yet. Be the first!