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    The Wide Awakes

    Last year, on Dec. 23rd, while doing a show on Wide Awakes Radio with I can’t remember who now, as things got real blurry for a bit and then, for reasons that will become clear, remain etched in my soul, I got a call that my Mom, who was quite ill with cancer, had been placed on a ventilator.

    I was listening to some music we were playing very loudly, with headphones on, and at the end of the song I noticed the message light on the station phone blinking, which I thought was odd because I didn’t hear it ring. As I took off the headphones to check the call my girlfriend appeared at my side and asked if I had heard the call. She had been sitting in the other room, watching TV and heard the ring, and the message, and looked very worried.

    She said “That was your sister, your mom is on a ventilator, and I think we should go to the hospital.”

    Now, in my family we are no stranger to death, having had the old guard pass away, leaving us “kids” to marvel at how drab life can be when cherished childhood traditions, such as dinner at grandmas or Labor Day parties at the Aunt’s house are no longer there, and you’re left with a sense of longing and loss that is both nostalgic and regretful.

    Sometimes, when the weather is just right and the light catches the mountains at just the right angle, or a certain scent plays out on the breeze, memories flood back and I am transported, just for that millisecond, to a childhood that seems so close I can touch it, but so far away that it may as well be galaxies away from me.

    So we’re heading to the hospital, flying down the freeway, and my girlfriend, attempting to offer words of comfort, says “I’m sure your mom will be fine.”

    Now before I go any further, you must know that it was my mom that gave rise to my theory that people are like pendulums. The farther they can swing in one direction, they can go equally far in the other. The nicer and more helpful a person can be, the farther into the other side of behavior they can swing. My mom would, if she liked you, do whatever she could to help you out, many times to her own detriment, but if you were on her hit list you weren’t safe from anything she could come up to do to you, and she could be a very vindictive woman when she was angry at you. But her anger was always quick to fade.

    I looked over at my girlfriend and said, very matter of factly, “No, it will be Christmas Eve in a few minutes, and if anyone is going to die on Christmas Eve and make the rest of my Christmases a remembrance of death, it’ll be her.”

    At the hospital she seemed rather unresponsive, but when I stood at her bedside and looked into her eyes, I saw recognition and a single tear that slowly rolled down her cheek. My sister, brother in law, cousin, my girlfriend and my mom’s husband, who was my friend long before he married her, stood there with me for a bit. We decided to go down to the cafeteria to get out of the way of the nurses that were working feverishly to stabilize mom, who had started declining as we stood there.

    Mom always made sure we went to church when we were kids, whether we wanted to or not. Many years later, sitting in a barn at Santa Anita, I asked her about why she always made us go but didn’t go herself. She said something very profound, that, now that I look back at it, helped shape me into the person I am today.

    She said “Me and God are good friends. We’ve had our talks, and my church is this barn. I care for these horses, and God talks to me through them. God is all around us, in everything we see, everything we touch, every sound and every smell. I know God, and it was my job to make sure you know him too. I just hope they have horses in heaven.”

    Later, heading back up to the ICU we heard a call for a Code Blue in ICU, and instinctively knew it was mom. When we got up there she was in full arrest, and the nurse asked our permission to stop all measures and let her go. Mom’s husband, the man she had spent the last 17 years with, who depended on her as a friend, confidant and lover, could barely talk as he said to just let her go. Then he promptly collapsed against the wall and into my sister’s arms, wailing in such a way as to let anyone hearing him know that his heart had just been torn from him.

    I stepped outside to call family members that were awaiting word, and the next week is a blur. I don’t remember that Christmas, or anything much until the funeral, which was well attended, a testament, I guess, to how many people she touched in her life.

    I miss her terribly, but I am not sad. I believe there is an after life, and if I am wrong I will never know it, but if I am right I will see her again.

    But like I said, some things get seared into your memory and they will be a part of you until you die. What is seared into my memory about Christmas now is those last few moments with mom.

    As we were leaving for the cafeteria, I stood at mom’s bedside and held her hand, and I could see the pain in her eyes from enduring something she plainly said she didn’t want to have happen to her. Thankfully left alone for a moment I took that time to lean in close and told her “Let go mom, it’ll be ok, I’m sure they have horses in heaven.”
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