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A red exclamation point!

July 28th, 2010 · No Comments

©2010 Michelle French

There it was.

A big red exclamation point. An email from my sister on a Sunday morning. I had gotten up, checked email, made coffee and then went back to the comfort of my bed to watch BBC News. I had hoped it would lull me back to sleep.

When I finally gave up trying to doze, and finding myself bored to tears with the Sunday politics show, I got more coffee and sat down to find an email from my sister with the subject:

CALL ME ON MY CELL!!!  I’ve lost your number

There was no other message.

I knew what it meant immediately, though I could not believe it. When I finally reached her she said “I don’t believe it, but she’s gone.”

My Mother had died. Even though she had several rather critical illnesses‑all the result of diabetes and inactivity—we didn’t think she would ever actually die. Well, not this quietly. Not without drama.

Shock overtook me immediately. As a recent grad student, unemployed, with one mostly-maxed-out credit card, I couldn’t compute how I was going to get back to the States. Finally after an afternoon of frenzied attempts to transfer money, Joycie (my hero again after a million years) stepped in to save the day and bought my plane ticket. (Delta’s customer service was actually really good that day.)

12 hours later I was on a plane bound for Atlanta. With no sleep. I had left my house at 4 a.m., took 2 night busses to Kings Cross/St. Pancras and the Thameslink to Gatwick.

My sister’s two boys and their dad picked me up in blazing heat in Atlanta for the start of 2 frenzied weeks of visiting and feeble attempts to assist my sister in the chores.

At the funeral home we received the good wishes from friends and relatives. I took photos of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends—suddenly aware that I may never see some of them again.

The flowers were astoundingly beautiful. One in particular, a basket of white roses with a dynamic swash of netting was the result of Mother’s dear neighbor Betty’s direction: “Myra and I are both Drama Queens, so it has to be dramatic!” The Red Hat ladies had sent another arrangement with one of Mother’s Red Hats featured.

The service was sweet. My cousin Rick, who had been one of my Mom’s piano students gave a touching eulogy and performed Chopin accompanying a slide show my sister’s friend Danita had prepared with photos of Mother throughout the years. My sister’s eldest son was so grown-up and composed as a pall bearer. The Red Hat Society Ladies, acting as honorary pall bearers, lined the walkway on either side of us as we left the church.

After the service family and friends went on to their lives and my sister began sifting through the clutter.

Mother was a “bad diabetic” as they say in the South. People use the phrase to express that one has a bad case of the disease. In reality, Mother was just not good at taking care of her diabetes. It had caused heart problems, kidney dysfunction, and a bit of dementia.

As my sister dug through the nest of debris surrounding Mother’s old-lady chair, she said “Do you think she killed herself?”

There, hidden out of view, was a large box of mini-honey-buns and a large tub of salted-peanuts.

And she could never understand why she couldn’t control her blood-sugar or her hypertension.

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