The whole house was packed with who my mother considered family, though I knew few of them by name. How did so many people come to love my mother? I wondered as I passed through the door of our home on that blistering June day, one of the last schooldays of my freshman year.
My mother lay in the living room, barely recognizable at 95 pounds and so little hair. Strangers hugged me, as though somehow their embrace would erase the fact that my mother was dying before us. I was confused, scared, and didn’t know how to act. How does one act when their mother is dying? I had to get this right: everybody in her world was watching!
Darlene Birdwell Quintero, mother of four, dies of cancer at 38 years old. Did somebody hand out instructions on this? My heart is breaking, my mind confused, my feet not on the ground, nor can I float to the wall and plaster myself like a fly, though I wish that I could. I struggle to find a place at the corner of her bed, and lean over to see if her eyes could recognize mine. They could not. I note the increasing rasp of her breath, the decreasing frequency of her draw. The crowd grew quiet as her loved ones surrounded the hospital bed posted where the couch once was.
The heat of the mid-afternoon sun drove somebody to open the sliding glass door, though you’d not know for the stillness of the day. Low whispers wind together in a collage of unrecognizable speech. We all wait patiently for the end, each breath growing farther and farther apart.
Where will my mother go? Will this be it? Will she magically float to heaven on angel’s wings? Will the devil break earth and drag her below to his chamber of fire and swine? Will nothing at all happen?
Suddenly my mother opens her mouth wide, as if struggling for room to let air in. She sucks hard and long, her chin reaching for the ceiling, her neck outstretched, elongating the passage of air filling her lungs for the last time. She savors each molecule and dust mite in her final breath. As if singing her home, the wind chimes hanging in the old redwood tree howl while the only breeze of the day takes flight. Swirling through the trees off the back deck, curling its fingers around the sliding glass door, it makes it’s passage through the living room, across the hospital bed, and swoops my mother’s soul up on it’s shirttails, whisking her off to her new home in the Ethers.