In Marion Roach Smith’s book, The Memoir Project, she writes of a class she teaches on writing memoir: “I’ve been teaching for thirteen years, to over 800 students to date, in classrooms and online, and in nearly every class I’ve taught, we get some kind of list of what someone took on the way out” . . .”Among the memorable lists I’ve read was one by a woman who turned in fifteen slender sentences, divided into three categories: “What I took,” What I heard,” and “What I said.” . . . “No one who reads it is unchanged by that list.”
This is my list.
Ten years ago, on January 18, 2008
What I took:
I packed a bag with sudoku puzzles, a book to read in the hospital waiting room and some oatmeal cream pies.
On the way out the door, I took my warmest coat, a pair of gloves and a scarf.
I put my 2006 motorola cell phone in my purse.
What I heard:
The nurse to my mom in the early afternoon, “I’m going to ask you a few questions. What year is it?”
A code blue called over the intercom while we sat in the waiting area to give mom a chance to rest in her hospital room at supper time.
My dad in response to the code, “Someone is in trouble. We should pray for them.”
The security guard to us, as we turned the corner of the hall next to mom’s room: “Are you the family? Would you wait in the waiting area? Someone will update you shortly.”
What I said:
“How would they know she was in trouble if she wasn’t being monitored?”
To the prayer team from Hope Community Church that gathered in the ICU waiting area after a devastating update from the doctor: “I’m so sorry.”
It’s been 10 years and I still remember the littlest details. The windchill was 20 below zero outside. The local Christian radio station played “My chains are gone. I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior, has ransomed me. . .”. After a week of headaches, Mom had ended up at the hospital for answers. While we were on the phone with her doctor, getting the MRI results, a nurse checked on Mom and she was unresponsive.
We left the hospital after midnight on Saturday morning in the bitter cold.
The next day brought offerings of food, hugs and tears.
Henning, Carol J. Beloved Wife, Mother, Grandmother and Friend Age 58 of Cottage Grove, MN, passed away unexpectedly January 19, 2008 surrounded by family and friends. Survived by husband of 35 years, Steven; son, Brian and daughter, Amy (Nathan) Fritz; grandchildren, Ethan and Audrey Fritz; mother, Doris Rosenfelt; sister, Kathy (Don) Biscoe and brother, John Rosenfelt. Preceded in death by father, Willard Rosenfelt.
I gave that list a little time to sit, unedited. While it’s a true list for that day, if I were to zoom out on my relationship with my mom, as a whole, the list would look like this:
What I took:
Well, literally, I took her Bible.
More than that, I took it to heart. My interest in studying God’s Word came, in part, from watching her take the time to be a student of God’s Word. I watched it change her.
(This is her Bible and her underlining)
What I heard:
“I did a bad thing.” She said it a little apologetically. That’s what she said to me the month before she died as I stood shocked at the number of gifts she bought her grandchildren for Christmas. She didn’t really think she did a bad thing I’m guessing it would have happened again, given a chance.
“Your contractions are 1 minute a part,” as she drove me to the hospital to have Audrey.
I heard her love her family and love hurting people over and over again.
What I said:
After she bought an outfit for Ethan that wasn’t my style, “A kid could get beat up at the bus stop for wearing something like this.”
I didn’t say all the things I would have said if I had known her life would end so suddenly.
Life and death are unpredictable.
Marion was right about the list. The things you take, what you hear and what you say- it all stays with you and it tells a powerful story.
(featured image via mpr news)