The phone rang and my body tensed, just as it had for the last two days whenever the phone had rung.
I was waiting for the call. The one where the voice on the other end of the line would tell me, “She’s gone, Jacqui. Mum died.”
This was the call. Not a false alarm like the day before, when I breathed heavily in sadness, trying to picture the vigil around my mother’s rented hospital bed in her living room.
Through his tears, my brother told me that the end was near. Even more than 3,200 kilometres away, I knew he was right. On speakerphone, I could hear her breathing. It was loud and rough, and sounded like a coffee maker percolating — gurgling.
“Jacqui,” he whispered, “the nurse told me that it’s not uncommon for people to hold onto life and not die when someone they love is about to give birth. The nurse thinks she’s waiting for your baby to be born.” I gasped. This baby wasn’t coming out anytime soon, and my mother had been in a drug-induced coma for a few days already. I didn’t have a crystal ball, but having had two children before, I knew how my body felt when it was preparing to go into labor. I was close, but not that close.
Hot tears started to stream down my cheeks, one after the other, at a fast pace. “But I just came from the doctor,” I told him. “It’s not going to happen for at least two weeks!”
"Well, I think the nurse may be right. Do you want to talk to Mum?"
He put the speakerphone close to our mother's body, and I took a deep breath. I had done this several times over the last few days. Talk to her, I mean. I told her about what my kids were doing, what we were thinking of naming the baby, how much I loved her, how my brothers and I were always going to stay close. Words of comfort -- comfort for her, and comfort for me. This conversation was going to be different, though. I felt something grow heavy in my heart, and I knew I had to let it out.
"Mum," I sobbed through thick tears, dripping onto my maternity pants and making a big, wet circle on my thigh. "Mum," I said again. "The nurse thinks you may be holding on, to hear about this baby being born. But Mum," I paused, the words pushing heavily on my chest, as if refusing to come out, "he's not ready. You can let go, Mum. It's OK. Let go."
My body was trembling and shivering, and I couldn't stop crying. My husband, ever the sensitive soul, watched me like a statue as I had to force myself to say those words. When they were out, his arm wrapped around my shoulder, like a crane resting on a building. Nothing could be pleasant or soothing at that moment.
I stayed on speakerphone, and listened as my uncle, my mother's brother -- a doctor -- explained how everything that was happening was normal for this situation. A situation that I couldn't see, but could understand through the sobs of my brother. My oldest brother had just walked the 10-minute stroll back to his house to eat dinner with his family.