It could have been twice, it could have been fifty times. When your mom's heart stops beating, you don't really bother keeping an accurate count.
That last night, that last night before that last morning, they'd called. They'd called and they'd told us about the first time her heart had stopped. They'd told us that we might want to come in. Just in case, you know.
Mom had been in the hospital for over a month, and had been unconscious for at least a week. The doctors and the nurses, they kept trying to prepare us for what was going to happen. One nurse in particular had been a friend of Mom's for thirty years - even she admitted that there was no hope.
But we didn't listen to any of it. Death was something that happened to other people's mothers. Not to ours. Ours was going to wake up, and she was going to be okay, and she was going to go home and everything was going to be fine again.
That last night, before that last morning, they called. And Dad and I went in to the hospital. And we waited. When we could, we went into the room where Mom lay. They'd given her a private room in Intensive Care, so that was nice. We went into her room and we watched the number that tracked her heartbeats. We watched that number shrink and shrink and shrink and fucking shrink.
Then we'd watch it plummet to zero, and the doctors and the nurses would usher us back into the waiting room.
And we'd wait some more.
Sometime in the early morning, about 3:00 I think, the nurse came and told us that it wouldn't be long. She said that if there was anyone that we wanted to call, we should do it right away.
It could have been twice, it could have been a hundred times. When your mother is dying, and you're trying desperately to let your sisters know before it's too late, you don't really bother keeping an accurate count.
Dina's phone rang and rang and rang. It was after 6:00 when my brother-in-law finally answered the phone.
"Mike," I said. "It's happening. You need to bring everyone here."
Timing is everything.
It really is just like in the movies. You sit in a room, and you wait for somebody to come and give you an update. Always before, it had been a nurse, or a doctor. Always before, it had been one of them, but never two. Never ever two.
At 6:30 or so, two people left my Mom's room and walked toward Dad and me. I wonder now, were there two of them because there were two of us?
The nurse was crying. I'll always remember that the nurse was crying.
I don't remember what they said to us. I mean, I remember the gist of it, but not the details. When people tell you that your mother has died, you don't really bother memorizing their words.
I remember sitting down. No, scratch that. I remember a hand reaching down from above and pushing me down.
I remember my dad, after the doctor has finished telling us. Dad said, "So she's dead then." It wasn't a question. It was a simple statement of fact. It was also a silent scream that will haunt me forever. Some things you don't get over, and that was one of those things. My father, upon hearing that the only woman he'd ever loved was gone, my father kept himself in check. For me, and for my sisters, he stayed strong.
I remember that he put his hand on my shoulder, and that I put my hand on top of his, and that we just sat like that for the longest time. We sat that way until the doctor and the nurse left us, until they left us to go back into Mom's room so they could disconnect the wires and the tubes and do whatever else needed to be done. After a patient has died.
My sisters arrived too late. Dad and I were standing out in the hallway when they rounded the corner. They were actually smiling. Forced smiles, to be sure, but smiles nonetheless. That was the last time I'd see smiles for a very long time.
Somehow, somehow we managed to tell them that Mom had already died. Dad told Dina, and I told Neisha. Hell, I didn't even know Neisha, and there I was telling her that her life would never be the same again. It was hard, of course it was hard. But I did it. I did it for Dad, who was putting his own grief on hold so that he'd be better able to help his children.
You know what I wish? I wish that I believed in the afterlife. I wish that I believed that Mom could have been there in that hallway with us on that morning. She would have been so proud of Dad.
I know I was.
I still am.