I steered clear of the U of M Campus where Dad’s hospital was. I averted my eyes when I drove by the Burger King where I had gotten chili a few times at Dad’s request before food started tasting like metal to him. I didn’t like the word Prednisone because Dad had taken it, and I threw away the set of sheets he had used when he stayed with us. They were old anyway.
Each morning’s awakening held a few seconds of normalcy until I remembered Dad had been escorted from this earth and wouldn’t be at the end of the phone line anymore.
One day while I was putting away groceries, Husband told me that while I was out, Dad had called.
“Which one?” I said, forgetting for a split-second.
Husband looked at me with furrowed brows and compassion. I abandoned the groceries and went into his arms.
I dropped the ball on some of the girls’ school activities and parent volunteering gigs. I refrained from throwing our fall party. I kept to myself, taking care of the girls and squeaking by on the laundry and meals.
One day, I drove down Washington Avenue. Since I had taken that route to the hospital so often, it reminded me of Dad. The girls were in their car seats in the back. Suddenly, I saw red and blue lights flashing in my rearview mirror. I pulled over.
“Ma’am, do you know what the speed limit is here?” the officer said.
“Do you know how fast you were going?”
“The speed limit here is thirty. But you’re right; you were going forty. License and registration, please.”
I pulled out what he wanted, my heart pounding.
“Wait here,” he said. He went back to his squad car.
I glanced back at the girls in the back seat. They were freely moving around the car.
“Girls,” I said. “Get back in your seats.”
I got out of the car and leaned into the back to buckle up at least two of them again.
The officer came back.
“I’m issuing you two tickets today. One for speeding and one for the kids not being buckled.”
Unable to think on my feet, I mumbled an “okay”, took the tickets, and pulled away from the curb. Thirty felt way too slow.
I contested the ticket later in court. I’d pay the speeding ticket, I said, but could the other one be taken away? I explained we had told the girls they could unbuckle whenever we stopped the car for a length of time, and that’s what they’d done.
“I get it. I’m a mom too,” the judge said. “Okay. The seatbelt violation will go away. Just pay the speeding ticket. And since you haven’t had a ticket before, it won’t go on your record.”
I was relieved and grateful. But then it happened again—this time in Pennington County on my first trip for a visit up north after Dad’s funeral.
“License and registration, ma’am.”
Seriously? I pulled out the documents.
“You were going fifteen over the limit. Wait here.” He walked away.
I rubbed my temples and let out a sigh.
“Look what happens when Mama breaks the law,” I told the girls in the back seat, their eyes wide. “Don’t ever do that when you grow up.”
The girls stayed in their seats this time. The officer came back.
“I’ve issued you a citation. Pay it, and it won’t go on your record, since you’ve got a clean one.”
I thanked him and slowly pulled away from the side of the road, humbled. The checkbook was getting lighter, but I was grateful—until I heard Mom’s church friends and some relatives in Thief River Falls had read about my speeding ticket a week later in their newspaper.
“You can cut that out and put it in my scrapbook,” I told Mom.
Months earlier, while I was wrapped up in our transplant world, the earth kept revolving, and Willow turned four. I resumed babysitting her when Dad was readmitted into the hospital, so I knew Jim’s health was worsening. Rachelle and Jim floundered through each day, and Rachelle was leaner too, her words more measured than usual.
After Dad died, Rachelle biked over to bring me her condolences. She stood outside on our sidewalk as I sat on our front steps, and we talked a little. She gently pressed the tender spot with a couple of well-placed questions, and I burst into tears. She understood. She had lost loved ones in the past and was losing one now.
I saw the need before me—Rachelle and her world—and felt the rejuvenating spark of usefulness. I couldn’t do much for her, but I could watch Willow more, and so I offered. She accepted.
After a string of days watching Willow, Rachelle told me Jim was in the hospital. Soon, his health deteriorated even more, and he became unresponsive. Rachelle stayed by his side. We had Willow more often and sometimes overnight. Then on the morning of October 6, 2006, I called Rachelle.
“I’ll come and pick up Willow this morning,” I said. “Are you at the hospital already? It’s no problem for me to—”
“Jim died this morning.”
“Rachelle, I’m sorry.”
“Could you still take Willow? She’d have more fun with you guys.”
Willow spent the day with us. I was protective of her and kept her tucked under my wing wherever we went. I read her stories. We made play-dough snakes. I wouldn’t let Ricka bicker with her like they did sometimes as almost-sisters.
“My daddy died today,” Willow said, pushing her smeared glasses up on her nose.
“I know, honey.”
A few weeks later, I drove alone to the Jay Cooke State Park for Jim’s memorial service. Rachelle was thinner, and she snuggled in for a long hug. Then she wandered away to mingle with her other guests. It was at a picnic table under a shelter at the park where I met Robin. She had girls and lived in north Minneapolis too. And her desires mirrored mine; she didn’t know what to do for Rachelle either, but she’d think of something.
As time wedged itself between the passing of both Dad and Jim and my present, I regained my ability to focus. My foot lightened on the gas pedal, and I could listen to my kids better. I looked toward the future again, and Robin and I had a new friendship that would grow big over the coming years.
When death shows up, there’s always new life just around the corner. And of course, we laugh again.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date/
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.