The airport in Portland was so quiet at 4:00 am. I guess not that many people were traveling at 4:00 am on January 30th, 2021. The echo of my phone ringing bounced off the empty walls, floor, and window.
The call I dreaded, more than any other, in my seventy-five years had come. I knew who it was calling and headed for a bench.
That word began the longest day of my life.
My sobbing granddaughter stuttered out the most hurtful words of my life.
“He’s gone, Grandma!”
I was weeping as I went into a merciful fog of shock. My daughter sat on the bench her, arm around me, weeping quietly, and my husband stood in front of me.
Things became a little muddled as I explained to my granddaughter.
“We are still coming to Ohio. Just hold on. Please ask the hospice to keep him there until we get there; please don’t take him elsewhere, please!”
“I love you. See you in a few hours.”
“I love you too.”
Stumbling over tears while struggling to breathe, I told my family what they already knew. Our Son and Heather’s brother, Edward, my most precious boy, had died without me there to see him out of this world like I had seen him in.
Guilt, the emotion that had been my enemy since I was a youngster, flashed anew, burning with a pain intensity worse than I had ever had with loss. Mother, father, sister, brother; all so painful, yet not even near that of losing my son.
On my third attempt, I got up from the bench with my family’s physical support.
Through the trip to Ohio plus the time there and after, I felt my guilty soul’s bits breaking off in overheated pieces of pain that sizzled, fat in a red hot pan. Only another parent of a lost child knows just what I mean.
It shattered my heart into shards of needle-sharp grief to stab me again and again.
Van and I had been flying back and forth, Maine, to Ohio once or twice a month before Edward’s surgery. We stayed a week or two each time before Covid stopped us for the last ten months of his life.
My choice of what day to fly to Ohio on finished any chance of the three of us ever seeing him alive again.
Jenny’s three words, “He’s gone, Grandma.”, put a stop to my thinking that I would climb on his bed and hold him until he left this world.
My colleague, guilt, sought to suffocate me when that thought crossed my mind—making my heart snap in two. It had already happened figuratively. I was sure it now had literally, for the pain was unbearable. My jaws clenched till they and my teeth hurt to stop me from moaning aloud and wailing.
Yes, Edward and I talked about every day. You can’t hold a phone call in your arms when he lost his speaking ability in January. I lost a portion of what was my mind.
Hospitalized, at the end, no one could visit him because of Covid. He couldn’t pick up the phone. Yes, I spoke with his oncologist’s staff whenever I wanted. It wasn’t Edward.
Edward’s surgery in November or 2018 told me what I already knew. It was Glioblastoma stage four, which gave him a death sentence at fifty - two years of age.
I had walked this path with a friend.
Also, for his fifty-two years on this planet, Edward and I had a kind of special bond.
He often called me and said, “You probably already know this.” Many times I did.
It was late when I realized he was having memory problems. He would tell what he had forgotten and chuckle about it. I wasn’t chuckling by the end of that month. Talking him into visiting his physician, who I will call the idiot, took until September. Edward was a bit of a stubborn guy. Seeing the idiot again, MD treated my son’s memory loss with blood pressure pills. Edward didn’t have that problem. I started looking at airline flights to Ohio.
We planned we would revisit the idiot together. Edward said I had a case of “Momma Bear” coming out. So Mr. Idiot would get my boy a cat - scan. If not, I would take Edward to the hospital emergency room.
Edward was so bad he didn’t remember how to do the job he had been at for years?
“What possessed me to drag this out!” screams my mind over and over.
In my sleep, when I can sleep, it screamed, waking me up. No more sleep that night. During the days, my ears would ring from the screaming in them. It was hard to hear what people were saying, what all with the guilt screaming and ears ringing. My screw-up has haunted me.
Does it matter now, sure? There was awful fear, wrenching my depression to paralyzing, as well as my guilt. Suppose I were just a better parent. Besides, if nothing transpired differently, thus everything was all right. I now call it a frozen brain.
Our Son, Heather’s brother, Edward, my most precious boy, had died without me there to see him out of this world like I had seen him in.
Payment for that fear, never seeming my beloved son alive again.
He kept telling us not to come when he was speaking because of Covid.
I sent out the alarm on Halloween of 2019 when I had not heard a word from him in a week to my daughter and granddaughter. Heather texted Jennifer, granddaughter, that Heather was calling the Columbus, Ohio police requesting a home - check on Edward. Jenny started driving to Dad’s. Edward saw the police and ignored them and went to bed. It was 5:00 pm.
Jenny woke him up. Heather talked with him, begging him to go with Jenny to the emergency room. He went. Edward later told me it was to show everyone that all was okay. Both the cat scan and the following MRI said he wasn’t okay. I spoke to the oncologist, and they planned surgery for a day or two after we got there.
Why in the hell didn’t I make sure I was there before then? I don’t know if there will be a complete answer to that. I very much doubt it. I had this plan in my head that I would join him in death after I was back home. The total unfairness of this was plain to me, as my entire family had suffered it before. I could not do that to them. My boy would not be happy about it either.
All of us who have lost a child, such an odd way too, comfortably say it. Isn’t it? I didn’t lose Edward. It took away Edward from us. It leaves many other parents and me with scars so deep they make us nauseous and will need grafting to heal. Yet, we wander through the days like a ghost in our own lives.
I have been able to find a couple of things that help me, Memories; I hold them close. Memories of Edward, in the beginning, made me try to catch my breath. I couldn’t because somehow all the oxygen in the air, gone. Lungs burned, making tears fall with my body to follow onto a piece of furniture, sometimes on the floor. The returning oxygen allows me to sob hard, often till my ribs hurt. A month or more ago, I began a memorial garden for Edward. I am doing almost all the work myself. It is cathartic to my soul, which helps my heart. I chat with him as I am throwing around shovels of dirt.
I kept remembering what choice did I have? So I use these moments now and work toward making as many positives as possible.
I have been building a memorial garden for Edward. I do as much of it myself as I can. Stripped the earth and added new. Cut back some Bushes with large clippers, chomp, chomp. Good for muscles and anger. Edwards’s favorite metal, wrought iron. It’s what I made his fence of, I needed some help with that. You to get the picture. I chat with him in his special place. The work does tire me out for the day, but it brings me peace.
May you all find some for yourselves in your way.