When She Went to Sleep and Didn’t Wake Up

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It was a day like any other. I got up, took my shower, grabbed my lunch, and headed for the commute. I arrived at work at the normal time and got down to my work as an aircraft mechanic.

I’d been there for about two hours when a neighbor, and former employee at the facility, walked into the shop. I thought nothing of it. “He’s just come to visit some old friends,” I thought. As he passed, he said hello and headed for the supervisor’s office.

A few minutes later he walked toward me with the supervisor in tow. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but your Mom died this morning,” he said almost matter of factly.

“Where is she?”

“She’s at home. I’ll take you.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “I can drive.”

I began to put away my tools, but the supervisor said he’d take care of it. “That’s OK, there’s no hurry. She’s dead.”

When I arrived at home, the Omnipotent Dad wore an unfamiliar expression. He looked nervous, unsure of himself. Very unlike the decisive air traffic controller that raised me.

“What happened,” I asked?

“We went over to Hitchings’ house last night, got back around 11, and went to bed. We had a ball, talking about the old days. Eating watermellon,” Dad explained.

“She didn’t get up this morning when I did, but she always wants me to wake her up if she’s not up by eight. I made some coffee for her and went in and she didn’t move. She was cold. I called 911 and it seemed like they were taking an awful long time to get here. I called them again and chewed their asses out. When they finally got here, I realized it had only been a few minutes. I was just so upset. I yelled at the operator. I could kick my own ass.”

That afternoon, the Omnipotent Dad sent flowers to the 911 operator by way of apology. That’s the kind of person he is.

The next week was a blur. I spent most of my time making arrangements and escorting people around. My mother’s family insisted on going to the beach the day before the funeral. I drove them, but have never forgiven myself for caving in to this day. I missed the only slot for time alone with Mom before the funeral. The only image I have is from the public viewing. I always felt like I never had the chance to say goodbye.

The travelling beach party left the day after the funeral, but their trail of selfishness stayed on. Dad’s house was in shambles. He hired professional cleaners to get stains out of the carpet and furniture. It was their parting gift. I would have preferred a meat loaf like the neighbors brought.

Mom had a physical the day before she died. The results came back a week after the funeral. The verdict: she was a healthy 60-year old who just happened to go to sleep one night and not wake up the next morning. No suffering. No pain. She just went to sleep and didn’t wake up again.

As I thought about the whole thing, I tried to build some context to help me understand. This is what I thought:

Mom suffered from schizophrenia for years. She was routinely hosptialized with psychotic events. It took years to find a doctor and hospital to help her and about four years earlier we got lucky. She’d finally climbed out of that scary and dark pit and became the person we hadn’t known in years. No more hallucinations. No more voices. No more paranoia. No more anguished tears. She was finally happy and ready to resume the life she’d been deprived of, but deserved.

Sometimes I feel as though I should have been a little sadder about it. No one wants to lose a loved one and no one is ever truly prepared for the loss. Hers should’ve been doubly painful after her struggles with mental illness. Yet, all I could think of was that she didn’t suffer at all. It didn’t hurt. It was as peaceful a death as anyone could hope for.

I thought no one can hurt her anymore. Not the careless brothers and sisters. Not my own estranged sister. And especially, not those demons that came to her and told her to think and feel awful things. She was finally at peace, and so was I.

12 thoughts on “When She Went to Sleep and Didn’t Wake Up

  1. I have to say, I think this is a really beautiful tribute to your mother. She has a fine, intelligent, and insightful son. That, not her illness, is her legacy. Thank you.

  2. TJ,
    Thanks for the condolences. I don’t think it took much fortitude though. It’s normal part of life and it does give the heartstrings a tug now and then, but I except it because it’s gonna happen to everyone eventually.

  3. Poobah, you have my condolences. She was very young to have died. Although its a blessing that she went quietly, I’m sure that doesn’t ease the pain of her passing. It took a lot of fortitude to share this with us.

  4. Hiromi,
    Time will do that. As you get older the pieces fit a little better, although I must admit I think my life is still missing a lot of the puzzle peices.

    Rose,
    It’s nice to know someone who’s had a similar experience. Oddly, looking at her in the coffin was a pretty anti-climactic affair. I guess I always viewed people who were dead as just dead and separate my feelings from the body. It was the person I missed.

  5. “I thought no one can hurt her anymore. Not the careless brothers and sisters. Not my own estranged sister. And especially, not those demons that came to her and told her to think and feel awful things. She was finally at peace, and so was I.”

    even though ‘we’ (the family) were not the ones hurting my mother (it was her inner demons) i felt the same way. NO ONE could hurt her any more and she and i were both at peace. unlike you though, i elected NOT to view my mother in a coffin. my sisters and father and her grandchildren all did, but i did not wish that.

  6. I’m impressed, and glad, that you were able to have that kind of peace and perspective. Hope you and your family are well.

  7. Sumo,
    I’ve got to agree. Lingering is NOT the way to go.

    Mary,
    That’s me, Mr. Reality. I’m not sure I deserve something as high-falutin’ as rare and beautiful, but thanks for the kind words anyway.

    Miz B,
    I should probably not as selfless as this makes me sound, but thanks.

  8. I think your way of thinking shows your selflessness Poobah… it was best for her and thank god she went without pain… she had enough pain throughout her life. Most people think of themselves and the pain they feel when one passes on… in spite of that, you thought of her… no wonder bohemians just loooveee Poobah!

  9. This is what makes your post so real, so valid. You share yourself and it’s rare and beautiful. Thank you.

  10. Very nice perspective OP…she was young to go…but you are absolutely right about the suffering. You couldn’t have asked for anything more for her except more years perhaps. It is fortunate if one can go like that…I hope for that for my own parents. I sincerely hope Omnipotent Dad is getting on well.

  11. Dusty,
    Thanks. If you stop by regularly you’ll see I do pieces like this periodically. I think it’s important to tell the stories not just for me, but so other people can reflect and maybe learn something about their own similar situations. Besides, you can’t be as funny as a barrel of monkies all the time 😉

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