Learning to Let Go

Posted on: June 15, 2012
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By Robyn Corum, Watch Me Bounce Contest Administrator

 
 

Lorena’s mother was dying. Any other daughter would have been soaking up every moment of these last few days creating memories and sharing sweet talks, but Lorena was finding it hard to get past the anger.

After her mother died, Lorena would be left alone. She was an only child – another thing that irritated her, and she didn’t get along with her dad. She lived miles away from other relatives, which didn’t matter; she didn’t care for them, and wouldn’t have been part of their lives if they’d lived next door.

There was only Lorena and her mom. That’s the way it had been for years, and they had never quite understood one other. Now she was sitting in a hospital room each night, swiping phlegm from her mom’s mouth, and tidying her bum after she visited the bathroom. Lorena watched the strong woman she had once known disappear a little more each day, watched her evaporate. Before this, Lorena had mistakenly thought only liquids evaporated, but now she knew there was some force sucking the life out of her mother as well, and she could only watch it happen. Somehow that force was sucking Lorena’s life, too. Her mom was all Lorena had. She got angrier every day.

“Could I have a sip of water?” Her mother’s words interrupted her thoughts.

“I suppose so, Mother. That’s what I’m here for.” Lorena poured from a sterile, white foam pitcher into a sterile white cup. She wanted to throw both of them across the room, but she handed the cup of iced water to her mother, and then looked away. The blinds were open and the sky was gray. It was appropriate.

“You’re such a dear to stay with me. You should be home with your family.”

Lorena bit her tongue. Her mother made slips like this all the time, making the evenings torture. She and Bob had split up fifteen years ago and the children were grown and gone with their own lives to pursue. They seldom thought of their own mother.

“Yes, ma’am. They gave me the night off.” Lorena attempted to smile, but those muscles seemed to have vanished with her husband and her heart.

“I talked to your Father today, Lorena. He said to tell you he loves you very much. He’s proud of the way you’ve been helping me during these difficult times.”

Lorena’s gaze flew to her mother; a lone light cast its rays over the single bed and highlighted her face and chest. The pale eyelids were closed in a wrinkled, time-worn face, and her chapped, wheat-colored lips were drawn back in a peaceful, partial smile. Beneath the white sheets, a bony chest rose and fell in infrequent intervals. You…you talked to daddy?”

“Yes, he brought me pumpkin seeds for the garden.”

Lorena sighed and turned away, crossing her arms. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes.

“Billy Ray came by, too. He sang me a song about Jesus. It was beautiful. I wish you could have heard it. I asked him to stay but he couldn’t.” She opened her eyes and found Lorena. “I told the nurse to call you, but she wouldn’t. I wanted you to hear the music.”

“Mom, Uncle Billy died twenty-five years ago. You’ve got to quit saying these things. They’re going to kick us out of here. Last week it was Edna Faye and Gramma Nelly, this week it’s Uncle Billy. They’re dead, Mom. They’re dead!”

Her mother ignored her. “And this afternoon? Why, an angel came and sat right there on the foot of my bed and talked to me for the longest while. She talked to me about you, Lorena. We talked about what a good girl you are.” Her mom reached over to take her hand, but Lorena snatched it away.

“No! I don’t want you talking about me to any angels. Or anybody, for that matter! That’s just weird. Stop it. You give me chills talking like that.”

“She told me you’d say that. But she told me that you have a good life ahead, honey.”

“STOP IT, Mother! Just STOP IT!” Lorena hadn’t meant to raise her voice. She grew quieter. “Please. I don’t have a life. I mean, if going to work at a job you hate is a life, okay. If the highlight of your day is feeding the dog and getting the paper, yeah, okay…I have a peach of a life.” Lorena started crying full out. She shoved the tears off with the backs of her hands and sat in an over-stuffed chair.

“No,” said her mother weakly, trying to rise. She wheezed, sending herself into an extended coughing spell. Lorena jumped to her side, pushing the nurse’s call button. She patted her mother’s back. “Hang on, Mother. Hang on. They’ll be here in a minute.”

But they weren’t. By the time a nurse stepped into the room, Lorena’s mom had all but settled down by herself and Lorena’s long-simmering frustration was about to boil over. “Where have you been? My mother could have died three times by now, no thanks to you! What on earth are we paying you for? Are these buttons just for decoration?”

