The mountain of grief is very high and sometimes it is hard to get over it or under it. It is just there all the time and staring you in the face even when your back is tuned. It is always there. I hadn’t had to deal with grief since the death of my brother almost six years ago. He died suddenly. He was a big Prince fan and a big sports fan and ironically he died the same day as the musician’s Prince’s birthday and the big Golden State Warriors play off game that year. I remember it vividly as if I was still in the moment. That day it was around 4pm and my sister, mom and myself were all in the living room of my apartment and we were waiting for Paul, or Paulie, as my mom called him sometimes. He said he hated that nickname but most of the time it didn’t stop her from calling him that. All of a sudden as we were changing the channel to the big game my sister and I heard some noise coming from Paul’s room. It was a foreign sound to us. We had never heard of it before. It sounded like almost a scream but muffled to the tone of a low groan. My sister and I rushed to his room a few feet away and tried to turn the brass doorknob which was locked. He always locked his door. I knew how to pick the lock. I had picked it a few times when my son, when he was small, would run in there and lock the door and laugh from behind it. I would call him numerous times to open it and when he didn’t I learned how to pick the lock open.
My brother was lying on the floor on his back. His head was a few inches off the ground and he was wearing his street clothes, black pants and a white tee shirt. A few seconds after we got into the room and over to him he stopped making sounds and his body lay limp on the white carpeted floor of his bedroom. We called 911 and it seemed like it took forever for them to get there. I don’t know exactly how long it took but it felt like hours. The fire people came and they went into my brother's room. A few minutes later they said they needed more room and they wanted myself, my mom and my sister to make room for them in the small living room. My mom was using a walker after
within recovering from a mild stroke and she carefully and slowly pushed herself across the room over the rug to the kitchen about five or six feet away and stood beside my sister and I. I tried to push the thought out of my mind that my only brother was dead. The fire people pushed on his chest a few times and then put him in what reminded me of a body bag, but actually it was something else, something to help transport him down the seventeen stairs to the ambulance. A few minutes after he got to the hospital my sister called and said that he didn’t make it. He was gone. She could barely speak. I knew how hard that phone call was. I had made that same phone call to my grandmother 30 years earlier when our dad passed away.
I could not climb that mountain of grief for a long time. I went through the motions of trying to live. I was trying to pretend that for the most part I was okay for my son who at the time was 11 years old and that was ironic.The ironic part was that it was the same age I lost my dad. It was like the cycle was repeating itself. I had to experience my first time with grief at 11 and so did he. It was hard but somehow we managed to get through it. Although that mountain was always there in the background standing as tall as ever.
I could look out of my bedroom window and on clear days I could see hills and trees and the occasional mountain in the background. There were times when I wanted to curse that mountain and scream for it to go away. But, it did not. I just learned over time how to ignore it and go about my daily life.
It has almost disappeared from my daily thoughts and life for many years. Just enough years that it didn’t feel so daunting. Then November rolled around in 2021. My mom was really sick again. She had gone to the hospital for an infection and came back only a shell of her former self. She left talking and laughing at my lame jokes and a week later when she returned home to the home I shared with her and my son she could not talk and could barely hold herself up to get in and out of bed. Walking was also something that she could no longer do and that list became longer each and every day. I could see the light drain from her eyes. I tried to dismiss the fact that I knew that she would not live much longer. She was an independent person and the thought of her not being that woman was something that was intolerable both to me and to her. I felt that mountain coming back. The one that I could not get over.
November 19th was the day. It was an unusually warm day for November. The days were shorter and the nights were longer. Thanksgiving was a week away. I was chatting with my sister about what we were going to cook and eat and about all the Thanksgiving past. For years all of our Thanksgiving’s had been the same when we were small. We would all get into my mom’s old Oldsmobile car and she would drive us the ten or fifteen minutes to our grandmother’s house. Nana would always cook Thanksgiving dinner and that is where the whole family would go. Her house smelled like a combination of turkey cooking and those yummy sweet potatoes that made me and my tummy happy. Nana would set up the card table, a small flowered blue table, for the kids to eat in the kitchen just off of the dining room. We could still see the adults but were seated just far enough away to chat about our parents and what we did and didn’t like about curfews, school, dinner and everything in between. Even when we got old enough to eat at the big table as we called it and when there was room we chose to still eat at our little card table off of the kitchen.
The big table had long been a distant memory and so was the flowered card table. Our grandparents were gone and the cousins grew up as we did and they did their own thing at their own homes with their kids and grandkids. It was a funny thought at some of them actually being grandparents before they were 50 years old. But, there they were all at home and enjoying their holiday the way they wanted to. Nobody called each other anymore and nobody saw each other any more except at the occasional funeral. My sister and I were going to feed my mom lunch. She was on soft foods and I would puree her sweet potatoes or mashed potatoes along with some chicken on most days and she would sip water or juice. My mom hated to drink water. I would remind her that it was good for her. I could see in her eyes that she really didn’t want to drink it but went along with it for me. On this day she was not herself. She was lying on the hospital bed which was sitting in the place where a sofa should sit and her eyes turned from bright to cloudy. Her head was raised and she was looking at the wall on her left side. We thought that was odd. My sister pushed the button for the head of the bed to lower and that is when we noticed our mom’s sunken face, her cloudy eyes and sad face.
I knew that day by the end of it would be another mountain. I took a deep breath and told her it was okay to go. I told her that we would be okay if she went. I told her not to stay for us if she had to go so that we would take care of each other. She never spoke. By the end of the afternoon she had taken her last breath and closed her eyes. She was gone and at peace. At least I hoped she was at peace. I didn’t know what was on the other side of death but hoped it was peaceful and there was a heaven filled with angels that welcomed her to that place, over the mountain.
It has been almost a couple of years now since the death of my mom. We have had another Thanksgiving and another Christmas and all the holidays in between. We weren’t really feeling the holidays as in years before. We marked them off on our calendar and had the appropriate foods that we always had and the Christmas tree was decorated like we always did but always in the back of my mind was that mountain of grief that I wished would go away. I don’t know if I will ever get over that mountain of grief because people are not here forever but I will not let that mountain consume me. I will not let that mountain win. Although, it will always creep into my thoughts from time to time it will get smaller and smaller and not so high.