When it’s Your Time to Go

When it’s Your Time to Go


The day began with visiting the funeral home with my sister and niece. We’d been spending the past several days tag-teaming it, caring for mom during her hospice days. Now, we sat at a round table in a room and discussed the details of her service to be held in two weeks. I mostly just listened. The funeral director excused himself for a few moments, and while he was out, my sister asked me if I knew about Grace’s flowers. I didn’t.


Family friends for many years, Grace and Leonard had visited my mom two days before she passed, and Grace brought a vase containing three roses.


“You know those three roses Grace brought over the other day?”


I nodded.


“The day mom died, the flowers died. They were fresh the day she brought them over and they should have lasted a whole lot longer. But all three drooped over when mom passed.”


I heart-gulped.


The funeral director returned and the four of us got into the stretched-out golf cart and visited the spot on the lawn where mom would be laid to rest, the same cemetery where Grandma Josephine and Grandpa Pete were buried.


I hugged my sister and niece goodbye. It’s pretty beautiful how going through pain with someone can make a bond so much tighter. Shared pain can be glue.


After exactly one week in Oakdale, I found my way from the funeral home to the 99 Hwy and began heading south toward home. It was as though the people at Sirius XM could read my heart. Every song that played mentioned something about loss or was somehow apropos. This one was “Bonnie & Clyde”:


Don’t matter where you’ve been
You jump into the water and you’ll come out clean
Don’t matter where you’ve been
You jump into this water and you’ll come out clean

So we might as well say
What’s on our minds
‘Cause there’s no way to know
When it’s your time to go
When it’s your time to go
There’s no way to know

Don’t matter where you’ve been
You jump into the water and you’ll come out clean
Don’t matter where you’ve been
You jump into this water and you’ll come out clean


The day before, my dad had taken me on a hot, three-hour tour on his Kubota—his favorite mode of travel these days. Riding on his Kubota out on the ranch has long been his soul-happy place. Dad’s German Shepard Foxy trotted loyally alongside dad’s side of the Kubota. As he chauffeured me around the orchard, he’d sidle up within arm’s reach of a tree and pull down an almond. He’d hand it to me to crack and eat the raw nut. He did the drive-by almond plucking several times until we got to his neighbor’s property where he has long had total access and can glean whatever produce he wants. We putt around there and picked blackberries before we made our way down to the river.


Side by side in his wheels, we sat at the river’s edge. I hadn’t been down here since I was a kid. Soft words about mom came from dad’s lips as we watched Foxy cool himself in the river. And there were spaces when we were just quiet. I waited for cues. Because I know nothing of losing a spouse, let alone one of seventy years.


Fishermen in a silver boat waved to us.


It was holy time. I was on sacred ground.


It wasn’t planned, but as the song goes, we literally went down to the river and prayed.


I thought of the day my dad took fifteen-year-old me down to the river and baptized me. I walked into that water and came out clean.


Now heading down the 99 toward home, I passed within ten feet of a fire that had ignited in the towering bushes on the median. Even though the fire was raging, it must have just started because fire trucks hadn’t yet arrived. I watched the flames in my rearview mirror. I noticed that the outside temperature read 99 degrees. It was 99 on the 99. My heart was a little on fire, too.


Just south of Fresno and north of Traver, I heard a muffled rattle from my engine as the AC seemed to be sputtering before it crashed. That’s when I saw a red engine light. This was my first warning about the day’s series of unfortunate events. I don’t know much about cars but I do know that the only red on that car should be the outside paint. While I drove (don’t judge) I texted a photo of the red light and sent it to john. We talked and he confirmed that my car was overheating and that I should pull over as soon as possible. I concurred.


Exiting the highway, I had a sinking feeling that my car wasn’t going to make it up and over the top of the grade in order to make the left to go over the freeway and to the familiar spot where Bravo Farms and a couple of gas stations were situated. I dreaded that I might stall in the exiting traffic, so I said a little C’mon God prayer.


My little engine that could made it up and over the hill.


No shade to be found, I parked near the stations and next to Bravo Farms.  I dialed John to strategize. We decided I should let the car rest for half an hour or so to see what happens when I start it up again. In the meantime, he would be on the phone trying to locate a mechanic or find some help for me. John is my life concierge. We agreed that I should just go into Bravo Farms and get a snack while the engine cools down. I did think that French fries and a glass of wine might be nice.


Schlepping my computer backpack and everything else that should not sit in the sweltering car, I went inside the restaurant. I saw that my phone juice was running low and that the Mophie charger was dead, which made no sense at all since it had a full charge when I left mom and dad’s house that morning, and I hadn’t used it. I decided to plug my cell into my laptop to charge it as I dined, but when I did that, an error message popped up on my Mac alerting me that I needed some sort of freaking update before I could use it to charge my phone. I didn’t have the bandwidth to tackle anything technical and so I closed the lid and guiltlessly ate my heavily salted fries and drank an extremely stingy pour of Cab.


A half an hour later, I left the restaurant and started the engine. The light quickly pegged red again. Since we’d last spoken, John had made contact with the owner of a tire shop down the dusty street who said he thought he could help me. The owner wasn’t at the tire shop at the time, but he’d contacted his employee, Ruben and Ruben would take a look. Ruben wasn’t a mechanic, but he knew a little something. John advised to go ahead and drive it there since it was within a mile.


Although it had no visible sign outside, I found Navarro’s Truck Tire Service. Those piles of tires were a dead give-way. (I refuse to make a pun about being tire-d. Not the time.)


