August 13th, 2012
Mom had been in the hospital for a couple days at this point. It was around noon on the 11th when she had too much pain in her chest and back to be able to get dressed to go out for lunch, so Dad took her to the Emergency Room.
Right away, they ruled out a heart attack or serious heart issue. Still, for reasons we didn’t yet understand, they had not yet released her over 48 hours later. The family was worried, of course, but I think we were of the mindset that if it wasn’t a heart attack, it couldn’t have been that bad, and there was probably some ass-covering insurance or legal reason that they were testing her so much before letting her go.
We had been scheduled – Mom, Dad, and I – to fly to Paris on the 14th. It would be their second trip to see me in Paris, and I would show them my apartment finally; the first time they were there I had just arrived and was living in hotels still.
When Mom was admitted on the 11th, we held out hope she would be given the official “ok” and we could go on our way as planned. By the 12th, the hope for going on the trip was slipping away, and by the 13th, I made the calls to cancel all the arrangements.
That night, after the rest of the family and an assortment of friends had passed through her room throughout the day to visit and cheer her up, it was just her and I in her room talking. The other bed in the room was vacant, and nearing midnight at that point, the room light was off. The flickering light from the television on the wall illuminated her face as she apologized to me for “ruining our trip.” Being as selfless as she was, she looked like she was legitimately sorry, which was ridiculous and endearing at the same time.
I gave my best effort at assuring her she didn’t ruin anything, and frankly all we cared about right now, obviously, was her. To try to soften her ill-conceived guilt, I told her “you know what, Paris would have been silly anyway, you’ve already been there…since we have to reschedule this anyway, why don’t we just go to Rome?”
“I love Rome!” she exclaimed, her eyes opening wide and a smile broadening on her face, “yeah, that sounds like more fun.”
“Rome it is, then – done. Just get yourself out of here, get better, and I’ll start planning tomorrow. We’ll go to the Vatican the first day.”
“Oh my God, I’ve always wanted to go to the Vatican!” she added, almost ready to hop out of her bed.
I trotted out a few more hypothetical activities in the ancient city, and eventually she seemed more excited than disappointed. Shortly after that, I went home for the night and on to work the next day.
As fate would have it, the next day we got her diagnosis of terminal cancer. She wasn’t going to Rome. Other than a few days of heavily sedated Hospice care, she wasn’t even going home. She passed away three weeks to the day after that late-night chat.
After the diagnosis, we occasionally had the morbid discussion of asking where she wanted her ashes. She told my sister she wanted to be in the Atlantic, by her. She told me she wanted to be in the Pacific, off California, for reasons we never did figure out. When it came time to split up the ashes, though, I asked for it to be split into thirds. I told her I was taking her to the Vatican, and goddammit we were going to take her to the Vatican.
I had been to Rome twice before her death, and grew to love it – and especially the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary – more each time. My Dad, my Uncle [her brother], and I ultimately went to Rome together in February of 2013, with a portion of Mom’s remains. We found a place in the city to put her ashes where she would never be disturbed, and we knew she would be happy.
I tell you this on the eve of my departure to give you a frame of reference for why I’m there, again. Yes, Rome is beautiful and fun and amazing in and of itself – it’s Rome, for shit’s sake – but it’s also a way for me to vacation with her, in the only way I still can. For all the funny stories and colorful people I’ll meet along the way, this year was always about doing things I just needed to do. I cleared my head and found my direction in Paris, now it’s time to say hello to a dear old friend in Rome.