Since it’s been five years since I had a newborn and I need the refresher, I Google my baby’s age every Thursday and follow a link to a site that tells me about his development for that week. At eight weeks, I learn that his vision is getting clearer as his brain is now able to process more of what he sees. I imagine his little brain working, processing, and growing in his soft, tiny skull.
A mile and a half away from our living room, in a bed in the ICU, I worry another brain is shutting down. Alone with the baby I Google “brain death” and “clinical death” while I wait for the final word about a friend of my small family. Although I’m not at the hospital, I can imagine what is happening there when I read about final gasps and how hearing is the last sense to go. When I read the science behind what’s known as the death rattle, I feel afraid, but I don’t know why.
I become engrossed with the cold, clinical information about death. I imagine my friend’s last moments, and then I think about what it will be like for the other people I love. I wonder if I will be there to speak to them until their hearing stops, or if I will hear their last gasps. Then I picture myself, old and alone in a bed. I hope my children will be there for me. I’m so startled I jar the baby on my lap when my husband opens the door, home from work.
I stay busier than usual with housework and taking care of my sons while I wait for a phone call or text that says she’s passed. While I put laundry in the washer I think about Easter dinners. I put together our dinner and remember birthday parties, starting with my oldest son’s very first one. I take out the trash and recycling and wish I’d gone to more of the weekly breakfasts at IHOP. I wonder about things I never asked.
When the baby is asleep on my husband’s chest and dinner is in the oven, I go upstairs to sit down alone, put on a song with a cello that aches, and drink a glass of wine. I have always wondered why she chose to become close to me when I was single and pregnant, and then close to my son, year after year, for his whole life. When the music swells I think I hear my five-year-old yelling “Mommy,” and that’s all the time I have to mourn.
Before the funeral, while going through her things, we divide up jewelry and flip through old journals and photo albums. The noise from my children makes the house feel more alive. Looking at pictures taken decades ago, I try to imagine who she was before she became the woman we knew.
Gradually more is revealed about the things she rarely talked about: her Catholicism, her time in Alcoholics Anonymous, and her husband. Then we learn about something she never said: she had two children she gave away. This hits me, and then it envelopes me. It is a piece to a puzzle I didn’t know I was working, a connection in the story that clicks perfectly into place.
When I saw her for the last time, in the hospital, I didn’t say goodbye because I was afraid to. Now I analyze that last interaction. I realize she brightened the most when I talked about my children.
When I look back on it now, I see her time with us was such a gift. After the revelation about her own children, I hope spending time with my small family gave her something in return.
Amanda Kelley has worked as a graduate assistant, advertising sales representative, substitute teacher, newspaper reporter, delivery driver, property manager, and retail salesperson at a hardware store and at a lingerie shop. She is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Kentucky. Her work has appeared in Accolade, Inscape, jmww and Kentucky Monthly’s Writers’ Showcase. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with the poet Sean L Corbin and their sons.