Since English was not his first language, I didn’t catch everything Ruben said, but I did get that I should walk down the road and buy antifreeze, which I did. After he poured ¼ of the jug, he realized that what he was pouring was intended for a semi-truck, certainly not a teeny MINI. He said I should go back and get the other kind (there were two selections in the store, and I chose the wrong one, apparently). I brought the new one back to him and he said that was the wrong one too, and that I should go back and try and get a refund. After I did that, I was to walk farther down the road in the thousand-degree heat to the 76 Station because they’d probably have a better selection. So schlepping even more items from my car to carry in an effort to rescue them from the heat, I returned to the first store and stood at the counter with a sign at eye level, the one I did happen to notice the first time: “All sales final. Absolutely no returns.” I stated my case to the cashier and he pointed to the sign. I pleaded because it just seemed so wrong. I almost told him my mom had just died. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say there’s nothing more I can do, ma ‘am.


“Can you ask someone else?”


He motioned to the other guy and the other guy looked at me and nodded kindly to me as if to say, “I can see this is very important to you, ma ‘am.”


I lost count of how many times I walked that stretch of road back and forth gathering an increasing amount of heat-sensitive items from my car, passing the same group of people sitting outside a smoke shop enjoying a lovely lunch in the thousand-degree heat. From the 76 Station where I eventually purchased a more suitable anti-freeze, the lovely cashier said you have a nice day and I audibly said it’s far too late for that.


And then I thought of all the times I saw my mom look out the kitchen window and say, “It’s going to be a nice day.”


I knew that Ruben was a kind man selflessly neglecting his own work at the tire shop for little ol’ me. I had asked him early on if he was busy and he shyly nodded. But Ruben wasn’t too busy for me. I stuffed the one hundred dollar bill that I keep in my wallet for emergencies into Ruben’s shirt pocket. Technically, this was an emergency. Ruben was a godsend not because he fixed my broken car, but because his kindness was helping fix my broken heart.


I made several other friends in that dirt parking lot—more Navarro’s employees and a few others from the construction site next door who came over to talk about my plight and to see if they could help.  At different times, several walked over and handed me a bottle of cold water. They all offered not-their-first-language suggestions, one even said God bless you verbally. I felt a God bless you from those who didn’t even say the words. One told me to keep my chin up, to hang in there. I didn’t get all their names, but we did get a selfie. In it, you can see me all shimmery in sweat.


Buying and filling the reservoir with the (correct ) coolant (this is another word for antifreeze) was part of an overall strategy to determine how bad our problem was. The test, it seemed, was to see if the gauge still pings red even after filling it with the cool juice.


It only took a minute for the meter to go red again, and so collectively we (John along with my compadres) determined I needed to call AAA and be towed.


My cell phone was dangerously close to death. For some reason, the ignition accessory mode wouldn’t let me charge. And I couldn’t leave the car in order to charge it in my friend’s tire shop or any other business, because AAA could show up anytime.


The tow truck arrived, the driver loaded my car onto the bed of the semi-semi, and I climbed up into the passenger seat up high in the sky along with my ever-increasing heat-sensitive, possibly ruined items. I feared for the life of my laptop mostly. As you can tell, it survived. (So far. I’m not home yet.)


We arrived at the Visalia mechanic where it had closed just 6 minutes before. We knew that we likely would not make it before closing time, so I was given instructions to fill out a form and leave the key in the dropbox, and of course, leave my MINI so that they could take a look in the morning. I unloaded all of my luggage and bags + the aforementioned heat-sensitive items and set them on the concrete next to the lockbox.


My next task was to call for an Uber to take me to the hotel that my concierge had arranged. Par for the course, my app failed to work several times, and then finally, it did. Which was nice.


As I waited for the Uber, I decided it might be smart to consolidate all of my loose items from my car into the large suitcase that did have a little extra space. And what a relief it was to see that my bag of tomatoes dad had given me had not yet morphed into spaghetti sauce from the extreme heat, which I’d left in the car. I’d thought the delicious tomatoes might just have to be sacrificed because the absurdity of carrying tomatoes back and forth on that stretch of road just seemed plain silly. Even for me.


I could see from across the empty parking lot that the white KIA Uber had pulled up to the curb. I found it curious that he didn’t feel the need to pull into the driveway to meet me where I stood. I know he saw me. Clearly, he was not budging, so I gathered my two duffle bags, my massive, now super-duper heavy suitcase, my Steve Madden shopping bag with toiletries and various sundries and my bag of tomatoes and approached the Uber. I heard the click of the trunk latch. The driver’s body wasn’t budging. I guess he felt I was perfectly capable. And he was right. I awkwardly hefted the massive, weighted luggage into the small, leftover spaces of his trunk. I filled in the little gaps with my duffle bags, Steve Madden shopping bag, and in-tact tomatoes.


After a few miles, I realized I didn’t have my cell phone and asked the non-budging driver to please budge back to the mechanic. He obliged. I was delighted to see that it was still there, on top of the lockbox. So that was a plus.


With my beloved MINI’s 111K + miles and eighteen years, I have to say, I’ve been seeing this coming. Like Grace’s flowers, my MINI may just have come to the end of the road. Just too sad to imagine a world without my mom in it. Time to go home.


Jean Ciarolla—the only mom I ever knew—was my primary role model. My first VIP. I’ve always known that in many ways, my identity has been tied up so much into what my mom did for me at 18 months old when she brought me home—that ginormous thing she did. It’s impossible to explain…and likely so hard for a reader to understand this weird idea…but it’s as though that ginormous thing had a body like it’s an entity. Like it’s a beating heart: the thing we had, that no one else can fully know. The very thing my mom and I shared. What happens to that ginormous beating heart when hers has stopped? Is that gone too?


Even though I believe she was already unstained by the world (James 1:27), now she’s even more pristine, she’s completely spotless.  Mom jumped into that water and she’s come out clean.