Monday, June 20, 2011

A Tale of Two Calls

As Debbie knelt down and placed two long stem roses…one white and one red, into the rectangular hole on top of the two urns, it was finally over. What had started five years earlier with a phone call while I was in prison was ending in a way that I had never expected.

It was early June in 2006 and I remember the announcement that came across the “yard” as I was walking back from my job assignment in the chapel.

“Patrick Lyons, report to your counselor’s office immediately.”

I didn’t often hear my name broadcast over the PA system and my heart quickened when I heard my name called. I walked into the unit and took a quick right and knocked on the counselor’s door. She looked up and motioned me to sit down.

“Do you have a brother named Geoffrey Lyons”, she asked.

My mind raced as I told her that “yes, I did” and she reached over and picked up the phone and started dialing without saying another word. I sat quietly and watched, wondering what was going on. A moment later she handed me the phone and I listened. After a couple of rings, I heard my younger brother’s voice on the other end.

I asked if everything was OK and he briefly told me that our mom had been moved to hospice and the doctors gave her less than two weeks to live. I was dumbstruck for a moment. I knew that mom was in the nursing home but had no idea that her health had been failing. I asked a few questions as the counselor sat quietly across the desk…watching and listening. He said that he would call when she had passed away and wondered if I would be able to make it home for the funeral. I told him that I would look into it and let him know.

We hung up and I quietly handed the phone back to the counselor. She said that we was very sorry and that if Geoff called back, she would let me know immediately and see what my procedures would be to get a short-term release from prison to go to my mom’s funeral. It became apparent very quickly that I would not receive permission from the prison to go home and in my mind, I accepted the fact that I would never see my mom again.

Days turned to weeks and weeks to months as mom got better. When I was released from prison 14 months later, she was back in the nursing home. The doctors had adjusted her medications and she had regained her strength. When I visited her when I got back, she never did recognize me. She would smile and appreciate the fact that “a nice man” was coming to visit and would smile and giggle when I would give her a kiss good-bye. When I visited with Geoff, he would tell her that “Mark” was her to visit and she would smile and nod, but there was never a glimmer of recognition.

Mom went into hospice again last month. As I was leaving work for lunch two weeks ago today, my phone rang and it was Geoff. I asked how he was doing and he said that he had just received a phone call from the nursing home.

“I got a message from the nursing home to call them. Mom passed away at 5 minutes to twelve today”, he said quietly. I could hear the pain, and a little anger in his voice…not only from the loss but the way that he had received the news. I asked if he was OK and he acknowledged that he was and said that he would get me more information when he could.
My mind was momentarily numb as I continued to drive. It’s not that it wasn’t unexpected…mom hadn’t been well for a long time. We just weren’t expecting it to be so soon and thought that maybe we would have the opportunity to be with her when her time came. Instead, she simply didn’t wake up for lunch one day.

For the next week, Geoff contacted all of the family members and friends’ of mom that he felt would be interested to know of mom’s passing. Plans were made for the service to take place in Newport, Washington where her ashes would be buried near her mom and her brother and with our dad.

Because the funeral would be across the state and out of my “probation territory”, I made contact with my probation officer to get permission to travel. We visited on the phone and she told me that it wouldn’t be a problem and to get her the paperwork. I mailed it off and waited for the permission form to be mailed back. By the Thursday morning before the Saturday funeral, I began to get a little nervous because the permission slip still wasn’t in the mail. I made a call to my probation officer and left her a message with my concern. When I checked the mail again Thursday night and it wasn’t there, I began to wonder if I would end up missing the funeral after all…even though I was no longer in prison.

I placed a phone call, leaving a message and followed that up with an e-mail from my Blackberry asking my probation officer to contact me. My mind started to process what was happening and I considered calling my sister Deb. She had asked me to facilitate the service and travel to the funeral with her. I knew that she, and the family were counting on me and she was planning to pick me up at work on Friday afternoon. A while later, my cell phone rang and I looked at the “caller ID” and saw that it read “unidentified number”. I answered and it was my probation officer on the other end.

“I just got your e-mail. When is the funeral?” she asked. When I told her that it was on Saturday, she apologized and said that she thought it was the following week. She said she would process the request first thing in the morning and asked if she could send it by e-mail when it was completed and I told her that would work great and thanked her as she hung up.

I finally received the permission just before noon on Friday and I put everything in my luggage in the car with the notes that I’d prepared for the service. My sister arrived in the early afternoon and after an overnight stay at Geoff’s, we made the 350 mile trip across the state to mom’s final resting spot.

The rain danced softly on the roof of the canvas tent as each of us said our good-bye to mom. It was a small group…ten of us in all as we sat and listened. An occasional tear would fall from someone’s eyes as stories were related about mom and letters of farewell and love read aloud. After a final song of “I’ll Fly Away”, we removed the Astroturf covered plywood that covered the small hole and Geoff carefully and gently placed the urns holding mom and dad’s ashes into their final resting place. Debbie knelt down and placed two long stem roses…one white and one red, into the rectangular hole on top of the two urns, and it was over.

Photos by Mark Lyons and Deb Shucka


Deb Shucka said...

Such a bittersweet story. Full circle in so many ways - I found myself thinking about our comment as we followed Frank to the cemetery about going in circles. I hope the weekend, and this writing, helped you get to closure in some way.

I'm so glad Mom didn't die the first time. And even though she didn't ever know you again, what happened for all of us in those five years was more important than I think we even know yet. And the incredible experience we had last weekend would not have happened had she died any sooner than she did.

One of my favorite memories - one that will stay strong in my mind - is how amazing you were as you facilitated our ceremony for Mom. I love that God used one of your many gifts in such a big way at a such a vulnerable time. No accident there.

I love you.

Wander to the Wayside said...

You obviously have the same writing gene as Deb! What a touching journaling of your experience with the death of your mother. So sorry for your loss, though I know from reading Deb's blog that it's been a bittersweet story and experience, indeed.