So, Mother’s Day holds mixed feelings for me these days. As my child would say, “It’s complicated.”
On May 9th, 1997, my parents left town for the weekend to get away from life for a bit. They traveled down to St. Simons Island and left me in charge. I was 20 years old. My five siblings were all younger, 18, 15, 12, 11 and 5. My 18 year old brother, Wilder, was headed to the prom that Friday. He came by the house before he and his friends left, full of excitement and swagger, ready for the fun ahead.
The next morning he came by again to drop off his tux, so I could return it for him. He said good-bye as he left for the beach at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Just another prom beach trip. Sometime late that night (or early in the morning), the phone woke me. Croaking a bit, I answered.
“Is Mr. Henry Smith available?”
“Huh?” I asked, not really awake.
“Is Mr. Henry Smith there?”
“Who is this?”
Then another voice came on the line, one I recognized.
“Katherine, this is Anna Kate. This nurse needs to talk to you.”
The first voice spoke again. “This is a nurse at Hilton Head hospital. Can you get in touch with your parents?”
After getting off the phone, I woke one of my sisters.
“Some hospital just called and said that Wilder’s on a ventilator. Should I call mom and dad?”
I was now realizing that it was four o’clock in the morning, but I still wasn’t getting that what was happening was bad. Very bad.
“Yea. I think you should call them,” Barbara Jean said.
This was before everyone had cell phones. My parents were staying at a retreat center and could only be reached after going through a night guard. I got my dad on the line and gave him the number of the hospital.
Not long after that, my dad called back.
“Call all the aunts and uncles,” he said. “It’s bad. Mom and I are headed to Hilton Head.”
About an hour later we were all up. My Aunt Ginny, who lived next door and whose daughter, Anna Kate, was the same age as Wilder and was at Hilton Head with him, came over to ask if we were going to the hospital.
“We weren’t. Do you think we should?”
So we went. And Wilder was on a ventilator. He was very sick. At the time, we weren’t really sure what had happened. We know now that he had an asthma attack. An asthma attack. One of those “situations” that Wilder had been having forever. Something that was dealt with by sucking on an inhaler, or getting a shot. Not something that could do this.
My parents made the decision to move him to a bigger hospital closer to home. A helicopter came and got him. We got on the road to make the 3 hour drive to Augusta, Georgia.
My sister BJ, my cousin Richard and I were in my car. We got to the hospital before my parents and other two sisters. We walked into the waiting room of the ER at the Medical College of Georgia, the three of us, and saw my Uncle Mason walking towards us. He was shaking his head.
And I knew.
Wilder hadn’t made it. He died in the air.
It was May 11th, 1997. Mother’s Day.
So Mother’s Day after that was bitter. For my mom. Her own mom died in 1985. And now, Mother’s Day was a reminder that as a mother, she was incomplete. It was the anniversary of the day one of her children left before she did.
And now, she’s gone too. Taken too soon by breast cancer in 2012.
It’s Mother’s Day. And my mother is gone. But that doesn’t make me sad. Mother’s Day, 2012, was the first of these Sundays in 15 years that my mother didn’t have to be sad on Mother’s Day. For the first time since the day my brother never came down from the air, she was with him.