It was 9:15 p.m. on a Wednesday night, September 1993. I was gathering some clothes and few items to take to the hos-pital with me, but the one thing I needed the most I could not find, my mother’s diamond wedding ring. I could not leave without it. My heart was beating a mile a minute. I started throwing stuff all over the place and ripping things off the shelves. The more I looked, the more I panicked. My mother was in the hospital having complications from a surgery she had just had the previous day, and her only request was that I hurry and bring her wedding ring with me. I had to find that damn ring!
I vaguely heard the telephone ring; since we lived in the basement and our landlady lived upstairs, hers was the only phone we had. Evelyn, our landlady, came to the stairs and said my aunt was on the phone and wanted to talk to my dad, but he was busy looking for my mother’s rings. I went upstairs to take the call, and when I answered, my aunt was very up-set and refused to talk to me. I put down the phone and went to yell for my dad, and suddenly I stopped. A chill raced down my spine, but I shook it off. I didn’t want to know why. I raced to get my things and get to the car, so I could turn it on and be ready to go, but after a minute, nobody came out. I didn’t want to think; I just wanted to get to my mom as fast as I could. After a few more minutes, I got out of the car, but I didn’t want to go in the house so I laid my head on the hood of the car; it felt warm against my face and the sound of the engine eased my beating heart. I could no longer wait, and as I walked to the front door of the house, my footsteps got heavier and heavier. Standing in Evelyn’s living room, I looked at my dad and I felt a lone tear fell down my face. My dad said the words I never wanted him to say, “Your mother is dead.”
During the whole process after he said those words, it was like I was walking in a funnel; it was calm and quiet inside, but everything around me was chaos. From that point on, I felt like an outsider, telling my brother, sister, and the rest of the family, trying to comfort them when I needed the comfort myself, but for some reason I felt like it wasn’t my turn yet. When we all arrived at the hospital and I walked into my mother’s room, she was lying there as white as the sheet that covered her, and she had all these tubes sticking in her arms and down her throat. I heard myself say, “Take it out,” but the nurse said she couldn’t do that because after a sudden unexplained death, the law says that everything should remain intact at the time of death for the medical examiner. I heard someone screaming as I pulled the covers over Mom’s shoulder. She was so cold, and I tried to rub her shoulders to get her warm again, but it didn’t matter how hard I rubbed, she just stayed cold. I looked around the room with its harsh lighting, and all the machines that seemed to take up every space that wasn’t occupied by a human body. I didn’t seem to recognize anyone; all I saw were people yelling and pointing at me, but I didn’t know why, and all of a sudden I felt like someone had hit me; I doubled over and realized that the screaming I heard earlier was me screaming and the people yelling and screaming were coming toward me, and the last thing I remember was blackness, and I welcomed it.
As you can tell from my story so far, that on that night something in my world shifted, kind of like how the world did after 9/11. Tragedy happens to all of us, but the world doesn’t stop or slow down but just keeps sweeping us along its tide forcing us to move forward. Next came, as it always does, the robotic motions of planning the funeral, picking out flowers, sifting through old photos, wondering if great Aunt Ella is going to make it down and with whom she should stay. All these hundreds of little things that are always the same, just different people. As all the people shifted along at the funeral, each one saying the same thing over and over – “I’m so sorry for your loss” – I just wanted to smack them and say “shut up,” but I couldn’t do that because that was the role I had to play: I had to be the dutiful older daughter, the one who was sup-posed to make everything better for everyone else.
After the funeral when I thought I could finally let myself mourn and grieve the way I wanted, my aunts came and picked me up and took me to a lawyer’s office; they talked about how that doctor killed my mother, and that it was my job again to be the executive of my mom’s estate and to file a lawsuit against the doctor. For the next five years, I dealt with lawyers, specialists, depositions, pictures, and autopsy reports. For five years, the night of my mother’s death has been played in my head time and time again. My world was ripped apart and left me bleeding, and it has never closed. If dealing with the lawyers was not bad enough, I had my family to deal with also. My siblings would argue that my mom’s family didn’t have any rights when it came to my mother because of the entire rift my mom had with her family. My family is the type that if you wanted to have a relationship with them, then you had to make the effort to do so and if you didn’t then you were an outsider. I made the effort, but my siblings did not. And then you had my family who said they knew what was best for us kids and that they would take care of it. If they wanted to take care of it, then why did they want me to do it?
For five years, again just like the funeral, I tried to be the good daughter and make everything all right and to make everyone happy. Could I do it? No. On the last day before we were to go to court, my lawyers brought me in and told me that if we did go through with the lawsuit that we could lose. The case was to be heard in a county that is strictly conservative, which means that the jurors would most likely be doctors and lawyers and businessmen, basically, upper class. To go after a doctor’s license is very hard because of all the malpractice insurance they have, and most people settle out of court. This is what my family wanted me to do, go after his license. My siblings just wanted to hurt the doctor anyway they could, and that meant money. I was so tired; I just slumped down in the chair and looked around me at a table that was big enough to fit 20 people and at the dark wooden walls and expensive artwork hanging everywhere. I thought of all the time I had spent doing this for everyone else and to come right down to it and be told all of it was a waste, just because the wrong class of people would be my judge. My wound started to bleed even more. Suddenly it was if I could hear my mother’s voice. She said that she was proud of me, and I did all that I could for the ones I loved, but it was time to stop.
In the end not everyone was happy, and I was told by some that my mom would be disappointed in me, but I know in my heart she wasn’t because she told me so. I stopped making everyone happy, and I separated myself from everyone for a while so I could deal with the loss of my mom and to stop bleeding . . . finally.