Friday I got a phone call at work on my cell phone. The caller said, "Hi. This is Mike." That was all it took and my heart fell.
A quick background on family dynamics. I am an only child. My biological mom died when I was three and my dad remarried when I was five. My biological mom's dad died six months after she did and my widowed grandmother lived right next door to us at that time. When my mom was sick and in the hospital (polio, iron lung, the whole nine yards) I was sent to live with my dad's parents. They were very cool. One of the best times of my life. After I was back with my dad, after the remarriage, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother next door (my biological mom's mom… still following along?). She was a terrific lady, too, and I loved spending time with her.
My biological mom had a younger sister, Martha. She was her only sibling. Martha had married and moved from Iowa to Southern Calilfornia before I even really was aware she existed. She came back once to visit when I was about five and brought her two boys, one which is just a few months younger than I am and one who is a couple of years younger. The one that's near my age? Yeah. That's Mike.
The phone call was Mike telling me his mom had died. They weren't sure if it was Tuesday or Wednesday, as the boys had both spoken to her on Monday, but Wednesday afternoon Mike couldn't get her to answer her house or cell phone and she never returned his call. On Thursday they had someone go check on her and found her. She apparently had been sitting in a chair, gotten up, and collapsed. No autopsy to be conducted. She's had some mini-strokes over the past couple of years, so they're thinking that probably was it, but we'll never know for sure.
It hit me hard. Although I've only seen her about five times throughout my life… either when I've gone out there (my grandmother ended up moving to California, also, when I was about eight and she flew me out for a visit when I was in junior high and again in high school) or when she's come back to Iowa to visit, or in one case, to bury my grandmother. Each time it has felt as though no time has passed. I always felt so connected to her… and to my cousin. Not so much the younger one, but to Mike. I remember going out when I was in junior high that first time and the first thing we both noticed was our eyes were exactly the same. That's such a weird feeling to see someone who looks just like you, when you've always felt different from everyone around you. I remember going to Disneyland and having people ask us many times if we were twins! Bizarre. My aunt constantly was in amazement that although my mother died when I was so young, I somehow had her mannerisms! She said I looked just like her, too.
I always admired my Aunt Martha. She was divorced and managed to stay friends with her ex, her ex-inlaws, and raised two boys by herself. She was a strong, independent, no-bullshit kind of woman in a world that hadn't quite gotten to true acceptance of that until many years after she did it. She had a huge laugh, a quick wit, and a ready smile… but was genuinely warm and loving. Although she wasn't good a communicating, only a quick note at Christmas and again around Memorial Day as she always sent some money for me to get flowers for the cemetary for her family buried here (her mom, dad and sister, my mom)… I was just thinking that her annual note would be coming any day now. This phone call was not what I expected. I always had it in the back of my mind that I hoped to get out to see her again once more. Again, just goes to prove if you love someone you shouldn't put off telling them how you feel. It can all change in a second.
I love you, Martha. You'll be missed.