I was the last of my mother’s children to arrive at her room that night. All my sisters were already there.
I’m not really sure Claire still was. She had lapsed into unconsciousness shortly after asking for me. Remo and the three of them were gathered around her bed, waiting to see if she would wake up again.
It’s times like that thought roll through your mind like… what is the definition of a good ending to a life? Is there truly such a thing? When I think about it for myself I imagine I want to go without feeling fear, without feeling pain, and without feeling like I left too many things undone or unsaid.
Knowing what I did then about Claire, I suspected she felt like she was leaving a whole lifetime of things not done: a musical career cut short, her failed marriages, maybe even her aborted affair with Remo. But I hadn’t really asked her about it. I had pieced that together from things she’d said. I also had the feeling she had done her best to set that all aside and focused on her more immediate worries: pain and fear. The pain was mostly handled through medication, and the fear? Well, the one we focused on was her fear of dying alone, so me, Remo, and Court had done our best to allay that one by always being there.
Court moved over so I could take Claire’s hand. “I’m here,” I said.
Lilibeth snorted. “She can’t hear you.”
“How do you know? The nurse said she was asking for me. So I said it just in case.”
She shook her head. “It doesn’t even make sense that she asked for you.”
Courtney jumped in to defend me. “Of course it does. Mom looked around and–”
But I was trying to stick up for myself. “Oh, why, because she always said she wished she hadn’t had me? Wished I hadn’t been born?”
Janine tsked loudly. “She said that to all of us. Even Little Miss Perfect.”
Lilibeth gave her a glare. “She never called me Miss Perfect.”
“I wasn’t saying she did.” Janine rolled her eyes. “That’s what we… Never mind.”
“What do you mean she said that to everyone?” I asked.
Lilibeth snorted again. “You think you’re the only one she said that to?”
In fact, yes, that is what I thought. “She certainly never said it to either of you when I could hear it.”
Courtney cleared her throat. “Look. Mom regretted a lot of things in her life, but having us wasn’t one of them. In the end, I mean.”
We all stared at her.
“She told me so, on the graduation trip. And she told you that, too, big brother.”
I rubbed the back of Claire’s hand. “She did. Kinda.” But I’d grown up thinking I was the only one she hadn’t wanted. I knew by then there was a lot going on that had nothing to do with me, but I knew it in my head more than in my heart. Lilibeth was still giving me a murderous look.
Court tried again. “What I was trying to say was that she was asking for you because you were the one who wasn’t here. She looked around and knew you were missing.”
Lilibeth’s ire seemed to cool a tiny bit. Like maybe it wasn’t because I had become Claire’s favorite. Although maybe I had. I still don’t know, and it still doesn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things.
We stayed there around the bed, sometimes walking around the room a little, sometimes standing, sometimes sitting, for another hour, then two. After the initial burst of argument, we mostly didn’t talk. Claire’s face twitched sometimes–a frown, a grimace–but she didn’t open her eyes.
I wondered if there had been something she wanted to tell me, or if it was like Court said, that she only asked for me because she saw I wasn’t there.
It was close to midnight when I had rotated back around to holding her hand again. I took Court’s hand in my other one, and it was like without thinking she took Remo’s hand, and the next thing you know we were all holding hands in a circle, with Lilibeth holding Claire’s other hand. And I felt like it was a moment, you know?
A moment to speak. “I don’t know if you can hear us, Claire–Mom–but we’re all here to say goodbye.”
I felt her squeeze my hand then, and her chest and shoulders convulsed a little. Dying is labor, they said. Dying is hard work. Her brow creased. Lilibeth sucked in a breath like maybe her hand hurt and Janine sobbed next to her.
I went on. “Okay, God, I know I don’t believe in you very much at all, but if you’re there, if all her churchgoing and praying meant anything, now’s the time to come and take her.” It felt like the right thing to say, even though I was sure there was no God. “She’s done on this Earth. She was there bringing all of us into life, and now we’re here to see her leave it. All right? It’s time to come and take her.”
I still don’t believe in God, but moments like that sorely test my lack of faith. Because after another squeeze of her hand, and another rough breath, Claire Elizabeth Marks Jones Silver, neé Silva, left the Earth for good.
I was crying but I wasn’t feeling pain, just… feeling. Remo said, “goodbye, honey” and I could hear the thickness in his voice that made me realize I had a lump in my throat. I patted her hand, which seemed already too cold and too still. And then I had my arms full of my little sister, who was starting a full on waterworks meltdown. I held her close until she was ready to let go, which was a while. Doctors and nurses and maybe a priest came in, but I wasn’t really paying attention anymore.
When Court let me go, she went to wash her face, and the rest of us left the room. Once I was in the hallway, I could draw a full breath. I blinked and looked around and wondered where Ziggy was.
He, and our rental car, were gone.
(Michael Hutchence was still alive in 1992. His absence from the world still hurts. -ctan)