Mary Louise Gonzalez
January 1, 1933 – August 1, 1988
This is dedicated to my mother whose short life of 55 years touched so many people in so many different ways.
Twenty years ago today my mother died. It was an event that I have largely put outside of my readily accessible memory in favor of letting the past stay where it belongs: behind me. But today marks an anniversary of sorts for me in that it has been exactly 20 years.
I remember that day very well. My mom went to work and I stayed home worrying about the first day of freshman football practice. I had never played football before and actually did not want to play but my brother kept pushing me to join the team so I did. He was a football player growing up and thought it was my duty to carry on that tradition in high school seeing as he did not play high school football himself opting instead to run track.
I cannot remember the events of the day but I do remember the evening. I went to practice, got ran into the ground and came home. It was early afternoon or so, maybe around 4:30. I remember my sister was home with me and as we were chilling in the house my cousin DJ came running through the door screaming something about “Aunt Mary needs help, she can’t walk home.” He was frantic, tired and out of breath from running around the block as fast as he could. My sister, my cousin and I got into the car and headed around the corner.
My mom had decided that afternoon to take us to dinner. When my sister wasn’t home from and I wasn’t home my mom decided should would take my cousin and my nephew David with her instead. So they set out on a walk to the Jade Palace Chinese food restaurant around the corner from my house. They ate dinner and were walking home when my mom discovered that she could no longer make the walk. Sitting down, she sent DJ home to see if my sister could come and pick her up.
We pulled up to where my mom was sitting my nephew. She was crying. We were all scared. In all the years of negative experiences we had had, including the death of my father and my father’s father, I had never seen my mother lose her composure. She had hurt, and she had cried, but she never lost control. The mom I saw sitting there that afternoon was not the mom I knew up to that point.
My sister and I helped her into the car and asked her what was going on. She said that he heart hurt her and that she was really warm. I don’t remember why anymore but we ended up taking her home. I think she had said she didn’t want to go to the hospital or something. Honestly, I don;’t remember that part. But I do remember what happened when we got home.
My mom went to the bathroom because she was burning up. She ended up washing herself with water all over and it was at this time that my sister called 911. The fire crew arrived shortly after that and sat my mom down on the floor with her back against the couch. They started asking her questions as all of us kids were ushered into the kitchen. Paramedics arrived soon after, along with the police (our street was somewhat infamous so the police knew our family pretty well) and all of our neighbors. At this point things got chaotic as friends and neighbors tried to assist us in the middle of the paramedics taking care of my mom.
Then I heard a sentence that has been burned into the whole of my memory: “Code blue, code blue. We have a flat line.”. I had seen enough doctor shows on TV to know what a flat line was. So I looked into the living room where my mom was sitting on the floor just in time to see her head flop back and her eyes, looking at me for a brief moment, roll back. Emergency response personnel went into overdrive.
It wasn’t long before the ambulance was on the lawn and my mom was on a stretcher. The EMTs had been doing exhaustive CPR on her and I believe had her hooked up to a defibrillator at this point (although I cannot say this with certainty). Anyway, they rolled her out to the ambulance as all of the neighbors watched. My sister was hysterical. My nephew, my cousin and I were completely confused. We had no idea what the hell was happening in front of us. My brother was in a rage and ended up in a scuffle with the Newark Police that send an officer through our front window. My brother was subsequently handcuffed and put in the back of a cop car. Things were spiraling out of control quickly now.
In the confusion at home a few of our neighbors told us to take off with the ambulance and that they would take care of the house. We hit the road quickly and showed up at the hospital just behind the ambulance. We were at the emergency room at Washington Township Hospital for I really don’t remember how long. It didn’t feel like very like long though when the doctor came out to talk to us as a family. I still remember the words he spoke. “I’m sorry, we did all we could do but we could not resuscitate him.”
Him? We all looked confused and asked “Are you talking about Mary Gonzalez?”. The doctor, in what was I’m sure an uncomfortable moment for him, replied “Oh, I’m sorry, for her. Sorry about that.”
We were then told that it would be a few minutes before we would be allowed in to say our goodbyes. I think in that time a priest was called as well. I know there was just as much chaos at the hospital as there was at home. And I remember that my brother was dropped off at the hospital by the police after the doctor’s had already pronounced my mother dead and told us about it.
My next memory about the hospital trip was being in the hallway outside of the room where my mother’s lifeless body lay swollen on a table. I went into the room (I cannot remember why) and had a moment of realization that my mom would not be coming home with us. Do you have any idea how weird that is for a 14 year old boy whose whole life was wrapped around his mother? It was devastating. I was crushed. And I was scared.
Looking back now I can see that life moved pretty fast after that. My sister was thrust into being a mom to a 14 year old brother overnight. My brother had some personal demons he needed to face and did that over the course of the next few years. I grew up, went to college for a few years, got married and started raising a family of my own as my brother and sister did.
But looking at that event that changed all of our lives so suddenly at the time it is almost like time stood still for a bit, long enough for us the be etched with the actions and feelings of that time so that we could recall those events however many years later. My kids enjoy hearing stories of their grandparents. Perhaps tonight they will here the story I just told.