I was lying on my mother-in-law’s couch, bottle of wine in my hand, watching that Robin Williams movie Awakenings when we got the news. It was around 10 pm when my father called.
“Leah I’m afraid I have some bad news,” he said. “Mummy’s gone, honey.”
“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” I screamed. And I just kept screaming and screaming, “Mamaaaaaa!” I hadn’t called her that probably since I was five. Yet it seemed to emanate now from someplace inside me. Someplace old.
She had been acting strangely the last time I saw her. She must have been off her medication again. She’d told my aunt she thought I was having a nervous breakdown. She’d told my brother the holy spirit was in her apartment, looking at pictures. Then she called him one night, told him she wasn’t coming home, and hung up before he could ask her where she was. She went missing for two days.
They found her body on the tracks in Cambridge on the red line. She laid down in front of a train.
After two days of not coming home, I think I knew it was bad news, hence the wine right from the bottle. Anticipating the worst.
I remember strange details about the wake. At one point I broke down, but was quickly discouraged from becoming overly emotional. I was 23; I hadn’t experienced death this close to me. I didn’t know the rules implicit.
In my estimation, though, everyone was acting weirdly. My uncle, her estranged brother, kept constantly drinking water and introduced himself to Derek and me, although he knew me well. My great uncle Ken introduced himself to Paul and me as if Paul were Derek. My brother kept sucking on hard candy from a bowl on the table next to him.
The funeral, too, is a blur. Father Michael, my mother’s favorite, did the mass. Young and approachable, I think she had delusions of she and him secretly wanting to be together, but when he used to see us around town or after church he would mistakenly call her Judy.
Mrs. Toner, my and Paul’s third grade teacher, was at the funeral. Sarah and Chloe were there and my friend Kristin, from college, had driven up from Connecticut. All three had been bridesmaids in my wedding.
I remember sitting at the burial, just feeling numb, thinking about how my mother was dead and it could still be a beautiful day outside.
She was 45, not much older than I am now.
For the first six months or so after she died, I couldn’t go to bed alone. I was afraid I would see her ghost. I joined a suicide survivors group briefly, but I ended up feeling more traumatized by the end of the meetings than I had when I first walked into them, and I’d leave with an incredible headache.
I don’t know how long I actually grieved, but the process is different for everyone. I was sad at first, then for what seemed like years I was really angry. At one point I remember telling people “I’m dealing with it by not dealing with it.” This is the first time I’m writing about it. It’s been almost 20 years.
She makes appearances in my dreams. Most of the dreams I have of her now are good dreams, and they feel very real. She’s living in an apartment in Salem. She’s working for a small law firm as a paralegal. She’s wearing the gold hoop earrings I now have in a jewelry box somewhere. She’s alive and we talk about everything and nothing at the same time.
I know one thing for certain, one thing that both brings me comfort and also slays me: she would have loved her grandchildren.