No matter your age, no matter your relationship, and no matter when it happens – if life goes in order – your mother will die before you, and it will be different for everyone and yet, the same.
Allow me to explain…
The evening of April 9th, 2015:
Recently back from a second date in London and head over heels in love. (I mean who wouldn’t be after all that romance across the pond?) Returning a little tipsy from my best girlfriend’s home in Brooklyn – she wanted all the details. We decided to have a decadent girls’ night of eating every piece of junk food we wanted. I happily share all the events while her Great Dane drapes over my lap; a glass of wine in a small mason jar in one hand, a Dorito in the other as we snuggle on the couch under the coziest of blankets.
I decide to take a taxi back to TriBeca from Brooklyn. It was warm out and I walked a few blocks seeing all the old bars I once frequented back in my 20s before Brooklyn was a thing. Feeling so happy about my life – no guilt that my stomach was full of a chip extravaganza, french onion dip, and Entenmann’s cookies. I peered down at my phone for the numerous tender texts from the London boy. My heart was full, too.
As I glance, I realize my brother is calling me. My brother produces television, as well as every aspect of our family. He keeps it all together.
“I am going home to check on Mommy. Will call you when I get there.”
“She hasn’t been picking up my calls. I am worried.” I respond trying to disguise my voice of vino.
“Di, it will be fine. We all know Mom. She’s fine. I’ll call you later. Love.”
My brother never says, “I love you.” When getting off the phone, it’s always an abrupt “love” and hangs up the phone after saying it. I, on the other hand, profess love daily. People probably think I am nuts, but I could care less. I tell the doorman, my dog walker, all my friends, their kids that I love them. I have always been this way.
I hop into the cab and back to flirtatious messages with the London boy. We cannot wait to see one another the next day. He is so tender, loving, and ridiculously fun. I put down my oh so smart and consuming phone, stop the texting and take a breath of gratitude. I have waited for someone like this.
I am normally more anxious, worried and waiting for the shoe to drop. But tonight I feel peaceful and content.
I arrive back home greeted by my two sweet dogs at the door. I am so excited to remove my heels and slip into my comfy yoga pants when I hear my phone ring again. It is my brother.
“Di Come home,” he says before I can even say a word. Something throws me in my brother’s voice.
“Put mommy on the phone.” He bursts into a cry I have never heard in my life.
“She’s gone, Di. Mom’s gone.”
My mind races, and in that moment, that second began to feel like one million hours. (This is the exact moment I lost the concept of time and I still have no grasp of it today.) My brother said the word “gone”, and suddenly I stop to think, what does gone mean?
Gone can mean dead? I am in total shock I don’t know if I cried at that moment or not as I cannot remember my reaction, only the word gone.
“There is an car outside waiting for you. Mommy and I will be here when you get here,” my brother tells me.
My brother, even in his deepest grief, manages to think of every detail. I don’t remember leaving my apartment, nor how I go into the car but I did manage to direct the driver to the wrong house in another suburban cul de sac, which now I can laugh at as one thing is always consistent with me – I have no sense of direction. The car pulls up to Mom’s house. My brother waits in the driveway for me. I can’t cry for seeing him breaks my heart. I just freeze.
“Oh Ozzie,” I manage to say. He is crying and puts his arm around me. We hug. Now my tears start as he turns me towards the front door. As I walked into my mother’s incredibly loving home I freeze in the long hallway. Mom always called it her “wall of fame.” It consists of every family picture you could find of my brother and me. Letters are are also framed, as well as artwork and various artifacts from our childhood.
I see three police officers standing in front of me, I am thoroughly confused. I think I missed the fact that there were police cars outside and now I notice police tape. What is going on? An officer is standing in front of the room telling me I can not go in. I can’t even make words to argue as my mother’s home looks like a crime scene. I peer down what feels like the Lincoln Tunnel and I can make out the silhouette of my mother’s body.
“That’s my Mommy,” I scream. “Please let me see her! Please!” I am now in full hysterics.
“Ma’am (the officer calls me ma’am but speaks to me like I am in kindergarten), it’s a police investigation. At this point, until the medical examiner gets here, no one can see her.” Words like coroner and investigation are being thrown around our home like it’s normal.
“She died alone. This is procedure. I am very sorry,” the other officer says. My ears hear “she died alone” and those words stay with me. It feels unimaginable.
“What is happening, Ozzie?” I look at my brother’s face. He tells me how it happened.
