Mom and Son Cope with Dad’s Death

Mom and Son Cope with Dad’s Death.. Mom grasped my arm, to shake me awake, and said, “Drew, please, wake up.” The pleading tone of her voice gave me a chill, and I opened my eyes.

“Mom? What? What time is it?” I couldn’t see my alarm clock, as Mom was leaning over my bed, blocking my view of it on my dresser. I saw no light through my windows, so it had to be early.

“About 6, I think. Drew, I’ve got bad news.” More chills, and I was fully awake.


“What, Mom? What is it?” I asked.

“It’s your Dad. He… he d-died in his sleep.”

“Wha? Died? When?” I asked, my head full of questions I could barely put words to.

“I think maybe around 1 this morning?” she asked herself, clearly not sure. “He went to bed early, complaining about that cold, and I came to bed around 11, and he was asleep and breathing a little heavy, but I chalked that up to the cold. Now, I’m not so sure. But a half-hour ago, I rolled towards him in my sleep, and his arm… his arm was cold, and that startled me awake. He wasn’t breathing, and his arms are already stiff, and it takes about 4 hours for rigor mortis to set in. I called 911, and they had me try CPR for a while, until the EMTs got here, and they finally declared him dead.”

“Mom, I… I’m so sorry. Do you think it was his heart?” Why the how mattered to me in that moment, I’ll never understand. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for the bigger questions, and could wrap my mind around that one.

She sighed. “Maybe. That, or another of those damned blood clots.” Dad had suffered two heart attacks in the preceding three years, as well as a pretty scary week earlier in the year when he was in ICU with pulmonary embolisms, blood clots in both lungs. He’d done six months of blood-thinner treatment, and we thought he was in the clear. “We’ll have to wait for an autopsy to be sure. The coroner’s team is on its way.”

I couldn’t think even half straight. “His body, it’s still in the bed?”

Mom pursed her lips, and said, “Umm, no. The 911 operator had me pull him to the floor to perform the CPR on him, so that’s where he still is. Why do you ask?”

“I think I want to see him, before they take him away. I can hear how morbid that sounds, even as I’m saying it, but I do. Not the way the funeral home will make him look, but how he really wound up looking. I don’t think it will feel real otherwise. Do you understand?”

Mom ran her hand through my hair, “I don’t need to, honey. Whatever will help you deal with this. Come on.” She stood, and waited for me to get out of bed.

“Um, Mom, I kinda went to bed naked last night. So, could you wait for me in the hall?” I’d started sleeping in the nude the summer after I graduated high school, but I’m not sure my mom realized it in the moment. I was now 21, in the middle of my Junior year of college, home for holiday break. I also didn’t want her to see the dried cum on my pubes, since I’d masturbated the night before, while having phone sex with my girlfriend Patti.

“Oh. Sure, honey.” She turned and walked out, closing my door behind her.

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I got up and quickly threw on the t-shirt and shorts that I’d been wearing before bed, shut off my alarm so it wouldn’t go off and then a police officer escorted me into the room to see my Dad, the “scene” not having been cleared by them yet. It irked me that they were treating this like a potential crime, but realized they were just following their procedures.

There really isn’t much to say about seeing a dead body, of someone you loved, who you had just talked to 12 hours before. It no longer really looked like him, in so many little, indescribable ways. I whispered, “Goodbye, Dad. I love you, and promise you I’ll be there for Mom,” and turned away and went back to the hallway, where Mom was talking with the deputy who had been dispatched from the Medical Examiner’s office, as she was telling him the funeral home we would be using. He shook my hand, before taking my place in the bedroom as a couple other men carried a gurney up the stairs. It all felt like a scene from some crime drama on TV, making it seem unreal again, despite having just seen my Dad’s body.

I hugged Mom to me, and asked “What do we do next?”, already trying on my “Help Mom” hat.

She rest her cheek on my shoulder for a moment, her nose by my neck, before saying, “Phone calls. Family, friends, his boss, mine at the hospital. But both of our phones are still in the bedroom, and the police won’t let me back in to get them yet. Can you get yours, and we can at least start with your grandparents?”

I got my phone, and pulled Mom’s parents up in my contacts list, and brought it to Mom, then watched, as she broke the news to her parents. I didn’t know how she was staying so calm. Her call to Dad’s parents was longer, and she finally broke down crying, and I took the phone from her and talked with Grandpa Dave, as Grandma Marion had also broken down crying, perhaps triggering Mom’s tears. Grandpa told me that they’d be over as soon as they could get there, about 20 minutes, and he’d call Dad’s two brothers on the way.

I took Mom back into my arms, and let her cry into my chest. My own tears weren’t coming. Even though I wasn’t feeling terribly strong, I knew strength was what my Mom needed at the moment. So, stiff upper lip and all that.

She finally pulled away from me, wiped her tears and started down the stairs and I followed her. It was weird seeing the Christmas tree in the living room, surrounded with gifts, and the thought popped in my head that many of them would have Dad’s name on them, either as giver or recipient. Merry Frickin’ Christmas To Us. I followed her to the kitchen, where she started coffee. She turned to me and said, “This is going to be a long day, and we better start getting ready for a full house. Drew, can you get a pack of muffins out of the freezer, and we’ll warm them up?”