The nurse ignored Lorena, brushing her aside She checked the patient’s vital signs, shaking her head after each new measurement. “Well, I see you’ve also managed to soil your sheets, Mrs. Lavendar,” she said. “Let’s take care of that so you can be comfortable, okay?”

Lorena tapped her toe while the nurse worked, then followed her into the hall. “What were those head shakes about in there?” Lorena hissed. She was livid. How dare this nurse behave like that in front of her mother!

“Ms. Tripp, your mother is a very sick woman. I’m not happy with her vital signs. Any further information will have to come from the doctor. He should be here in about an hour.”

“But my mother and I were playing canasta last week!”

“Yes, ma’am, I understand. You’ll have to speak with the doctor.” The nurse turned her grim face in a different direction and marched off.

Well, it hadn’t been last week, but — Lorena wilted into a hallway chair, placing her head in her hands. She wept; deep, racking sobs that drained her energy and sapped her emotional strength. She leaned her head against the wall just below the number 302, and tried to pray for the help she’d need to face the days to come. Regardless of how she tried to feel differently, there was nothing but a wall of negativity surrounding her. Where was God?

When Lorena re-entered the hospital room; her mother was singing “Amazing Grace” in an off-key voice. She stopped when her daughter walked in but never opened her eyes. “It’s all right, Lorena. The doctor will be here soon. Come sit by the bed so we can talk.”

Lorena felt like a limp dishrag as she shuffled over. She gazed down, but didn’t see her mother as she was now. She pictured her as she had been – bringing cupcakes to school for birthday parties, attending piano recitals, running carpools, teaching Bible verses. Lorena felt fresh tears sliding down her cheeks.

“It won’t be long now, honey,” her mom said. “Soon I will be going to see your Dad again. But first, there are a few things we need to talk about.”

Leona stood by the bed shaking her head. “No,” she said. “Dad is fine.” Her mother ignored her.

“Don’t let Uncle Alfred play the piano at the service. He’ll want to, but you know how bad he is. Just tell him I want the Phillips boy to play for me. And I want you to have that new preacher do the talking, I like him. And make sure Edith doesn’t wear that purple dress of hers…well, on second thought…I don’t guess there’s anything you can do about that, is there?”

Lorena dropped to her knees and picked up her mother’s hand. “No, Mom, please don’t talk like this.” She took a deep, shuddering breath, and wiped her dripping nose with one arm. “Don’t leave me. Please. I’m not ready. What will I do when I need to make cornbread? You know I always call you.” She smiled through a double trail of tears. “And you know I still need your help canning tomatoes – I’ve never had a single can seal without your help.”

“You’ll be fine. You’ll be better than fine.” Her mother opened her eyes and met Lorena’s gaze. “You’re a Lavendar.”

“NO!” Lorena said. She stood and began pacing the room. “I TOLD you I’m not READY!” She dropped her head. Somewhere down the hall a clock ticked. When Lorena looked up her eyes were hooded. “But I guess I’ll never be ready, so if you’re going to do it, then do it! Just die, Mother. Stop drawing it out like this! You’re tearing me apart little by little every day. I can’t take it anymore.” Her voice grew soft. “I can’t take it. I’m not strong enough. Just go ahead and get it over with. Do me a favor and die.” Lorena turned, walking out of the room and the hospital.

When Lorena reached the parking lot, anger returned, and she slammed into the car. After three hours of autopilot driving, she was surprised to see she was at the beach. She parked and sat in the car just staring at the water for another hour without seeing anything. Then a strange electricity seemed to form in the car and she opened the door to let it out. Lorena realized with surprise that the tingle was inside her, so she took off her shoes and walked out onto the warm sand.

A wild breeze was blowing, and it whirled her skirt and blouse around her body. It threw the sand onto her skin, where the tiny grains hit like needle pricks, but she welcomed the pain. She flung her arms out to the side and tossed her head back, enjoying the sensation. Thousands of needles tormented her body. She turned, allowing each one free access.

She opened her eyes. Her hair was whipping like a banshee, and there was music to the wind.

When Lorena caught sight of the water, she took off, running pell-mell for the seething waves. The coldness was a delicious shock to her system. She dove and swam, coming to the surface and sending a burst of water into the air. She felt weightless and buoyant. Alive! Under the water, tiny fish caressed her legs as they swam past and she laughed out loud. Swimming until she was exhausted and played out, only then did she trudge her way up the beach and fling herself to the ground.

