How many times did I have to move my car? Twice a day the hospice nurses performed the Musical Cars dance out in the driveway, shifting vehicles around to make room for visitors, so I finally got tired of moving my car and parked across the street, which is where the traffic cop would have given me a ticket if my dad hadn't gone out there to plead extenuating circumstances. I was in the shower at the time so couldn't plead my own case. At such a difficult time you wouldn't think the minor issue of parking would take such prominence, but even in times of suffering, the laws of physics (and parking) still apply.
I walked the beach twice, I think, once by myself and once with my husband, who flew down after I'd been in Florida more than a week. I had driven down there alone powered by sheer adrenaline, but since then my superpowers had been sorely taxed so I was delighted when my husband arrived at midnight Monday. (Not much traffic at the airport that late.) Before the funeral we took a day trip to see his brother and walk the beach at Cocoa, where the previous week I'd seen skimmers gliding above the water while dipping their beaks into the waves to catch some in-flight breakfast. Salt air and waves breaking, pelicans flying past in formation--walking the beach provides welcome relief from crowded rooms full of pain and suffering.
But not just pain and suffering. I laughed with an uncle I haven't seen in decades, chatted with my very creative niece, admired my nephew's ability to gather loving words from his cousins and share them at the funeral. I even enjoyed talking with the hospice nurses, who treated my mother as gently as they would their own, offering kindness beyond the call of duty.
Their duties may have appeared slight--giving sponge-baths and drugs, shifting Mom's swollen limbs to a more comfortable position--but I've never seen anyone keep watch so intently, an exhausting job in itself. They noticed small changes in color and breathing, and I'll always be grateful for the hospice nurse who told me, "She's taking last breaths."
That was Sunday afternoon, just after my uncle left. I'd been embroiled all afternoon in a silent Circle-of-Life drama: back in Ohio, my granddaughter was celebrating her third birthday but her mother, my extremely pregnant daughter, had been admitted to the Emergency Room for IV fluids following a bad bout with some intestinal virus. I was sitting in Florida trying to chat lightly with my aunt and uncle, listening to my mother's labored breathing, keeping my daughter's difficulties to myself so as not to alarm my father.
And then a whole lot of things happened at once: My aunt and uncle left. I spoke to my granddaughter on the phone, wished her happy birthday. My father needed my help with some computer problem. My son-in-law texted to tell me that my daughter had been released and would be fine. The hospice nurse said "Last breaths." My father's pastor arrived. His daughter handed me a hot pan of lasagna. The phone rang. People started yammering all around me. And somewhere in that welter of activity, my mother died.
Since then, my brain feels broken. Events flit past like billboards on a highway when you're traveling 70 miles an hour. Sometimes they convey important messages but more often not. How many South of the Border billboards did we see yesterday? And why would someone post a gigantic billboard asking only "Who is John Galt?"? And what's with all the cans of beans on billboards in South Carolina? None of this matters but I can't stop trying to make sense of it all.
Now we're pausing at my brother's house in North Carolina before making the final drive back to Ohio tomorrow. At some point all the events of the past week will form themselves into a coherent narrative, but by that time I'll be well on my way to the next adventure--welcoming the new grandson, who could arrive any day now. One journey ends while another begins, but all I can do right now is watch the billboards go by.