He explains that he called and she didn’t pick up. Now I knew Mom was drinking and often ignored the calls from the people who would get mad at her. That person usually was me. Mom almost always took my brother’s calls – he was the nurturing one. But sometimes she played “keep away” and whenever we went to her home she would be fine – we just overreacted.
My brother continues, “I had been calling her throughout the ride over here, but she didn’t answer. When I walked in I expected to see her sitting in her brown chair waiting for me to get out there like usual. Di, she was kneeling, I ran to her and she was so cold. Her body was ice cold; I just held her. I didn’t know what to do.”
I look past him and see the open bottle of Woodbridge (the double bang for your buck kind) and one glass in the sink with her red lipstick. One bowl with a little milk and her favorite cereal – Rice Chex – a few chex still floating. Her last meal, last glass. I begged my brother not to clean any of it. She touched that bowl when she was alive. I needed her to still be alive.
“What is happening?” I kept saying aloud again and again, and my brother looked at me for the first time in his life not having an answer and not being able to fix it. And we simply waited – for 6 hours. Yes, you read that correctly – 6 hours for the examiner to show up. One police officer shared that he had been here a few nights ago.
“I saw her three nights ago. I had been here a few times throughout the years answering the calls from your mother.” I look up at him, desperate to hear any stories about her. The truth, my mother struggled with drinking and the past two years, she had a habit of calling the police, asking them to come over after telling them she had fallen. Sometimes she faked it, sometimes it was true and we would find her with bruises all over. I knew she was lonely. Mom wanted the company of a man, but would never admit it. After her divorce, it was always me, mom, and my brother against the world.
She’d say, “I need nothing but my kids. Who wants a man anyway?” But she did – she did want companionship, but her defenses had grown stronger with age and now angry for the house was empty without her children.
The police officer continues, “She always spoke about you – so proud of your accomplishments.” He starts listing so many things about us. He seemed to know everything – that we had dogs, that Mom called them her “grandpups,” our jobs, we lived in Manhattan, where we traveled, our college alma maters – you name it. My mom lived vicariously through us and felt no purpose in living for herself. I began to sob thinking how much my mother truly loved me; it was too much sometimes. I kept thinking why couldn’t she love herself as much? My anger at her alcoholism kicks in to protect me from the pain of the loss for a few seconds. How many times I told her to stop drinking – alcohol was killing her, and I wanted to save her, but I knew I couldn’t.
And then I am back to grieving; the pain is so great. I realize she will never call me again, never cook me my favorite meal, never see us get married, never know a grandchild. My mother would never be a grandmother – a true tragedy. All of these concepts seem epic to me, kicking up a tornado of emotions. Never has a whole new meaning now.
Finally, the front door opens, it’s the medical examiner who looks like the key master from The Matrix. I take comfort in this. You take comfort in the weirdest things in the face of death. He examines her, determining it was a heart attack. Thanks, key master – I could have told you that 6 hours ago, now let me see my mother.
The key master begs me not to go in. He thinks I should wait till she is at the funeral parlor and now I get angry – very angry. My grieving sobs turn into a fierce lioness of complete Maria at the end of West Side Story with the gun.
“No,” I say, “You will not keep me from my mother. Ozzie found her and now I will see her, and I will stay with her as long as I need and you will all wait.” I address all the police, the key master and my poodle who is now cowering in fear. My brother intervenes on my behalf knowing I will lose my sh*t even more in two seconds with the key master and company as it is now 2 am.
The police part like the freakin’ Red Sea and Ozzie puts his hand on the small of my back as I walk in to see her. They had wrapped her in the brown cozy blanket I got her for Christmas – swaddled her like a baby. I stood over her – key master was right, she looked awful. I now hated the key master even more.
I legit asked my brother if we could keep her like Eva Peron. And I still wish we did. Although it would be very odd in my one bedroom apartment, I don’t care. The thought of the three of us not being together is still unimaginable. But at some point it became time to take her, that moment was the one of many gut-wrenching moments for me.
“Please carry my mommy out gently. She needs you to be gentle with her.” The police officer nodded at me.
“I am sorry for your loss.” he gently responds. This is the first time I hear this statement.
That was a year ago. And my life is forever changed. I still miss her every god damn day. Lourdes Pisarri – Lulu – my mommy (she loved when I called her that) was the most powerful, loudest and most loving presence in the universe. For someone so alive to become so quiet is deafening. She let alcohol console her because she could never learn to love herself enough.
That lack of self-love was her greatest flaw, but at the same time, she was the perfect mother for me. Her strength and her weaknesses helped me grow into the woman I was meant to be.
Taken too soon Mom, I had so much left to share with you. And I now understand you.