I went out to the big freezer in our garage, and got out two packs of chocolate muffins, figuring that one wasn’t going to be enough, and brought them back to the kitchen, just as the Medical Examiner’s team came down the stairs with the gurney with Dad’s body in a bag, and the last police officer on the scene told Mom that they were done in the bedroom, offered his condolences again and they all left. I popped open the plastic around one pack of muffins and tossed them in the microwave, then ran up the stairs to get fully dressed since company was coming, then grabbed both Mom’s and Dad’s phones before heading back downstairs, so Mom and I could make more phone calls to deliver the bad news.

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I was in the middle of a call to Patti to give her the news when the doorbell rang. Grandpa Dave and Grandma Marion. The first of the family to arrive, but hardly the last. The rest of the morning was a blur, making calls, receiving others offering condolences, more family arriving. Hugs I could have gotten lost in, if I dared let myself. Grandma Anna and Grandpa Scott, my mom’s parents, her older sister Maria, my Dad’s younger brothers Tony with his wife Mimi and my teenage cousins Angie and Carrie, and Dave Jr. with his girlfriend Antonia, my girlfriend Patti, who lived 35 miles from us, and my high school buddies Duke and Kenny who grew up a couple of blocks away. A same-day wake, if you will.

Flowers were already beginning to arrive from various out-of-town friends. I felt like I was constantly answering the door, when I really felt like finding a corner and just hiding in it. But my promise to Dad was already in effect, and I wasn’t about to make my Mom have to handle this duty.

The only minor conflict of the day came from Grandma Marion. “Tina, were you thinking about Evergreen Cemetery for the burial? Dave and I have plots already bought there, and they should still have openings in our area.”

Mom responded, “Actually, Tom and I decided a few years ago that we both want to be cremated, and have our ashes scattered at several different locations.”

“Oh. He never told me that.” Grandma answered, her tone one of clear disbelief.

Mom clenched her jaw, before answering, “It’s not something even we talked about a lot. But we did have our talk about matters like that, one night in the hospital after his second heart attack, and wrote our locations down.”

Grandma let it go at that, but everyone could tell she was disappointed.

Gradually, people began to leave after dinner, saying they’d see us again either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like without Dad, but didn’t say anything about it. Patti gave me a long kiss, and said, “Anything you need from me, just ask,” before she left for her family’s home.

Finally, it was just Mom and I, and we were both beat. We climbed the stairs, headed to our bedrooms. But Mom just froze at the doorway to hers, looking at her bed.

“Are you okay, Mom?” I asked.

“Okay? No, Drew, not even close. I… I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I can sleep in that bed tonight, not the one he died in. Can… can I sleep in yours?”

“Sure, Mom, I’ll sleep down on the couch,” I offered.

She shook her head and said, “No, don’t do that. I know this will sound silly, but I don’t think I can sleep alone tonight, either. Will you share it with me, please? Maybe hold me if I need to cry? You’ll have to wear something to bed, though.” She chuckled at this last statement. It was maybe the only time I’d seen her smile all day.

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“Of course, Mom. Whatever you need from me, just ask. Let me get changed, and I’ll open the door when I’m decent.”

I quickly got changed into sweat shorts, keeping the same tshirt on, and by the time I was done, Mom was waiting in the hallway in a nightgown. We climbed in on opposite sides of my queen bed, and lay facing each other. I reached back and turned off the lamp on my night stand, and said, “Good night, mom.” Normally, I’d have followed that with “Sweet dreams”, but didn’t think it appropriate tonight.

A couple of minutes passed, and she started to cry, and whispered to me, “What are we going to do without him?”

I pulled her to me, letting her cry into my chest once more, as I thought of how to answer her. Finally, I said all I could think of, which was, “We’re going to do what Dad would have wanted for us. We’re going to survive this, grieve, then we’re going to find ways to be happy even while we still miss him.”

This slowed her tears, and they gradually stopped. “Thank you, Drew. You don’t know just how much you sounded like your Dad just then. That’s exactly what your Dad would have said. I love you. We’ll get through this.”

“I love you, too, Mom. Try and sleep.” I continued holding her the whole night, in case she woke scared or crying again. She didn’t, but I didn’t get much sleep, watching over her.


Christmas Eve

I’ll skip over most of the next few days, of mortuary visits, life insurance claims, notifying Dad’s lawyer to start probate work on his will, and preliminary planning for a memorial service that we couldn’t even schedule until the Dallas County Medical Examiner had released the body to the mortuary. More calls, more flowers.

Mom asked to share my bed again each night. She wasn’t crying any more, and I was able to relax more and get my own 40 winks.

Christmas Eve we usually spent with Mom’s family, so we packed up the gifts we’d bought for them, and headed to her parents’ home in Arlington, 35 minutes away.

It was a somber night, as much as we tried to get into the Christmas spirit with music and favorite Christmas movies. We had dinner first, then exchanged gifts, including a few that still had Dad’s name on them as sender. Aunt Maria and Grandma Anna and Grandpa Scott had bought gifts for Dad, but weren’t sure what to do with them. Mom and I opened them, and they were both gift certificates to local restaurants, so I kept the smaller one from Aunt Maria, and Mom kept the other. We eventually wished everyone a Merry Christmas, and headed home.

The first tear I shed since my Dad’s death finally rolled down my face when I had to set my Dad’s Christmas stocking aside before helping Mom fill hers and mine with the little goodies that she’d already bought for the purpose before his death, to hang on the little hooks that had been set up when the house was decorated weeks before.

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