During Labor Day weekend of that first year in North Carolina, Tammy and mom were down for a visit. She still had another month to go before she could officially move. My mom liked our little apartment though she did not like the steps all that well. Our apartment was on the second floor so as soon as you opened the front door, you were faced with twenty or so steps. At the top of the steps, you landed right in our kitchen which really just seemed like an afterthought to me. I refer to these types of kitchens as ‘Oh NO! We forgot to include a kitchen. Let’s stick one in this hallway’. I had been battling a cold all weekend and when it came time for mom and Tammy to go, mom really did not want to leave me alone. I told her I would be fine and essentially made her leave because I knew Tammy had to go back to work on Tuesday and it was already late in the day. So with the usual tears which always proceeded Tammy leaving, we said our goodbyes and off they went.
Tammy was staying with her family some and with my mom some as well because we had already moved out of our rented house. The bank had paid for our relocation expenses so we took advantage of that early and moved our things in order to avoid having to pay rent in both places. This week of Labor Day was Tammy’s week to stay with mom which always gave me comfort knowing that mom had someone with her. Tammy had gotten up early on Tuesday morning following Labor Day and had already made her way to work. Sometime later that morning mom decided she wanted to go to the farmers market in Charleston. As she was making her way to Charleston, she was involved in a very serious car accident which required her to be air lifted to General Hospital in downtown Charleston. We were later able to look back at this and laugh because it was the first and only time mom every flew and she had no memory of it whatsoever.
She was unconscious upon arrival to the hospital and had a broken arm, several lacerations to her face, and a double collapsed lung. She remained in this state of unconscious the entire month of September.
Later that day Tammy called me to break the news that mom had been in an accident. She told me that mom was stable and that I did not need to come home just yet. I finished out my day at the office, stayed the night at our apartment, and got up really early the next morning to drive home. I am typically not known to be a fast driver, however on this trip home, I made the drive from NC to WV in five hours – a drive which normally took us six and half hours. I made no stops and drove ‘just slightly’ over the speed limit.
Mom finally woke up from the coma about a month or so later with several medical issues still to work through. Finally, Tammy’s three months that she needed to stay in WV had come to an end and she had officially moved to North Carolina. This meant there was no more back and forth for us anymore.
For the next three years, mom struggled to recover from that accident. She was never quite the same after that and to be honest, I think she just gave up in the end from missing my dad so much. The complications from her double collapsed lung eventually lead to her being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The doctors told us that she was in the early stages of COPD however her status could change rapidly and at any moment. By the time 2003 rolled around, mom actually seemed to be doing pretty well. Her doctor had sent her to rehab where they could help hopefully her to get even stronger and to hopefully learn to cope better with the disease. Me and Tammy had moved into our first home; a small three-bedroom, two car garage house in a Wake Forest community.
The evening of my thirty-first birthday, the phone rang and it was my mom.
“Happy Birthday to you…”, she sang. “Happy Birthday to you… Happy Birthday dear Jackie… Happy Birthday to you.”
“Thanks Mom! How are you doing? Are the ladies at the rehab center going to miss you?”.
Mom was going to be going back to her home the next day and I knew she was excited.
“Yes! But I have really enjoyed staying here.”
We continued to talk some more about how much better she was feeling after having spent some time at the rehab center. She had made some new friends and even though she was the youngest in her group, they all called her mom. She was also looking forward to coming to visit with us again. She liked our house a better than the apartment we were renting. We said our love you and our good nights and hung up the phone.
Early the next morning, the phone rang and woke us up. It was my brother-in-law.
“Jackie, I don’t know how else to tell you this.”
I knew something bad had happened. It had been my brother-in-law who came to get me out of school when my dad had his first heart attack.
“What’s wrong?”, I replied
“Your mother died in her sleep last night”.
My world had just stopped. My mom, the first woman I had ever loved, had just died and I was over three hundred miles away. A complete sense of hopelessness rushed through my body. My mother died in early October 2003 – just a few days’ shy of our youngest nephew’s one-year-old birthday.
We would later learn that I was last family member she spoke too. Seems I have this uncanny ability to be the last family member to speak with someone before they pass away.
Over the next four years, I was in what some may classify as a state of depression. Though never diagnosed as such, this was the worse feeling in my life up until that point. I was at my lowest and to make matters worse, I turned away from God. I could not understand why God would take away both of my parents at such a young age. My dad was fifty-nine when he died and my mom was sixty when she died. We had already stopped going to church after the move to NC and the excuse I always used was “Well, I have not found that small church I had when I was younger.” I simply did not know how to cope. Looking back now at this point in my life breaks my heart. With dad dying in 1999 and my mom passing away in 2003, I gave up on the church and the Christian life that I had lived so faithful up unto that point. I also picked up some bad habits along the way and though I never stopped loving Tammy, instead of turning to God, I turned to worldly things.
Over those four years, I lived a worldly life while, in secret, Tammy prayed.