Lorena rolled over and looked at the grey sky, studying the low clouds and making pictures of them. She stretched out her arms and legs and moved back and forth, smiling and making a sand angel. When it was finished, she lay in the middle. Her eyes welled, but she didn’t cry. The time for crying was past.

It was time to live.

When Lorena got back to the car, she realized what a sight she must be. Rummaging through the trunk for a towel, she found an old jacket, knocked most of the sand off, then prepared to use it as a seat cushion for the drive.

Sitting in the car, Lorena’s eyes fell on her phone’s message light, blinking urgently in the opposite seat. She reached for it, but her hand began to tremble. Lorena stopped, took a deep breath and reached out again with one steady palm.

She redialed the number.

The nurse at the hospital informed her in a kind voice, “Ms. Tripp, your mother’s blood pressure has dropped to zero twice since you left. It has returned to something close to normal, but she could go at any moment. You’ll want to get here as soon as you can, and to call family and friends. She’s quite a fighter. It’s almost like there’s something keeping her here.”

Lorena’s heart bloomed. “There is,” she said. “Please tell her I’m three and a half hours away and to hold on for me. Tell her I love her and I’m sorry and I’ll be there as quick as I can. And thanks for calling.”

Spewing sand, Lorena turned the car, and headed back the way she had come. She stopped by her apartment to shower and change clothes, and still made it to the hospital in less than three hours. Her heels clicked rapidly down the white, tile hall. She took another calming breath and then turned into room 302.

“Lorena?” her mother said.

“Yes, ma’am.” As usual, her mom’s eyes were closed. “How did you know it was me?”

“I saw you, honey.”

Lorena felt a chill go down her spine.

“And I saw you today standing beside Billy Ray down at the water. You heard his singing this time, didn’t you?”

Lorena didn’t have words. She’d heard the wind, that was all. Wasn’t it?

The dutiful daughter bent down at her mother’s side. “How’re you feeling, Mom? They said you’ve been giving them a scare.”

“Oh, they’re scared of a rooster crow around here,” her mother said weakly, with a slight smile.

“I’m sorry for the way I behaved earlier, Mom. Please say you’ll forgive me.” Lorena gathered both her mom’s hands together. They felt cold in her warm ones. “I didn’t mean the things I said. I know now this is about you, not me. I know you’re tired and hurting and I want you to be at peace. I want you to be with the people you love and miss: Uncle Billy and Edna Fay and Gramma Nelly. I want you to be able to work in a garden again without pain. I want you to be able to play the piano.” Lorena kissed her mother’s bent and arthritic fingers. “Mom, I don’t want to lose you, but if I have to I’m ready to let you go.”

Lorena’s mother took a harsh shuddering intake of breath. “Girl, don’t you know” ….and let it out….”you’ll never lose me?” She took another deep breath. “I’ll be right by your”…. exhale….”side, just like Billy was today.” Inhale…..”A girl needs”…..exhale…..”her momma”…..

Lorena laid her head on her mother’s stomach. Tears fell from her eyes again. There. She had done it. The most selfless act of her life.

She looked up, the rise and fall of her mother’s chest had stopped. It was over. Still she wailed.

***

Six months later, she was adjusting to life without parents. The death of her father had been a surprise. He had died suddenly, just three months after her mother.

Lorena was dropping tomatoes into a hot water bath to remove the skins. Pristine, newly washed jars sat on the counter waiting to be filled.

After cutting, boiling and cooling, Lorena was ready to put the tomatoes into jars. She looked to the sky and took a cleansing breath. All at once, a deep calm came over her. She took a dishrag off the counter, gave it a quick snap, and used it to dry off the jars once more.

Filling the jars individually, she was mindful to keep an inch headspace in each. Afterwards she went back and sprinkled a teaspoonful of salt in the top of the first jar, then carefully made an “X” down into the tomatoes: first one long, deep line, then the next, so slowly, without making any bubbles.

Lorena had never done this trick before while canning tomatoes; it seemed that she simply knew to do it.

Finally, she put the seals on, and said the canners’ prayer: “Oh! Please let them take!”

She knew from a child up that the vacuum-pack heat seal caused the metal lids to make a ‘pop!’ when they inverted. She was doing laundry when she heard that beautiful sound: “Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!” Lorena grinned and hugged herself. She dashed into the kitchen to count. All eighteen jars had taken! Mother would be so proud. Somehow, Lorena felt she knew.

“Thanks, Mom,” she whispered. “I love you.”

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