The day Ryan’s mom died was a long one. We all (siblings and spouses) had been at her house the previous day waiting out the inevitable, the long, slow, painful surrender to lung cancer. We parted ways around 10 p.m., leaving Alison and Bryant with her for their night shift while the rest of us went home for some sleep. The next two hours were absolutely horrific for them. Our phone rang a little after midnight. We had barely fallen asleep, and the sound of the phone bolted us back to reality. We both answered and Alison calmly said, “She’s gone.”
Don’t worry, this is a funny story.
Our neighbor came over to stay with the kids and we headed back over to her house to begin what would be a very long day of after-death business with morticians, the funeral home, and the beginnings of funeral arrangements. I know it sounds weird to say it, but all of that busy-ness was a welcome relief from the scary, downward spiral of the last two-and-a-half-months since her diagnosis. There had not been a day with good news. There had not been a day of improvement. There had not been a day without agony. The grieving process had begun within the first few weeks, and by the time she was finally released from her body, it was the first break of daylight in a long, terrible storm. At least it was over. At least she wasn’t in pain.
So, the day went along at marathon pace. We were on our way back from the florist, having picked out the arrangements for her casket, when we realized we hadn’t eaten all day. We stopped at a local Mexican restaurant, Guadalahonky’s, and entered the crowded lobby to get a table. We were talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company as we waited, basking in the honeymoon phase of after-death relief. Across the lobby, Ryan saw a couple of familiar faces. It was an older couple, friends of his parent’s from their old neighborhood. They had recognized us too, had probably seen us all laughing, and made their way over to say hello.
Andrea began speaking to them first, asking them how they were doing and such. Then they returned the favor, and as they began asking about all of us, we began to feel an uneasiness. Eventually, they asked the question that would lead to a moment, not far away, that would be so awkward, we could already taste it in our mouths.
“So, how’s your mom doing?” they asked.
We all stood there and let Andrea be the bumbling spokesperson.
They nearly lost their balance, they were so bowled over by the news. They hadn’t even known she was sick. Andrea began explaining about her mom’s out-of-the-blue diagnosis, then the subsequent battle, the heartache, the frustration, and the eventual conclusion.
We had their complete, overwhelming sympathy.
Yes, right up until the wife said, “My gosh, when did she die?”
Awkward moment reached. We all looked at the floor. We, who had been spotted laughing and joking just moments before, bowed our heads as we heard Andrea mutter, “Um. Today.”
It would have only looked worse if we had drug in the corpse, placed a big sombrero over her closed eyes, and claimed it was her birthday in order to get some free fried ice cream.
Andrea tried to gain ground, explaining that we hadn’t eaten all day, and that we were experiencing a strange sense of relief. But somehow we knew it didn’t look right, to be out ordering chimichungas and virgin margaritas. They tried to act friendly and non-judgmental, they really did. Thankfully, after only a few more minutes, their name was called and they gave us their best wishes before they followed the hostess to a table.
We stared at each other in horror. We filed out of the restaurant gasping, laughing, and practically choking on our embarrassment. Had a car been driving by, I’m sure Andrea would have thrown herself in front of it. We could only imagine what their conversation was going to be for the next while. Eventually, we collected ourselves and walked across the parking lot and over to another restaurant, Neil’s Halibut and Chips, which is a much more socially acceptable place to eat after a loved one’s tragic death.