What Do You Say?
What do you say, in a moment like this?
The machines had been turned off. Slowly, painfully, the last moments of Margaret Eppes slipped by without her knowing, and yet Alan and Don Eppes, her husband and eldest son were present, saying their last goodbyes. Her husband held her hand in his, a slight warmth growing cold by the minute.
Alan felt Don's hand on his shoulder, yet for all the warmth his son was trying to project, there could have been a ghost. Or nothing. His wife was gone. For him, it was too soon; they had planned on growing old together, seeing their sons' children born, spoiling whatever grandchildren they were blessed with…the dream was gone now.
For Don, it was almost the same. Sure, he knew his parents' hopes for grandchildren and always assumed Charlie would definitely be the first to deliver. Yet he always expected she would be there to welcome any new addition to the family. But she wouldn't be. As the machines recorded their last signs of life, Don realized his mother would never be part of their lives again. His empty stomach churned.
"Don…" his father whispered.
There wasn't much either could say. Between the two, they had been most aware of what their wife and mother was experiencing. During the day Alan spent what time he could with his wife, and, when Don could manage, he would drop by the hospital and spend time with his mother. He would tell her about his cases, keeping the most gory and classified parts to himself. Yet he suspected perhaps through the years she had lived she knew what he was omitting.
Perhaps what Alan and Don felt most guilty of was not pushing Charlie to visit. For some reason unbeknownst to either, Charlie Eppes, math prodigy and youngest professor at CalSci for applied Mathematics refused to see his mother in the hospital. For the last three months of her life he had been sequestered in the family home's garage, working on one of the world's seven unsolvable problems, P. vs .NP. Yet when she was able, Margaret told neither to worry or to blame Charlie for what he was doing.
Even though neither would fully understand, and it would take some time for Don to accept Charlie's actions, both Alan and Don promised to leave Charlie alone, except to make sure he slept and ate. She knew how her youngest son's mind worked, though she herself would never fully understand one hundred percent, what she knew was enough to guide him through life as best she could. And, whether it was because she was a woman or not, she always knew when it was best to let her son, or anyone else, be.
With the last blips and beeps of the monitors, the doctors attending to Margaret Eppes turned off the machines. Don and Alan remained by her side until an attending doctor handed Alan the final paperwork.
Don filled it out after taking it from his father's still fingers. The elder Eppes was numb from the passing of his wife, his sons' mother. While Don felt like he could plunge into the numbness alongside his father, he knew he couldn't. Maybe there would be a time for him to mourn later…
Right. Who was he kidding? Once he was sure his father and brother were able to function without their mother's presence, he would be working his cases as if he'd only transferred in to Los Angeles from Albuquerque, New Mexico. That was when his mother was still able to function without much assistance. He only returned home because she was starting to exhibit signs of her limitations and the emotional turmoil it was starting to take on the family was too much for Alan or Charlie to handle.
Truth be told, Don hadn't really wanted to return. He had finally found his life in "the land of enchantment." He only proposed to his girlfriend Kim three weeks before he learned of his mother's cancer. She had yet to really say yes or no, but with the news of Margaret's illness, she understood why Don could not wait for her answer. She had always been old-fashioned when it came to romance.
"I'll let you know as soon as I can," Kim promised.
"You better," Don replied, wondering slightly if maybe this would be the last time they spoke as a couple. He gave her one last kiss before getting into his car and driving west.
There were moments when Don wondered if he could have remained in New Mexico, gotten Kim's answer, and still his brother and father would have been okay. Where was it written that, "Family comes first"? Just because someone decided to create and raise the next generation, did it really mean the children were beholden to their elders? Don and Charlie, like many others, had been taught to believe so. And given how their mother raised them, how could they do anything else?
The funeral for Margaret Eppes was simple. Alan, Charlie, and Don invited only those they knew the best to the memorial service. While each one said something about their wife and mother, their words were brief, just as the words of those who wanted to say something afterwards honoring her memory.
Death was a funny thing. Though sad and tragic, there was not much to be said. What could be said in a moment where one was remembered? Not much, really. When Don and his father returned home after the machines were disconnected, the expressions on their faces let Charlie know that Margaret was gone. Only Don remained in the garage as the chalk dropped from the young professor's hand and he sank to the floor.
Don saw his brother's shoulders start to shake. For a moment Don thought he would have to choose between his brother and father. Fortunately…or not, depending on how one wanted to view the moment, Alan returned. He had heard his youngest son's cries and came to comfort him as best he could. Glancing at Don he went and pulled Charlie to his feet and then guided him over to the futon. Don joined them a moment later, the tears he had been holding back forming in his eyes; still he did not let them fall.
A few hours later the Eppes men decided to go to bed. Everything else they would have to deal with, or say, could take place in the morning. This included the service, the mourning period, etc.
Even though the three would bury their wife and mother on an early September morning, they would finally be able to mourn years later as a particular country song by Diamond Rio, caught completely by accident, was heard on the radio.
"God only cries for the living,
For it's the living, that is left to carry on."