Standing in front of the dimly lit room full of distant family and friends, all I could do was stare down looking into the solid walnut casket that my Mom now laid in. The funeral director had said that the walnut casket had an ivory pillow like lining and that my Mom would look beautiful in it, he was right. She looked so peaceful laying there, her hands folded together and wrapped in her beautiful crystal rosary, wearing her favorite suit. As I stood there looking down I knew I had to say something, anything, everyone in the room was looking at me wondering what I would do, what I would say, and if they would be able to hear me. I could hear the hushed voices asking one another if I was her only child, if anyone knew how I was holding up. I knelt down and placed my hand over my Mom's folded hands but the only words I could force out were, "Goodbye Mom" followed by a faint "I love you".
I know I stayed there for a little while, as for how long I'm not entirely sure. I knew this would be the last time I would see my Mom and I wanted to soak it in for a few more minutes. I finally drifted back into the crowd in the room answering questions and accepting sympathy from people I had never met. What seemed like a minute later, I looked up and I was no longer in a dimly lit room that smelled like old people, but I was outside, it was cold and light snow was falling, getting stuck in my eye lashes and I could faintly hear the priest talking. As he continued to talk my Mom's best friend, Martha, stood next to me squeezing my hand every now and again as if she was reminding me to pay attention, the same way my Mom used to. As the priest finished talking I stood there staring at the casket. The cemetery worker then began to lower my Mom into the ground, inch by inch. Everyone around me started to fade, going their separate ways. I knew I was the last person there when Martha told me it was time to go, that I couldn't stand in the cold anymore, but I couldn't leave, not yet. She brought me a blanket out of her car and left me alone, with my Mom.
I didn't know if it was cold anymore, my body was numb as I sat next to where my Mom laid, just thinking. Thinking of all the times we fought, they all seemed pointless looking back on them now, all the trips we went on, to Disney World and the Rocky Mountains, and of all the small things she did that let me know she loved me. Martha came walking up out of the dark with a cup of hot chocolate and another blanket. She sat down next to me, looked me in the eyes and just held me. I hadn't cried since I found out my Mom had died, I couldn't cry, it wasn't real. She was too young to leave me already. My Mom is supposed to live forever. It was as if Martha knew what I was thinking, she held my face in her soft warm hands and told me that she was really gone and it was ok to cry, and that is what I did. I cried like I had never cried before, tears pouring down my face and Martha held onto me, consoling me.
The next 24 hours were a blur, going through the motions of packing the rest of my Mom's things up. Thankfully, Martha and a few others had saved me the pain and packed most of it up for me. All that was left to pack was mainly the basement, which she rarely used since I had left home six years ago. As I packed all I could think of were the memories that each item I packed had; my baseball mitt from when I was 5 and my mom would drive to tee-ball and cheer me on as I picked weeds in the outfield. My hockey sticks from when I was 10 and she would make sure I was the first kid on the rink Saturday mornings till I was 18. Everything I touched brought back a memory that I never wanted to let go.
As I stepped out of the cab in front of my apartment building I realized that I didn't remember any part of going to the airport, getting on the plane and coming back here. I stood motionless in the rain until I heard the cabby. I paid the cabby $19 for my fare and a $3 tip to go along with it and walked into my building. I pushed the button to call the elevator and stared at the closed doors. I could barely see my reflection in the steel doors but it was enough to know that I looked tired, worn out and distant, not to mention wet, which is exactly how I felt. Within minutes the elevator doors were opening and I stepped inside. There was an elderly woman already inside the elevator as I pushed the button to the 21st floor. I had never seen her before, but something about her seemed familiar. Her face was soft, her eyes were welcoming, she had very light makeup on and she wore thin glasses, just like the ones my Mom had. She glanced at me with a simple smile then looked towards the doors again. Suddenly the elevator came to a stop we were in between the 14th and 15th floors.
A scratchy voice came over the intercom and told us not to panic but we were going to be stuck for a little while so to get as comfortable as possible. I sat down and stared at all the numbers on the buttons. Just then I heard a faint little voice say, "hi, my name is Millie, what's your name?" I looked over towards her and told her my name was Bryan. She then asked me if I was ok. A little taken aback I turned and answered "of course, why wouldn't I be ok?" She looked at me with her eyes peeping out above the rim of her glasses and said "dear I know you just lost someone close to you, it very obvious".
I sank into the floor. "Tell me about her," she said, so I did, I told Millie all about my Mom. I told her about all the trips we took when I was little, all her little quirks, all the little things she did that told me she loved me, like left notes in my lunchbox for school that always said "I love you and I'll be here when you come home. Love Mom" and told me to "be safe" every time we said goodbye when I was away at school. Millie took my hand which was lying motionless on the floor between her and I, and told me that my Mom named me Bryan because it meant strength and that I would have the strength to get through this. No one had ever told me that before, I didn't even know that my name meant strength, but it made me wonder.
Just then the elevator started to move again, I got up and helped Millie to her feet. Just before we got to my floor Millie grabbed my hand and placed her other hand over my heart, she looked me in the eyes and told me that my Mom loved me very much, she always has and always will, that she is very proud of me and that she will always be watching over me. She also said that my Mom went home and that she will always be there when I'm ready. I stood frozen in place, I didn't know what to say or do but stand there. I heard a ding; the elevator had stopped at my floor and the doors slid open. As I was stepping out I turned to thank Millie for our lovely conversation but she was gone. Had she slipped out the door past me? Did we stop on another floor and I not realize it? I looked down the hall and didn't see her anywhere. Who was Millie, I may not know everyone in my building but I recognize almost all of them and I had never seen her before.
As I slipped my key in my door and turned the knob I still could not remember why Millie had looked so familiar to me. I laid down on the couch and looked up at the ceiling wondering if it was possible or if I was going crazy, I felt something in my pocket, a piece of paper that had not been there before, on the piece of paper it read "I love you and I'll be here when you come home. Love Mom."