A couple hours after the sun rose on the morning my mom died, we left her body on the bed in her room and went for a walk to look at the chapel around the corner where we were thinking we’d hold the funeral.
My dad, Charlie and Amelia, John and me—the survivors. As we walked out the back door into the August morning I did feel a lot like we were passengers straggling out of the wreckage of a plane crash.
We were weirdly giddy, not good company for anyone but ourselves—delirious, shattered, and still under the spell of the gallows humor we’d become as dependent on as oxygen in the final weeks to stay sane.
“It’s ok to leave her, right?” one of us asked.
“I think so,” someone said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
It was the fantasy you have about your newborn after a particularly ruthless night—stepping outside, locking the door, and just walking quietly away from it all—only we actually did it.
So there we were—an awkwardly large group of adults for the sidewalk—ambling across Spring Garden Street and down Springdale Court around 9am on a Friday morning in late summer. The university had just gone back into session, and the streets were starting to fill up with students.
The doors of the chapel were locked, but Charlie and Amelia—who had never been inside it—peered in the windows to get a sense of the space as we stood on the porch.
Just then I recognized one of the backpacked students locking the door of her car and making her way toward campus—our kids’ much-adored babysitter, a graduate student, who we hadn’t seen in a few months since her schedule changed.
“Hey—it’s Anneliesse!” I said to John. She was walking right past us, about to greet a friend on the sidewalk.
Then I realized the friend was someone we knew, too—another beloved babysitter, Virginia, also a grad student.
“Hey you guys!” I was compelled to holler out. John and I walked toward them.
“Hey! Good to see you! How have you been?” All that stuff.
Charlie, Amelia, and my dad grouped silently behind us. What must we have looked like? Conspicuous. Or suspicious—I felt suspicious. Like maybe Virginia and Anneliesse were worried the reason they hadn’t seen us in a while was because we’d joined a cult.
“Great! Doing ok! How are you? How is the semester going so far?” It’s the only thing to say, right?
What is the alternative? I haven’t slept in days and my mom took her last brutal breath five hours ago. Right now she is lying by herself in her house around the corner. We’re scoping out this here church for her funeral.
I had no idea how to introduce my family to the sweet, smiling young women.
“I’m sorry,” I said to everyone as we walked back toward the house. “I just couldn’t.”
That night, two of my parents’ closest friends, Anne and Mark, came over to be with us. Their wonderful daughter, Molly, is the ground zero of babysitters for us. It is through her that we know Anneliesse and Virginia.
Molly came by the house, too, after her shift on the food truck. Anne, Amelia, Molly, and I sat and cried together with my mom’s body.
“Please apologize to Anneliesse and Virginia for me?” I asked Molly, telling her about running into them. “I’m sure we were so weird.”
I guess this is a long clumsy metaphor for the unsolicited answer to “how was your thanksgiving?” and the “how are you?”’s of the last three months and the “how are you”’s of the future.
She’s always right around the corner, alone in the house and newly dead. I’m always announcing I’m okay, out here in the world where it the sun is shining and something new is about to begin.