A regular weekend morning cleaning the house and my phone rings. It’s Judy, Clayton’s mother. I haven’t been able to get her on the phone in months. She had a stroke two weeks after Clayton passed away. She was never able to back to her home. She was flown up to Illinois to stay in a nursing home with all of her belongings and memories quietly resting here in Florida.
Calls with Judy are not usually long. She has always been active and ready to move to the next thing. I had sent her photos of animals from work with a letter and my phone number incase she lost it or forgot it. There is always a little anxiety picking up the phone because so many of our calls result in her crying. I’m a big trigger for her emotions and it hurts me to think what her life has become in the past two years.
Lively and opinionated, Judy genuinely cares about my family. She always asks about them. I’ve called almost every week since our last conversation in the Fall. I sent flowers for the holidays and just recently I received a letter from her apologizing for forgetting my birthday in November and forgetting to talk to me at Christmas. I’m not mad at all that she forgets. I understand she can’t control it but every time she doesn’t answer the phone or remember a date I feel deep sadness for what her life has become.
An outgoing, wonderful woman in her 70s who served in our military, Judy has lost her only son, can’t go home, can’t use her left side, has trouble speaking, trouble remembering and is in a nursing home surrounded by people who she doesn’t connect with. Every call she talks about taking a trip to come down to her house and get things but always follows that with the fact that people steal stuff at the nursing home. It hurts to hear her new normal. It hurts to know she grieves Clayton in solitude away from her home and friends, It scares the hell out of me that I could end up in a situation like that when I’m her age. All alone just going day to day until there are no more days. I’m crying while I write these words. Loneliness hits me so hard and the fact that I can’t take that feeling away from her hurts my soul.
We wrapped up the call and I took a deep breath. She didn’t start crying this time and I had a sense of peace that perhaps she has moved forward in her grief to be able to talk about Clayton without crying. That is huge in our grief journey and I smiled thinking she was better. I called my mom to say hi and tell her about Judy. During the call Judy called again and left a voice message. I feared she had called back because she was upset and would be crying but the voicemail hit an entirely new emotional level:
“Hi Bryan. It’s Judy. I’m sorry I forgot to ask Clayton how much he needed for rent this month. Call me back and I’ll write you a check for his part.”
Judy hadn’t cried on our call because she forgot that Clayton was gone…