Now before I get all kinds of messages about being non-patriotic, let me explain. There are a few holidays I’ve never been particularly fond of: New Year’s Eve (always a disaster), Valentine’s Day (I don’t think I need to explain this one) and July 4th. As a child, I always looked forward to the 4th because we always had a pool party at my Aunt and Uncle’s house. And it always started out as a blast. But as anyone who has a myriad of cousins will tell you– family gatherings always plant a seed for dissent. Someone would take someone else’s pool toy, so and so would take the last hot dog, such and such weren’t speaking because they were after the same squirrely little boy that somebody brought to the party. By the time we got home, sunburned and heat-stroked, there was nothing to do but lie down with a cold compress. As the years have passed, I find myself missing those days and those parties. My cousins are all grown up and gone. My Aunt and Uncle don’t even have that pool anymore. This fills me with a kind of melancholy that I never thought I’d have.
The 4th of July also brings back bad memories of another July. Three years ago, I spent my 4th of July sitting in a hospital room with my Mom. It was probably the worst time in my life, because I had never experienced what she was going through at that time. Sure we had been at the hospital many times before, after all– she’d been a heart patient since I was in 5th grade. But we had never seen her experience organ failure. Her kidneys were beginning to shut down and it made a lot of toxins build up in her body. First it made her sleep, almost coma-like, for a few days. When the doctors were finally able to wake her up, she began to feel as if she wasn’t really awake. She was out of her mind with panic and spent a couple of days, hysterical and completely convinced that she was really asleep but that we couldn’t understand. I’m almost positive now that her spirit was trying to leave, but her body was holding on to it. After that, she got calm. So calm that it scared me. You’d speak to her and she wouldn’t talk back. Or give one word answers to questions. You’d ask her if she was feeling okay and she’d reply that she was fine, and then once, I remember, with a wink– “But I’m still asleep.” A week later, the doctors told us there was nothing more that they could do, short of putting her on dialysis in ICU, which wasn’t going to fix all the other things wrong. Her kidneys were gone and her body was going to fill up with fluid. We asked the doctors if there would be any pain, and they said no. That she would go to sleep and then just be gone. Then they told us it would be about 24 hours. Can you imagine someone telling you that you had 24 hours to say goodbye to someone who you’d known for 31 years? I couldn’t take it. My mom had been my anchor for so long that I just couldn’t accept that she might actually be dying. So, like a coward, I spent that 24 hours sitting in a waiting room, waiting for them to tell me she was gone. I would pass into her room like a shadow, but never stayed more than a few minutes. The last coherent thing my mother ever said to me was, “Rachel. I love your hair like that.” My hair was a mess because I’d been sleeping in a chair. I can’t help but wish that it had been more meaningful.
Mom died on July 14, 2008, ten days after we celebrated our country’s independence. But I really didn’t feel much like celebrating then and its hard to get into celebrating now. That being said, I’m going to go stuff my face with grilled yummy goodness at my friend’s house. And I hope you all have a really great 4th. Don’t forget to hug a veteran if you can and remember those who have given their lives to ensure this freedom we celebrate today.