I’m writing you from a Hilton in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was an overnight flight from Seattle and I was uncharacteristically unable to sleep. I got maybe 90 minutes.
I went to the Admirals Club lounge and sat in the same chair from 7:30 a.m. until 3:00 when Matt Valego picked me up. He drove me here and, after a half-hour’s conversation (where I demonstrated why he needs to get Otter.ai and TapeACall; he was convinced), I got about 45 minutes sleep before showering and going to a client dinner.
Mom called during appetizers. I heard her distinctive ring.
I turned to Mike. “Should I get this?”
I hadn’t talked with her in two days (a long time for us) so I thought I’d say hi and remind her where I was.
In fact, I flipped on FaceTime to show here our “boardroom table” at the family-style restaurant.
She said something like, “Don’t worry. I’m home from the hospital all day.”
And I was, like, “What?!“
I couldn’t figure out how to switch back to phone mode so I hung up and immediately phoned back.
She didn’t answer until I was sure I was going into voicemail.
“Joey, I thought today was my last day on Earth.”
I hung on her every word.
Mom is 87 and in “perfect health.” She just returned from 10 days in the Caribbean with my eldest sister and family. A mild reaction to the drinking water was the big event.
“I started coughing and I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t breathe. It was uncontrollable.”
“You were there by yourself?!” I knew the answer was yes. She lives alone with her five-pound dog, but I was trying to envision exactly what happened: Was she in bed? In the kitchen? Choking on food? What?
No, none of these.
“I had taken a shower, taken my pills, was getting dressed and I just started coughing.” She told me it went on for almost 20 minutes.
“I was constricted. I couldn’t breathe. I asked God, ‘Is this the day, God?’ I was scared.”
“My phone doesn’t recognize my fingerprint so I had to key in my code and I called Carolyn, who called 9-1-1 when I told her I couldn’t talk.”
The conversation continued for another 10-15 minutes as my eating and drinking friends continued in the next room, oblivious to the situation.
Shaken, not stirred.
Mom was perfectly fine now. Think of it as though she was choking on a chicken bone. It got loosened 10 hours ago. Now’s she’s home watching television. Everything’s fine.
But as I paced in the restaurant lobby, I realized: If she had died today, I would have been able to handle it.
But I would have been numb. Surprised. Distraught. Empty.
And I said to her, “I’m not ready to say goodbye to you yet.”
I thought about how she’s coming over for Thanksgiving. We already have the tickets. What do you mean, ‘she almost died today?’
I was filled with this great sense of love and appreciation for her.
This surreal conversation was as though she returned from the dead to personally inform me how she passed.
I said, “I know we typically end our conversations with a common ‘I love you,’ but I really love you.”
And I hung up.
And I went back to the dinner table where everyone was talking, sharing personal photos, having an appetizer and a drink.
And I sat there, feeling like an island in a sea of people.