I have been through a lot in the past few years. A lot. In a way I’m proud that none of it has shaken my belief in God, true love, my calling to be a lawyer, or the good in people. Some days my belief in myself has been shaky to say the least, but that has emerged in pretty good shape, too.
The one thing I can’t shake is the grief of losing my stepmother. Just writing that sentence made me break down in tears.
She died unexpectedly on September 15, 2011.
The world stopped. My father’s life stopped. Family stopped. Everything stopped.
Earlier that day I had taken the deposition of a doctor in a terribly sad malpractice case. The deposition ended mid-afternoon, late enough to justify not going back to work, but early enough to appreciate having some free time. After the deposition, I went to the gym and renewed our membership, and then I stopped by my husband’s office to pay him a short, surprise visit. He loved it when I visited his office. Then, I stopped at the grocery store and bought steak tournedos (for the first time) to make later to celebrate the meeting he had scheduled that day with a potential new client. His client meeting ended up getting pushed back later into the evening because she was running late, so I went home and watched part of an episode of America’s Next Top Model that I had recorded, before visiting with a friend who had just moved to the area.
I met my husband at home around 8:00pm, heard about his client meeting, preheated the oven, decided I wanted to make stovetop stuffing (?!), and put the water, stuffing mix, and butter in a pot on the stove, waiting to turn it on until when the steaks were almost done.
While I was in the kitchen, I got a text message from an unknown phone number telling me to call my dad. It didn’t use his name (which I always do), so I wasn’t sure if it was a mistake. Typically when I get a call from an unknown number, I look it up online before answering or listening to the message. That’s just how I am. I almost did that, and I also almost responded asking who the sender was. But then I looked at my other phone, which had the ringer turned off, and saw that I had missed a call from my dad, although he hadn’t left a message.
I wasn’t worried, but I was.
I went in the bedroom and I called him. I said hi. He knew my voice. ”Kate died today.” We didn’t talk long, and he didn’t tell me many details. He offered, but I told him he didn’t have to, and he appreciated that. I asked him if he wanted me to drive down that night. He said no, and I believed him. I told him I would come as soon as I finished a pretrial in the morning, which it would be easier to just go to than to get someone to cover. We hung up.
I called out for my husband and he came right away, knowing that something was wrong. For once not caring that he was watching a game. ”Kate died today.” I used my father’s words. They were concise.
He lay down beside me on the bed and held me as I cried. I knew that he didn’t know what to say or do and it was okay. That was the only right thing to do. After a few minutes I could tell the helplessness was getting to him and he asked if there was anything he could do. I asked him to go turn off the stove. And to let me be alone for a little while.
After lying on the bed for a few minutes, I got up. I told my husband I was sorry, but I couldn’t make him what I had planned for dinner. He understood. I knew he was starving, but he didn’t complain at all, which was probably the most supportive thing he did for me through that entire time. I made one of those frozen meals that comes in a bag instead. I texted a few of my closest friends while it cooked. I ate a little of it. He was subdued and grateful to be fed.
The night before I had steak and green beans for dinner at the Inn of Court.
About three weeks ago, on Maundy Thursday, I went to church in Chicago for the first time. The minister rambled on for at least five minutes about “last meals.” She talked at length about last meals with a family member who is dying or who dies suddenly following the meal. She also talked briefly about last meals before a child goes away to college, before getting married, before ending a relationship, and before other life changes. I cried the whole time.
All I could think about was my last meal before Kate died and my first meal after the world stopped. And that I couldn’t remember my last meal with Kate. I hated that minister for talking about all of her memories of last meals with the people she loved. And I hated her for making me think about all of the other painful last meals I had eaten in recent months. The suffocating anguish that overcame me during her sermon was stronger than any remote interest I had in looking for an analogy to Jesus’ pain during that final Seder meal with the disciples.
Unsurprisingly, the world didn’t stay stopped. If anything, it accelerated. But it is amazing how a memory of life the way it was supposed to be, or an experience I want to share with her, or a taste I know Kate would love, makes the world instantly come screeching back to a stop without warning.