This story is by Kristine MacMillan and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Five years had passed since her mom died, and every year she came back to this one spot. This place offered her time and space to be alone, to be with her thoughts, without the kids and husband making noise in the background. The waves gently caressed the shore—the sound bringing back memories. She closed her eyes and felt the wind embrace her, wrapping its invisible arms around her, wisping her hair in all directions. Being here reminded her of that night five years earlier, and ever since then, her connection with… well she didn’t really know what ‘it’ was, not fully, but she was getting closer to finding out. She felt more attuned, more aware of what ‘it’ was. She took a deep breath in and could taste the saltwater in the air. She exhaled and whispered, “love you,” the wind taking the words from her mouth, and casting them out to sea.
A lump built in her throat. That night always washed over her, like waves on the shore—sometimes gently and sometimes they crashed into her, taking her breath away.
Grief is funny like that, she thought to herself.
She blinked to clear the tears from the corners of her eyes. They rolled down her cheeks and she let them. The wind dried them, leaving only a salty shadow behind.
She walked through the sand, hearing the crunch with each footstep. She didn’t make it far before finding a log to sit on. She replayed that night in her head. The night that changed her. The night she became intimate with death itself. She could bring herself back there so easily.
The smell of the hospice room was distinct, both clean and dirty at the same time; death, feces, urine, bleach, and a touch of lemon zing to try to cover it all up. At this, she thought- Nothing covers up death.
Her mom had the nicest room, the one right on the end of the building overlooking the bay below. Sometimes she would open the patio doors and allow the cool saltwater air to roll over her mom. The bed faced the window, and if seated upright, her mom could see the mountains over the water. But that day five years ago, her mom would not be sitting up.
She had been unresponsive for two days. The warmth of July had settled in; the days were long, and the sunsets were fierce. On this particular day, the skies were overcast, yet outside the window, an almost perfect circle of blue was visible. An opening in the clouds like a window—no—a door into the great unknown. The unknown that held the answers. At seeing this, she knew, today would be the day her mom would leave this world to join the next, and her relationship with ‘it’ began to unfold.
She had arrived early in the day, not knowing that day would be her last one there. She had become used to this place over the last six weeks. Walking the halls, not knowing if her mom would be able to talk, walk, or eat on her own. She searched for familiar faces as she walked past each room. Rooms filled with families who had come to say goodbye. She glanced through open doors, often seeing people just like her, hunched over beds that held lifeless bodies. Sobs floated down the hall. Footsteps of nurses could be heard walking in and out of rooms; their voices comforting family members the best they could. This had become a second home for her, and a final home for her mom.
Few had visited in the last days, only close family and friends. She put on music- some old favorites. And as the music played, she would sit, watching her mom’s chest rise and fall slowly and intermittently, as though her last breath could be at any moment. As night fell on that warm night, she began to wonder- Maybe this isn’t it? Maybe tomorrow Mom will pop up requesting chocolate cake and asking for her grandbabies. Mom’s done this before, proved us all wrong. And with this thought, she made herself a makeshift bed at the side of her mom’s, unfolding the lounger chair into a single bed, barely wide enough to roll from side to side.
Just as she began to fall into a restless slumber, something woke her- a tickle in her spine, an anxious lump in her throat, and a voice whispered,
“It is time.”
Her eyes shot opened. She sat up. She grabbed her mom’s hand and squeezed it.
Her words came out slowly but with confidence. “I am here, Mom. It is okay for you to go; we are all going to be okay. We love you and it’s time.”
A gurgling sound accompanied each slow and labored breath. She watched her chest rise and fall, waiting to see if it would rise once more…
As the moments passed, the room changed. A presence that was once there, had left. The room felt empty. The things in the room suddenly lost meaning and time fell away. A nurse came in and took note of the time. The funeral home came in to take the body- no longer her mom, just a shell. Time sped up and stood still. She felt confused, lost, relieved, guilty, overwhelmed, exhausted, and sad all at once.
She walked down the hall and out to her car. The digital clock on her dash read 1:30am. It was quiet outside. No signs of external life; just dark quiet buildings, a parking lot full of cars without drivers, and her- alone. She sat in the car a while, unsure what to do next. With home on her mind, she started the car- and although her intention was to turn left toward home, she came to the stop sign at the end of the driveway and a force took over her. So many times before she could feel ‘it’ –this force—but she never trusted ‘it’, not fully. She questioned the sensation in the past, the sensation that came from deep within her and surged up through her body. But her mind always took control, always setting the feeling aside, urging it to go back to where it came from. Ultimately, she was always afraid of ‘it’. Where would it take her? What if it led her in the wrong direction… down the wrong path… could she really trust it?
She turned right. She allowed ‘it’ to take control of the steering wheel, make turns, accelerate, and slow as required. Within minutes she arrived at the beach. Her mom’s favorite spot. She parked her car in the exact same spot it sat now. She got out and followed ‘its’ guidance down to the beach. Although no wind blew upon her arrival, a great wind picked up from the waves and swirled around her. She felt as though the wind was hugging her and, in her mind, she heard the words, “Thank-you.”
The energy that encompassed her slowly retreated to the ocean. She held the words in her mind, unsure at first what they meant or where they came from, yet she knew.
Now, five years later, she sat on the beach, pulled into the present as a pair of women walked by. The younger woman, presumably the daughter, held a pair of sandals in one hand, while the other made gestures, placing emphasis on the words she spoke. The older woman clasped both hands behind her back as she walked, listening intently, and nodding when appropriate. They didn’t notice her sitting on the log. A tinge of envy ran through her body. She often wondered what life would have been like had her mom been healthy, had the cancer not returned. She physically shook her head, allowing the movement to flow down to the tips of her fingers —an attempt to move the envy through her, a feeling she never liked inside her body. She made her way back to the car.
That night would always be a part of her; the mysterious guidance she felt, the energy that swirled around her, the words she heard in her mind that were not hers. That night was the beginning – the beginning of understanding ‘it’, feeling ‘it’, being one with ‘it.’ It was also the end of fear; the end of fearing ‘it’. With this thought, she stared out to the ocean where her mom’s ashes now rest, shifted into reverse, and whispered,
“Love you, Mom.”