Life and Death

In May of 1999 at the age of 17, I graduated high school and then went on to attend college at Grand View majoring in Communications. I moved into the dormitory there on Aug. 28 that year. It was probably the most difficult thing I had ever had to do, as my mom and I were pretty much inseparable. That morning, my mom and my friend Crystal drove me and my things to the dorm to help me get settled in. Once we had all of my things in my dorm room, my mom and I told each other that we loved each other and she was on her way home. I was officially out on my own.

I was very much afraid and homesick from the very start. I couldn’t stop worrying about how hard it was going to be spending the next 4 years living in a dorm across town from the home where I grew up with my mom. My roomie LaVon and I got along famously from the start. As a matter of fact, we got along so well that we were trying to figure out a strategy to be able to stay awake during our days full of classes so that we could still stay up all night long and talk.

For 5 days after I moved into my dorm, my mom was miserably sick. She told me that once I had gotten all of my things out of the car and she drove away and left me at the dorm for the first time that she had gotten a “pang” in her chest. We figured it was emotional and didn’t have anything to do with her getting sick. She was having a really hard time breathing. From what she described to me, I told her it sounded like how I felt when I had pneumonia. I told her she needed to go to the doctor, knowing full well she wouldn’t. As my mom put on weight in her 30’s it aggravated the arthritis in her knees something fierce. It also gave her overwhelming social anxiety. The only time she left the house was to give me rides places.

On Sept. 1, our fifth night in our dorm, I talked to my mom on the phone before I went to bed. She told me that there was something really wrong with her. She was hardly able to make it down the hall without being completely out of breath. She even promised me that she would go to the doctor the next day, as the inhaler he had prescribed for her over the phone wasn’t helping.

LaVon and I were both in our room sleeping (surprisingly) when we heard the phone on my side of the room start ringing. I ignored it and fell back to sleep. Next thing I knew, there was someone pounding on our door. My heart was racing as I lay there under my covers in sheer terror, thinking there was some creep outside our room trying to get in. Finally, I got up and asked who it was. It was John, my mom’s ex-boyfriend who still lived with her in the spare bedroom. I opened the door to find John standing there, wide-eyed. “Jenny, I’m sorry. She’s dead. Your mom is dead.”

What happened next is scattered and blurry in my memory. The next thing I remember is being in the parking lot of the dormitory and vomiting. My aunt Tracy and Uncle Mike were there. We got in their truck and drove to Methodist hospital downtown. They took the 4 of us into a chapel room so we could ask questions about what had happened. My grandparents were out of state at that time. Tracy called and broke the news to them. They headed home immediately.

My Mom & Her Best Friend Gim

This was the second time in my life that I had been in one of those horrid rooms at that same hospital. In 1995, my mom’s best friend Gim got in a motorcycle accident and was taken there. We were in one of those chapel rooms with Gim’s family when they came in and told us that Gim hadn’t made it. Never in all of my life will I forget the primal wailing and moaning that erupted when the news was broken that Gim had died. Four years had passed and now I was in that room again finding that my beloved mother had died suddenly of a massive heart attack… just 2 months after her 40th birthday.

We left the hospital and went back to the house where I grew up. I say house because after my mom died… it wasn’t a home anymore. I sat on the curb at the side of the house and called my 2 best friends, Laura and Crystal. I remember talking to Laura’s dad Dick and Crystal’s mom Darla. Dick sounded sad. Darla was pretty hysterical and couldn’t believe it. She kept saying, “No! No! No!!!!” That is pretty much how both Laura and Crystal reacted too… disbelief.

Word of my mom’s death apparently spread like wildfire. It seemed like no time before my dad showed up. He said, “Damn it, Jennifer! Look at this grass! People are gonna be comin over here! I’m gonna mow this!” I knew that was his way of showing love and support in that situation. He always did have a strange way of showing his feelings.

I went to stay in Lorimar with Tracy and Mike. I couldn’t go back to my dorm or stay at my mom’s house. Laura stayed at the house that first night and slept in my mom’s bed with her little Maltese, Chico. Chico cried all night long and Laura fed him lunchmeat to try to soothe him. Somehow I think he knew that momma was never coming home. Man, that sentence was painful to write. Moving on.

I slept that night, and every night for the next few months, for that matter, on the couch at my aunt and uncle’s place. I fell asleep watching QVC every night. The overly kind salespeople were somehow soothing to me.

I can’t remember if we started funeral plans the day she died (Sept. 2, 1999) or the day after. We chose to have her remains cremated and buried under the tree by the pond at the cemetery by here where she used to always take me to feed the ducks, geese and swans when I was growing up. It is beautiful there.

I will never forget the first time I had a good laugh during the whole fiasco. Laura was driving the 2 of us to the funeral home/cemetery in my mom’s Mercury Sable. We were talking on the way there and Laura said, “Dude, if your mom knew I was driving her car right now she would die!” Immediately after it came out of her mouth her eyes got huge and she gasped… and then we both burst into laughter. That was the first sign to me that life would still somehow go on without my mom in it.

I am writing this in honor of my mom for Mother’s Day this Sunday. I had already been planning on writing about this so I wanted to do it now. However, she was so very much more than her death. One of these times… I am going to write about her incredible LIFE… A life that touched so many… and will never, ever be forgotten.

My Momma

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