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Moldy Bread

During Megan Carle’s three decades at Nike, she held various positions across Footwear, Apparel, Equipment and Golf. In 2016, after leaving Nike, Megan started writing and founded Carle Consulting LLC which provides strategic marketing advice to consumer products companies in need of cross functional partnership. Her writing led to a book about how she confronted corporate bullying with the unexpected tools of grief, loss and love. It is currently in the hands of a literary agent who is shopping it for publication.

My work-study job at USC gives me the distraction I need to take my mind off Mom’s condition. It is a coveted position. If I show those in charge that I know what I’m doing and have a great attitude, I will be promoted to host alumni tours that happen on an almost daily basis.

There is a cool uniform for the tour guides to wear and my chances of meeting well-known alumni, even celebrities and athletes is high. Plus, if I get chosen to do the tours, I will certainly run into the current great athletes on campus, especially the female basketball players I idolize—Cheryl Miller, the McGee twins, Pam and Paula, and my favorite, the general, Cynthia Cooper.  The work is easy, the staff nice, the building beautiful and, after only a couple of weeks on the job, I feel right at home, almost as if I could forget about—

“Megan, you have a phone call,” my boss says to me. She is white-haired, efficient, and lovely; she allows me to use her office to take the call. It’s my dad.

“Megan, you need to get home; Mom’s not doing well.”

His voice sounds thick and for a split hopeful second I think he means his mom, my Grandma Sissie, and I wonder what this has to do with me in my great new job at my shiny new school in my fabulous new life. Then I realize he means my mom.

There I am, back on that familiar flight home, LAX to Spokane, the same flight I had just made 10 days earlier. A family friend picks me up.

“Megan, the doctors are giving your mom a ninety percent chance of not making it through the night,” he says as he drives.

I swallow hard.

“Thank you for telling me that.”

My mind is as blank as the Spokane darkness passing me by.

When I arrive at Deaconess Hospital, I am rushed to Mom’s room. Neil meets me outside. He is crying.

“Mom’s not doing so good, Megan.”

I think to myself, We’ll see about that. I walk into her room with Neil following. She has something lodged in her mouth, a respirator, I’m told, to help her breathe, and she is alert enough to know that I am there. She squeezes my hand “hello” and raises her perfectly shaped eyebrows, the ones I inherited, at me. I hug and kiss her and look into her pretty green eyes.

I take Neil into the hallway.

“I think she looks pretty good. She’s just tired. She looks exactly the same as last week at Grandpa’s funeral. She’s just lying down.” I repeat for emphasis—or to convince myself, “She’s just tired.”

I return to her too-bright room, now taking in the machines standing guard around her with their tentacle-like chords connecting themselves to her, the assault of “hospital smell” forcing me to sit in a chair next to her bed as my knees slightly buckle. I hold her hand and just look at her. I cannot let myself believe that my world is about to come crashing down on me. Cannot and will not. How did we get to this point? Mom told me she would be OK. She would get treatment and then be as good as new. I still believe her.

She is so small, lying there in her thin, worn hospital gown. I look at her and stroke her head, covered in a soft cap for warmth. Our roles are now reversed. I scratch her palm to remind her of our code, of our life, and of me sitting there. She holds my hand and I know I must ground her in her fight, so I proceed to recite the entire National Lampoon’s Vacation movie that we had just seen the previous summer in an attempt to get a reaction out of her.

“You enjoy throwing up every five minutes, Claude?” I say in my best rummy “Aunt Edna” voice, channeling Imogene Coco.

“Clark.”

“I thought so.”

I won’t let Mom drift away from me and am confident that humor and my own resolve will keep her with me. She raises her eyebrows at my impersonations and squeezes my hand; it’s all I need to keep going.

*****

As for that ninety percent chance of not making it through the night, Mom is always about the ten percent. She is always the best daughter, the best student, the best teacher, the best wife, the best cook, the best hugger, the best hand-holder, the best friend and the best Mom. An over-achiever, she is still alive the next morning, though now with her eyes closed, unconscious.

Neil and I pull up chairs and sit on either side of her. Triad intact. Neil holds her left hand. I hold her right.

“We love you, Mom!” we all but scream, watching the monitor show her responding. Over and over: We love you, Mommm…we love you, Mommmm…don’t go, Mommmm…not yet, Mommmm!” Our voices are like children’s—Mommmm, where are my socks? Mommmm, what’s for dinner?”—as if, because our universal kids’ plea speaks to her unfailing ability to pull through for us, she will do just that: pull through. Answer. Not leave us.

The monitor’s spikes suggest exactly what she had explained to me just a couple of months prior—the truest part of who she is, Mom, is still hanging in there, fighting, listening to our voices. Just like she always has. She’s putting herself last. Just like she always has.

Remembering “bread gets moldy from the outside in,” I realize we have to change course. We need to think of her. What she needs. Permission. Something to alleviate her fear that she is somehow letting us down.

“It’s OK to go,” I say while Neil sobs. “It’s OK, Mom. We will be OK. We love you.”

It’s as if we’re relieving her of her “mom duties” that she has worn so well for us. In that moment, I see what she had described. The physical leaves us, and then her soul. Gone.

Just like she’d explained to me.

With those words—“We will be OK”—the entire room changes. Everything seems to relax and grow quiet.  and then our sweet mom with her frosted white fingernails and her burgundy toes, is finally at peace. No more “it gets worse before it gets better.”

Inhaling a sob, Neil runs from the hospital room, unable to release himself fast enough from its confines. I sit with her for a bit, still in complete disbelief that my larger-than-life mom is gone. But the proof is right there. She lies still. The machine is quiet. I just kiss her some more and tell her some more how much I love her just because I know that moldy bread might still have a bit of freshness in the very, very center and I need her to hear me one last time. “I love you, my forever mom. I love you.”

And, so, six weeks after her first diagnosis, Mom is gone. She is forty-five years old.

A social worker comes in to the room to see if she can be of any help, if I want to talk. I tell her I do not. I leave and walk home from Deaconess Hospital, having watched my mom breathe her last breath. It’s a crisp, clear autumn October 20th morning in Spokane, a Thursday. The kind of day that is perfect for raking leaves, playing touch football in the yard or jumping into the car with your favorite mom who has just asked, “Who wants to see us today, Megan Ann?” Not today. No one gets to see us today.

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