by Christy Gualtieri
Whack-whack. Whack-whack. Whack-whack.
The windshield wipers streaked across the glass, wiping away the fat snowflakes that fell, quicker by the minute, from the gray-blanket sky.
My mother was dying. She’d been unconscious most of the day in her hospice-facility room, and I wondered if it was snowing there, too. Whack-whack. My brother had called me last night, the call, and my husband and I made the plan to make the six-hour drive out to see her one last time, figuring it’d be the end.
Currently, I was parked in the funeral home parking lot located across the street from my son’s school. On non-funeral days, the director allows parents to wait in their lot if parking is scarce on the street, and I was grateful for it on a snowy day like this.
A black SUV pulled into the space next to mine, and I recognized the driver as one of the other moms from school. We’d been friendly since the school year began, running into each other at Target or waiting outside the school door in better weather, cracking jokes before the kids were let out.
I waved. I had shared with her at drop-off earlier that morning that my mom wasn’t doing so well.
“Are you going to go out there?” she had asked.
“It’s a long drive,” she sympathized.
I’d nodded again. “Yeah, we stop for about an hour halfway through the trip. As a bonus, though, it’s usually always at a McDonald’s, so that’s always fun.”
“Gotta love McDonald’s,” she said.
“I have to say, watching a parent suffer through cancer is tough, but something about the Golden Arches makes it all right,” I deadpanned.
She’d smiled. “Well, I’m off to the store. Need anything?” When I shook my head she waved. “See you at pick up.”
She stepped out of her car, the snow billowing, and I followed suit. We walked across the street and waited for the kids. I tried not to think about my mom, focusing instead on the seemingly hundreds of other things I had to keep my mind on.
“Oh, here,” the other mom said, handing me a small pink gift bag. “I picked this up for you.”
I took it. “Thank you,” I said, surprised. I was about to open it when our kids came down the ramp that led out of the school, and in my distraction wasn’t able to open it while she was still standing there.
She waved when we got back to our cars and I hurriedly buckled my son in, in between asking him questions about how his school day went and his immediately asking for a snack.
“What’s that, mommy?” he asked me, looking at the small pink bag.
“It’s a present for mommy,” I told him, closing the door and walking around to my side. I adjusted my coat, turned on the car and the heat, and opened the bag. Inside was a smaller bag of chocolate truffles and a McDonald’s gift card.
One of my favorite TV miniseries ever, HBO’s wartime epic Band of Brothers, featured a scene so similar to this moment. The Army company’s medic, burnt-out and almost in despair from the horrors of his job, gets a bar of chocolate from a nurse in a neighboring town. He doesn’t eat it, but takes it out of his pocket to give it a sniff every once in a while, remembering her kindness in providing a moment of normalcy in the chaos. I’d always liked that scene, but now I felt as though I fully understood it.
I had been given that moment too, and as small as that gesture was, it meant so much.
My mother would die five days later, but it would not be snowing. My family and I would make the drive, stop at the McDonald’s, and make it to the hospice room where my mother was in time to see her briefly wake up and recognize that we were there. I would stay there for two days and nights, walk the halls with my young daughter in her stroller, trying to get her to nap. I’d drink too much cafeteria coffee and would get to know the kitchen staff. The nurses would work so hard, and in the end, after my mother died, everything would come together so well, and she’d have an excellent send-off to what lies beyond.
But for now, there was only this moment in my car, with my impatient preschooler and my sleeping infant. I opened up the bag of truffles and took one out. I briefly held it to my nose and then unwrapped it. I turned on the windshield wipers.
We set off.
Until next time, be well!
Christy Gualtieri is a freelance writer specializing in pop culture, religion, and motherhood. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and son, blogs at asinglehour.wordpress.com, and tweets @agapeflower117. Follow PghPsych on Facebook and Twitter for daily updates, inspirational quotes, articles, and different events and causes related to good mental health!