Today is literally the first day of the rest of my life.
For the past three years, my mission has been to keep my mom, suffering from a rare, difficult-to-treat, incurable cancer, alive. My mission ended last Friday when she died at the age of 71. Today is the first day in three years that I didn’t have to think about her and how she was doing. Of course, all I did was think about her, but I wasn’t thinking about her disease or how she was feeling or when her next appointment was. I thought about all the ways in which our lives were intertwined and how strange it is not to receive a phone call or text from her with a list of things she wants me to do.
The busy-ness following a death carries you on the first tidal wave of grief. Last week, I wrote my mother’s obituary, chose the flowers for her casket (yellow roses), confirmed the plot at the cemetery in which she would be buried, and selected hors d’oeuvres for the visitation at the funeral home. I had to decide if we wanted an open or closed casket (closed), whether or not my sister, brother-in-law, and I would ride to the burial in a limo (not), and how many death certificates to order (I settled on 30.) Believe me when I tell you that each and every one of those decisions was pondered, discussed, and analyzed thoroughly before committing the choice to paper.
The visitation at the funeral home was lovely, with waiters in white jackets passing around glasses of iced tea and water and tomato tarts and salmon cream cheese crepes. The memorial service was moving and captured my mother and her generosity and indomitable will perfectly. My niece wore a darling pink and green, smocked ladybug dress my mom gave her, and my nephew’s outfit had a fire truck on it. My hair looked good, and I wore enough lipstick to last through the reception, at which there were cheese straws. I think she would agree that everything was absolutely perfect.
My sister and her family went back to Seattle yesterday. Now it’s just me and the dog. When I gave Coco her medicine this morning, I realized I didn’t know if she took her heartworm and flea medicine this month – she gets one on the first of the month, the other on the fifteenth – and it hit me: the dog is mine. I am no longer taking care of Coco because my mom is too sick to do it, and I’ll take her back to my mom’s house when she’s feeling better. I am Coco’s person, and she is solely in my care.
On the first day of the rest of my life, I took it easy. I sat in bed, drank coffee, and played Scramble with Friends; I cleaned up the kitchen; I took a nap. I had dinner with friends and came home to a little dog who was happy to see me. I did not call my mom to find out how she was feeling and remind her about my Stella & Dot trunk show tomorrow afternoon. I did not ask her if she’d seen the pictures my sister texted of Luke and Anna Jane in their Halloween costumes. I did not tell her I would bring her Starbucks coffee and a muffin for breakfast in the morning. I won’t be calling her tomorrow night after my trunk show to tell her how it went. My new normal.
I ordered Chinese food for dinner last night. My mom had a hard time finding things she could eat because the drug she was on gave her terrible mouth sores, but she loved the lemon chicken and the hot and sour soup at a place near my condo. The owner always asked about my mom when I picked up the food. Last night, when he took my order, he said, “No lemon chicken tonight?”
“No, not tonight,” I replied. “Not tonight.”