Written around June 20, 2021, after the death of my mom, Frances Joann Morris, on June 17, 2021. She was the reason I had the courage to leave Omaha at 18, and the desire to return in 2017.
I was with Mom twice when she died. Both times involve her teeth.
The first time was in 2018, when she had atrial fibrillation. We were in the hospital and they gave her a drug to regulate her heart rate. They weren’t happy with her progress so they gave her something else. I was the only with her at the time, and I was eating some cottage cheese from her lunch tray. I turned away from Mom and heard this loud gasping-type sound. I turned around and her lower teeth were sticking out of her mouth.
I kind of laughed and said, “Mom, do you want to take your teeth out?” She didn’t answer, and I noticed her eyes were vacant. I called her name again – no reply. So I ran out into the hall and – no one was there. Absolutely empty. So I yelled, “Help. My mom needs help.”
Within seconds people were running towards the room – by this time, her warning indicators were no doubt blipping and beeping crazily. A nurse began giving CPR and Mom began to revive. I pushed my way through several people because I wanted her to see a familiar face when she awoke.
She opened her eyes and looked at me. Then she looked at the nearly-20 strangers crowded into the room and in a sweet, childlike voice said, “I fell asleep.”
The second time she passed – six days ago – I was with her when she became quite restless. At about 11:30 pm she woke up and I asked if she wanted to take her teeth out. She said, “go ahead,” so I took out her bottom teeth, but I couldn’t get her top teeth. She fell back to sleep, but when she awoke again a short time later, she pulled them out and handed them to me, as if she had processed what was going on. A short time after that she opened her eyes, but we could tell she was not fully conscious.
In those moments, I imagine Mom was going back in time. I see her as a child in her farmhouse, smelling the fried chicken her mom was cooking, playing with her brother Bernie, holding her sister, Judy, smelling her grandfather’s tobacco, plinking out some tunes on the piano, then falling asleep reading her favorite book. I see my grandfather lifting her in his arms and carrying her out to the kitchen table for supper.
The supper table is enormous, and as Mom opens her eyes, she sees everyone she ever loved, including her mom and dad, my dad, her brothers and sisters, her daughters, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Even Charlie and Max, her cats, are slinking around looking for some chicken treats. The table seems to go on forever and she sees friends and neighbors and even some descendants not yet born. She wakes up and looks around this amazing table of love that she helped create, and she says, in a sweet, childlike voice, “I fell asleep.”