I talked and talked. Stopped to wipe a tear that started running down my right cheek. And then I talked a bit more. It wasn't so much that I was thinking it through, I wasn't. I allowed my mouth to move, giving voice to something that was occurring right at that moment, flowing directly from what seemed to be my stomach area. My brain seemed to have very little to do with anything as I stared at the top of my kitchen table, picking at the chipped metal edge as I talked away into my cell phone.
My brother had placed his phone next to Emma's ear as she laid in her bed at Heritage Hall up in Agawam, Massachusetts. A strange series of events had brought Emma to this point. What point that was or is, we're not even all that sure. But one thing I am sure about. Last week, I experienced a couple of minutes that broke new ground for me.
Emma Foote is ... - I've never really known what label to put on her. My nanny? That's too shallow a term, although she did serve in that role for me and my brother and sister when we were first born. A housekeeper? Sure, Emma played that role, too. But to refer to Emma as a mere housekeeper is to insult her and I just won't have that. A grandmother? Now, that's one I've always loved. I like referring to Emma that way because in every way possible, Emma has been and still is a grandmother to me, as she is to my siblings. Convention dictates some hesitation to label Emma as a true grandmother simply because she is not, in fact, my mom or dad's parent. And one look at her, it doesn't take much to notice that she's a black woman so - of course, the next phase of someone's analysis would be for them to look at me and ... well ... at least want to ask a question or two about how someone like Emma could possibly be my grandmother. I mean, how could such a thing be, right? But, I have to tell you, that's precisely what she is to me. And add to that - friend, mentor, teacher, coach ... and quite possibly the best fried chicken maker in the history of the world - and that's what Emma Foote has meant to me and my family. That's what Emma Foote has meant to just about anybody who's ever met her.
And there I was one week ago. Sitting in the same chair I'm sitting in now as I write this, talking to her as she laid in her bed up in Massachusetts, seemingly out of it, unable to respond with more than a few grunts here and there.
"I don't know," Stuart said as he sniffled. I could tell he was holding back tears.
"What are you saying?"
"I'm not sure," he added. "I think ..." He paused. "I think this may be it."
The Head Rush - When Stu said that - you know something? It's not as though I can explain what happened next. I had spoken with Emma just moments before, telling her about my planned visit to Springfield for her March 2 birthday - her 99th! I asked her what kind of cake we were going to get this time? And Stuart told me later that her eyes seemed to light up when I asked her such things. Just three minutes before, I was pretty much figuring everything was going to be okay. Even though she couldn't talk, Stuart told me Emma was definitely able to understand my words. Sure, she was recuperating from a surgery to get more circulation into a bum right leg and she was out of it, yes. But dying? Come on.
"Stu. I need to get back on the phone. Do me a favor and put the phone near her ear again," I added.
A Second Chance - And as I spoke this second time, it was like I was a different person. I had crossed over. This time, it wasn't words about preparations for an upcoming birthday. This time what drove me was the idea, the unfamiliar idea that this might very well be the last time I would be able to speak with Emma while her soul was of this Earth. As I talked, I just could not compute that thought. That sad thought. My mouth kept moving as I told her how much I loved her, what she's meant to me and our entire family all these years. I told her that if she felt it was time to go, then just know how much I loved her and that I would always be connected to her - every single day of my life until it's time for me to go.
She's always been there for us in the ways that mean the most - no matter where she or we lived physically, geographically. First in our home for many years as a part of our family. Then in her own apartment, when she would then visit our home for prolonged stays, always welcomed back to her old room. And then in her next home where she lived for many years as most of us moved to different parts of the country. Phone calls kept us in touch and we always worked out ways to get back to Western Mass. to see our Emma.
For me, one experience that always comes to mind is sitting in the chair next to her as she sat in her rocker chair and footstool, the TV on in the distance, her stories (soaps) on as we watched together. 99.9% of the time, I fell asleep in that position. I mean a good, calm, deep nap. Spending time with her all those years, talking with her, confiding in her when I went through my divorce, etc..., Emma has been like a human sedative for me. So it's always been natural to feel that heart rate decrease and doze off while watching "One Life To Live" with her.
And the phone calls that obviously never substituted for the real thing. Those calls always end with me telling Emma how much I love her.
"I love you, too. You know I do," is Emma's routine response. And when I tell her I'm heading up to see her, she always adds, "I'll be lookin' for ya."
The phone. We think we can pick it up anytime and the people we love, the people we've been speaking with for all these years - it feels like they voice is always going to be there on the other end. Whenever we need to hear that voice. The other day, I suppose it hit me - the reality of it. The fact is these people will not always be there. It is going to end.
Okay, so for all of you who have been through this, I'm sure I sound like a child right now. I know I've been blessed simply because I haven't had to go through this before. This is my debut.
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Update - The good news is that Emma seems to have rebounded a bit. We think she may have been over medicated (pain pills). So when they cut down the dosage, she started to come back to us - slowly. I'm heading up to see her and, hopefully, we'll be able to share a little of that big 99th Gus & Paul's birthday cake.
But, for now, I'm going to make dinner and think about her recovery. I'm going to have an omelette. And when I beat the eggs, who do you think will be on my mind?
Add "cooking teacher" to the above referenced list.