In Her Time of Dying: Places

I’ve felt pretty good lately. I’m still kind of easily distracted, and my brain isn’t wanting to absorb a lot of information. I get easily frustrated when I’m trying to concentrate on answering an e-mail, or problem-solve my way through something because it’s like the tasks at hand are covered in something slippery, and I can’t get a good grasp on them. I’ll start thinking over the answer and feel so overwhelmed that I just have to stop and return to it later.

The other day I was driving and a thought popped into my head: “your mother is dead.”
I’ve forced myself to think this repeatedly and even say it out loud, but sometimes the thought still shocks me. This particular time the thought pushed its way into my brain and my stomach knotted up. It took my breath away for a second and then the moment passed.

I take the same route to work each morning. After dropping Nellie off at daycare I hop on the interstate because it’s the fastest route. The interstate also happens to pass the hospital where my mother died. It’s not directly visible but sometimes you can catch it out of the corner of your eye as you’re going along. It’s dark when I’m on the road to work, and this particular hospital is a Catholic hospital and has a cross that glows at night on the side of one of the buildings. I was driving along this morning, listening to music and thinking that I was finally starting to feel normal again, starting to feel like me. Right about the time this thought entered my head, I caught a glimpse of the glowing cross from the hospital and it felt like someone had punched me directly in the stomach. My heart started beating faster and I had to quickly avert my eyes as if looking at the place where she died would burn them right out of my head. It was a very strange feeling, having such a strong reaction to catching a glimpse of a place.

The unfortunate part of this is that Nellie’s pediatrician’s office is at that same hospital. Awesome.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt a strong aversion to a place because of the memories it brought forth of the awful experience of my mother’s death. The night she died, my brother Drew and I stepped out for dinner. We went to Mellow Mushroom, a place that has some of my favorite pizza. They had just built a second location out near the mall so we went there. We were there eating our shared Greek salad and waiting on our Philosopher’s Pie when we got the phone call that she had died; not thirty minutes after we left the hospital. We ended up eating the pizza on the drive back to the hospital. A few nights ago a friend invited me to have some pizza and I asked where she was going. She replied Mellow Mushroom and I felt panicky at the thought of going back there. I find myself wondering if I will ever be able to enjoy eating there again. The thought of eating a Philosopher’s Pie turns my stomach.

It’s interesting how we mark events with places. Happy events, traumatic events, major milestone events, etc. There are certain places that I think of fondly even now; the building by my best friend’s house where we got Nellie’s 3-d ultrasound done. The buffet down the road where we ate afterward. Big River Grille, where Josh and I had our first date. There are unfortunately several places that carry heavy, sad memories for me now.  City Cafe, where Ellen, Drew, and I ate Christmas Day because it was one of the few places open. That was the day we put mom in Hospice. We carried our Hospice paperwork and educational literature with us to the restaurant as we wandered around; lost and wounded. The Thai restaurant Drew and I had lunch at the day mom died. The hospital itself; a lurking behemoth of sorrow and pain.

It’s interesting how the memories we attach to these places can bring up such strong feelings. These places are just buildings; they can’t hurt us. But the power they hold over us is very real. Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like if I went into the hospital, took the elevator and walked to the Hospice ward. I wonder what it would feel like to go to her room. To see the place she died again. I wonder what sort of feelings the sights and sounds and smells would evoke. Sometimes the urge to actually do this overwhelms me though I know to do it so soon after her death would probably be a mistake.

I hope that in time I will be able to see the hospital without feeling that overwhelming sense of dread, of sadness, of fear. I hope that in time the power these places have over me will lessen and fade altogether. I hope that as I begin to heal and work through her death, they will once more become just buildings, no more harmless than any of the hundreds of others in the city. In time, maybe. Hopefully.