The bells announcing noon Mass began to peal as I walked past St. James Cathedral. I was the one who was supposed to drive Mom up to Mass at St. James this morning. Instead, I was walking to a hospital two blocks north: where she had just been brought by ambulance.
Jen's family, Dad, and Greg were already in the emergency waiting room. Before I had time to sit down, an attendant ushered us into the back. Standing in the corridor, we were hurriedly introduced to a doctor who told us that her condition was beyond any measures.
He let us into her room; she took her final breath within minutes. Time of death: 12:10. Nurses brought us over to a room in an adjacent wing where we held an impromptu wake. A Catholic chaplain led prayers; few of us recalled the words. Coffee and cookies the hospital set out on a cart went largely ignored.
Over the next hour remaining family members filtered their ways to the hospital. The entire nuclear family made it--along with all in-laws, nephews and nieces. Everybody was sobbing, shuddering, and hugging one another. I kissed Mom's forehead and repeated the same words I said the moment she died hours prior: "I love you, Mom. Goodbye." Jen took part in washing Mom's body. We escorted her down to the morgue.
We decided to reconvene at Jen's. Ben seemed indecisive as to how he would get there. "I'm thinking about walking," Ben announced without conviction.
"The red car is parked in front of my apartment in Chinatown," I told Ben. "Let's walk down there together and drive the rest of the way."
The day was clear and warm. We set off on foot, walking south along 9th Avenue. I was about to turn off on Madison Street toward downtown when Ben spoke for the first time since we left the hospital.
"Can we continue on along this street to stop by St. James? I'd like to light a candle for Mom."
We entered an alcove whose short walls were lined with slender tapers. At the end stood a statue of the Madonna and Child. Two women were kneeling at the base of the figure with hands clasped, saying something softly. Ben and I each wordlessly lit a candle, then placed them into candlesticks behind the icon.
We both remained taciturn as we walked further down 9th. At the intersection with Jefferson Street we passed another hospital. Three morbidly obese men in wheelchairs sat a few feet from the entrance, smoking cigarettes. As we walked by, one--with tubing entering his nostrils--spoke to the others:
"Yeah. You know, I got me a girlfriend. A really nice black one..."
I rolled my eyes; Ben restrained a chuckle. Ben broke the silence:
"Well. I guess life goes on."