It was a promise I made and fully intended to keep to my Mama on Saturday as I left her surrounded by my nieces, the great-grandkids and my sister-in-law. I brought coffee. They brought Popeye's.
It was the day before the big Christmas parade that literally ends at my house. Every year we host a big Open House for family, friends and some parade participants. I had a million things to do. The Coach and I were headed to the grocery store for vittles for the party. But I was already exhausted from a week of house-prep and Mama.
She had been in the hospital since last Friday, complaining of not feeling well. She had been lethargic. Nauseated. Weary.
Turns out, she really did need that oxygen they sent her home with a few years ago but she sent back. That day her oxygen levels were so low the triage nurse thought the reading was wrong. No, they really were in the 40s.
She was released on the following Thursday and moved to the nursing home near our home for a temporary respite. "Skilled nursing," they call it, for the patients too well to stay in a hospital but not really ready to return to their little room in their daughter's house. She had up to 20 days paid for by her insurance to get stronger, get some more physical therapy and get used to the idea that she really did need that oxygen.
She had spent a week at another facility in August. That one was more of a hospital though. This was a nursing home, the same one where my mother-in-law spent her last week. Where many others do too.
"Do these people stay here all the time?" she asked me on Friday.
"Some do," I told her. "But you're only here temporarily until you get stronger so you can come home."
I had been there every day, getting her settled. Getting her TV set up. Bringing her clothes, makeup, toothpaste and a daily thermos full of my husband's coffee -- which she loved.
She was doing OK, I thought, but not great. She didn't look so good. She still didn't feel so good. My sister went to visit her after the parade.
"She didn't look good," she said. "She said she didn't feel good."
A little after 2 a.m., the phone rang. I've come to know that a middle-of-the-night phone call is never a good thing. That's when your mom calls to tell you your big brother has died in a car wreck on a lonely stretch of road. That's when that same nursing home called to tell my husband that his mother was on the way to the hospital she would not leave.
To me they simply said, "There's been a change in status. Can you come down to the facility?" Then she gave me a code to get in. I had to call back to get it repeated.
I was in my closet getting dressed when I realized it. Mama was gone. They didn't say she was being taken to the hospital. "Change in status." That can only mean one thing.
An eternity later (really only 15 minutes) we drove up and saw the ambulance idling and the Sheriff's Deputy's car. I knew.
Inside, a lovely lady named Claudette stammered as she tried to say the words I already knew were coming. The nurse, making her rounds, found my mom in her bed. She was gone.
I wanted to see her, but I was asked to wait for the coroner to come. About 30 minutes later they decided he wasn't coming and I could go in.
Her body was there, but the fierce, fiery, sassy, force of nature that was my Mama was gone. Stilled. Poof. Just like that.
That's the hard part. I was supposed to see her tomorrow. But tomorrow came and she was gone. There will be no more phone calls asking me when I'm coming to fix her TV or her phone or bring her coffee or her glasses. There will be no more arguing over something stupid. We did that a lot.
While she was in the hospital, I rearranged her room at my house. She had only been there since August and we were still trying to get her settled. A fabulous painter, she brought many of her artworks with her to my house, but in her depressed state she never let me hang them. I put as many of them up as I could while she was out so they would be there when she came home.
She never thought of this as her home, though. It was my home to her. It was my kitchen. My refrigerator. My cabinets. I told her once, "I bought you the cookies you like." She replied, "I'm not going to go through your cabinets looking for something to eat, Lori." No matter how many times I tried to tell her, "This is your home now," it never was.
I had hope for our future, even though I knew it would be somewhat short. I had no idea it would be this short.
When my mama lost her mama in 1988, she told me, "That's a champion you lose forever." She was right.
I really did plan to go to the home on Monday and sit with her and rest my sore feet and legs. I would have. But when tomorrow came, she was gone. Instead, I packed up her few belongings and brought them home. Then I went to the funeral home to make arrangements and fill out her death certificate.
Hey. Not everyone gets to put "Tarot Card reader" in the occupation box.
I got to see her one more time. Still still. And it broke my heart in pieces to know that was the last time we would be in the same room. Forever.
I won't get to see her tomorrow.