The Ides of March
by Tiffany Munson

    We spent what was going to be our last afternoon together talking and laughing over sloppy joes after a shopping spree at K-Mart. My mom had just gotten her driver’s license back after years of medically not being able to drive, so when we headed out to the store she insisted that she drive us there.  My mom attached an extension to her seatbelt so that it could reach over her
belly then pulled the seat close to the wheel so her 5 foot frame could reach the pedals. 
I belted myself in with hesitations of a parent going for a ride with her newly licensed sixteen year old.  The concentration wrinkled in her brows and the excitement glowed in her eyes as she drove us the entire block down to the store.  We beamed with pride.   We strolled around the store together for a while, holding hands as we always would when we were together, just as we did when I was a child. We decided to go separate ways for a bit and look around on our own.
About fifteen minutes had passed and a sudden panic took over me, where was she? I could not see her. “Mom!” I called out. No reply. “Mom!” I called out again, still no reply. “MOM!” I called out
one more time with emphasis, and over the racks popped out the salt and pepper curly hair I knew so well.
I walked to her briskly and asked, “where were you? I couldn’t see you, don’t ever do that to me again!”
    We made it home safely and I ate sloppy joes as my Mom talked to me. She was leaving in two days for a vacation to New Orleans to visit her aunt and uncle. Amtrak was her choice of travel and she loved to get a sleeper room so she could be alone, stretch out and have a bed to sleep in during the overnight trip.   Mom’s eyes, skin and smile glowed with beauty. There was an aura about her I had never seen before and it made me uneasy, as if unwillingly we both knew that she would not be returning from vacation this time. Time came for me to leave to make sure I was on time for plans I had made previously for that night.
As I was leaving my brother, Rob, arrived with golf clubs my Mom would be bringing to her uncle. I kissed her good-bye and walked out of the apartment but found myself turning back to take a snap shot of what was happening. Mom, Dad, and Rob were standing in the bedroom over the clubs talking. Dismissing my silly thoughts of her not retuning, I turned and walked away to head home.
        At 28 not only was I the youngest of six children, I also held the title of being the only girl. Mom was always there for me without questions or judgment. She was a nurse, a teacher, a listener, a protector, my crutch and a guide in my life that I simply could not or would not know how to live without. Simply stated, she was everything to me and my family. She was the sun
and we were planets, orbiting as we gained strength and life from her knowledge and love that she so effortlessly offered without hesitation.
       BREAKING NEWS! It’s been reported that Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train has derailed about 50 miles south of Chicago in Bourbonnais. It hit a truck that was crossing the tracks. More details to come. “She’s dead,” words that Rob said flowed from my mouth as we stood in front of the TV in horror but that to this day are erased from my memory. “She is fine,” Rob stated. “A
truck has no chance against a train. I’ll head down there to find Mom, bring her home and take her back to the train station tomorrow to continue on her trip.” He entered the phone booth, threw on his cape and was off to the rescue. Rob searched for about six hours as we spoke in 20minute intervals, each asking if the other had heard from Mom. The last of the conversations was the worst. “It’s not looking good Tiff. I’ve been back and forth to the hospitals and I’ve watched every person not severely injured step off the bus. I can not find her. You better head down.”
The drive seemed to last forever, mile after mile of grass and barren corn fields browned from the winter’s cold. Don’t look I told myself as I approached the site. It looked as if it had been perfectly placed into a tangled pile of steel blackened by the heat of the fire that had erupted from the seeping of diesel fuel. My body went numb. Rob and I met in a room, along with a minister, a coroner and two representatives from Amtrak that were assigned to my family.
"Your mother has been confirmed dead.”
Their words screeching like finger nails to a chalk board, my knees weakening and crumbling beneath me as I fell into Rob’s arms.
“We found no material possessions on her but this.” They presented a diamond ring that she had purchased twenty years earlier during a trip to New Orleans that we had taken together. The ring had beendarkened by the soot of the fire. I snatched it with fierce accuracy from him hands as he offered
to have it cleaned. “
No thank you” I stated. “I will clean it myself.”
    The following day as me and family drove around for hours searching for the perfect plot to lay my mother’s cold, burnt body to rest, chills slid down my spine when we passed a statue of Jesus kneeling and praying, completely surrounded by purple and yellow flowers and also covered by overgrown trees which would protect him during summer’s heat under a perfectly
clear blue sky.  It was clear to all of us we had found the perfect plot.
    The funeral home director was most helpful. This was after all our first time planning a funeral. After sorting through the depressing details of flowers and limos, food and viewing times we asked, “has her body been delivered?”
“Yes, he stated. I will open the room so you can have a moment alone before the wake on Monday.”
He disappeared for a few moments, then returned and pointed us in the direction where we could find my mother. We walked in silence still overcome with shock from the events of the past few days until reaching the door to the
parlor. The casket lay alone, closed, in an empty room, lights shinning over it’s beautiful pink color. I stood motionless, but the casket seemed to be moving farther into the distance. We walked in and stood together embraced as cries and moans erupted uncontrollably from deep inside me. I tried to climb on top of the casket, longing to take her out and rescue her and my family from this nightmare. We pleaded with the funeral director to see her one last time to prove to ourselves that it was in fact her and she was in fact dead and not aimlessly wandering around somewhere in a state of shock from the accident.        “You can not see her, he stated. Your mother has been burnt beyond recognition. The sight of her condition could erase any memory you have
of her alive.”
My moans and cries grew louder. It came time to go home and prepare for the inevitable events of the next two days.
Questions swirled through my head. Who is going to protect me now? Who will I lean on if she is not there? Who will heal my broken heart with teddy bears and mommy hugs? Who will hold my hand as we walk through the store? Will my life ever be the same? Why didn’t I go with her! The ground had been dug perfectly into a hole just big enough for the casket and vault to be lowered in. The air was crisp. The sky was blue. Time stood still. I was surrounded by family and friends but I did not see them. The priest was reading a verse from the bible, but I did not hear him. I clutched the deep red rose as Rob lifted me to my feet and we walked to the foot of the casket on legs that seemed to be missing. It was time to say our final good-bye. The casket was cold on my cheeks and smooth to my lips as I kissed her gently repeatedly telling her “I
love you so much.” I begged Rob with desperate flooded eyes to stop what was happening, but he did not answer.
    My therapist David was understanding and patient with me as I sat in his office and cried during my reflections of the accident and of the connection and dependency I held so closely with my Mom.  As therapy continued over three years, I fought David on the fact that it was okay to acknowledge that maybe my Mom had made me so dependant on her because she
was dependant on me, and that this co-dependency is what kept me in a child like state even at the age of 28 . How could David say such a horrible thing about my Mom? How come it made so much sense? 
    Weight seemed to be lifted off my shoulders as I realized it was okay to move forward in mylife and accept what could not be changed while still missing my Mom every day. Spending a holiday season alone was not only going to be how I said good-bye to the cause of  her death
and to the child I held onto it was also going to be the beginning of the independent woman I longed to be who could recall wonderful memories of a mother that is still dearly loved today.