ColumnConscious life, hear me roar.
The night before Thanksgiving, my family was safely tucked in their beds all under one roof. With my parents visiting for the holiday, we play a little bed scramble: My mom always takes my daughter’s bed upstairs, my daughter and I sleep in my bed, my husband sleeps on the couch, my son in his own bed and my dad, down in the guest room where he can snore his nostrils off in the peace of a well-insulated room.
At around 4 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, my mother came rushing into my bedroom and whispered that there was an ambulance out front. My room had become a carnival of lights swirling round. I jumped out of bed, threw on my winter boots and jacket, and ran out the door into the dark cold with tears already streaming down my face.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know what was going on.
My neighbor, Imelda, is 91 and is at that point where sometimes she forgets our names, will tell the same story after five minutes and likes tight hugs where she never once did. This is a woman who has been a surrogate great-grandmother to my children for 13 years, has babysat, given me cups of flour and sugar and listened to me over coffee when I felt no one else would.
She is most certainly my friend, but fears for my life in the ever after as I have different beliefs from her. In fact, we’ve had a secret pact for years that whoever dies first has to do something like knock a book or a glass off a ledge to prove there’s an after life. She always laughs and says she knows she’ll go first but I tell her life is pretty random. You never know when a safe could be falling out a window…
In the cold, I stood at the foot of her gravel driveway, a place where we often meet and chat; moments later, her son (visiting from North Carolina) came out to brief me.
A basic need to use the bathroom had resulted in her falling, hitting her skull on a side bed table, striking open an artery and her son walking in to find his mother lying in a pool of blood – still trying to press her necklace that alerts people somewhere, that a 91-year-old woman needs help and might just die if they don’t come quick.
“They’re taking her to the hospital now,” he said looking at me for an answer.
If you’ve ever stood at night bathed in ambulance light, you might know that feeling of how fleeting life is – that we are always at the mercy of fate.
In that moment of cold, being half-asleep and looking from the outside in to her home, I felt such remorse for how busy I’ve been with work and family that I couldn’t have visited with her more the past six months just to sit and have coffee, bring her something hot to eat, play a hand of Gin Rummy and tease her that there’s no god.
Helpless, I walked across the street, kicked off my boots, hung my coat and snuggled back in with my daughter who was still sweetly sleeping and sighing in her dreams.
Later that morning, Imelda’s son came in to tell us that she was going to be all right, but remain in the hospital for a few days. That she was lucky. That she was as feisty as ever and wanted to go home.
When she does return, I will visit with her by her wood stove and make fun of her as she drinks whiskey from a styrofoam cup, while she deals me a weak hand and waxes passionately about why I need faith, need to stop leaving my family to go to New York City so much, need to put a new coat of paint on my house.
In the ticking of the warm room, I can look into her eyes knowing a secret. You see, one of her biggest dreams has always been that someone would find her interesting enough to write about; to know that she made an impact in this life that surpassed a girlhood in Grand Falls, New Brunswick where she married young, had five kids and “did her best.”
In this life, she has been everything to me, has never cared about my life as a fashion writer or editor, just that she matters to me.
This week’s column is dedicated to Imelda Morin, a 4’8″ woman from Canada who hates swearing, blasphemy and loose women.
Who I gave thanks to on Thursday at dinner, along with my entire family, that she’s still alive as you read this.
Between the Lines, is a weekly column navigating the sometimes-sharp, sometimes-blurred lines of life and culture between city and country.
Image: Horia Valdan