The Day Mom Died

May 4, 2006.

I was driving to the North Shore Mall on Interstate 95 on a beautiful spring day. My cell phone rang. It was my brothers number. "Dad's been trying to reach you-did he get a hold of you"?

"No, why?"

"Mom's dead."

Those words still ring loudly in my head, even today, six years later. I asked my brother if he was joking. What a weird thing to ask. You see, my Dad had a near death experience just six months before. So how was it possible that Mom had died?

I pulled off the highway into the Georgetown truck stop, called my Dad (known as "Boo") and sobbed.

I think of that phone call every time I pass that truck stop.

The first thing that happens when you learn a loved one has died is that your physical self becomes immediately tense, you feel shaky, submerged in panic, the flood of a profound sense of loss flows through your veins, and your mind goes into overdrive.

Now what?

I was determined to get to Dad as soon as I could. First that meant going to my husbands office for a much needed hug; phone calls to my children to tell them their "Nonnie" had died suddenly; race home to throw together a suitcase of clothes not knowing when I might return; and a long, very emotional drive to upstate New York replaying the tape in my head that repeated-How could this be so? I just talked to Mom last night.

Boo's day was markedly different. He had gotten up, showered, eaten breakfast and when he didn't hear the water running for Nonnie's morning tub, he went to their bedroom. Mom was not breathing. Call 911.

Attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Neighbor and fire chief at the house in two minutes. Bedroom filled with people and equipment. Dad said the ambulances slow drive confirmed what he already knew-that Mom had died in her sleep.

Now what?

A flurry of activity. Confusing and comforting. Visitors, food delivery, flowers, and a million phone calls to make and receive. Family members and grandchildren to arrive from all parts of the country. Where do they stay? Meeting with the minister of the church to plan a funeral service. What would Nonnie want?

How should the program look? What hymns did she like? Who wants to speak? What photo should we use? Who should be ushers?

So many tasks, so much to decide.

My brother, a news reporter at the Asbury Park Press, tackled the difficult task of writing an obituary for Mom. Data was assembled from everywhere and everyone had input. It was rewritten twice. Even then we almost left out her sisters name! What charities would Nonnie have wanted "in lieu of" flowers? We kept copious  lists and notes.

The day of Nonnie's memorial service was less than perfect. We scrambled and worked at a fast and furious pace. Even then, we ran out of programs and photos.

Death is inevitable and no one wants to talk about it. At the same time, planning for the inevitable is an absolute necessity. So, let's communicate and plan together. I want to help you plan to avoid the emotional stress of not being prepared.