A couple months ago, I wrote about my 'first mother', and the recent downturn in her health. Just recently, she had moved back to Michigan, so she could be closer to family members who could look after her much more easily than when she lived 1000 miles away.
Last week, we got a call from one of her nephews, inviting us to a surprise 88th birthday party for her, scheduled for yesterday (her actual birthday is today). Which we were really looking forward to, never having met any of her nephews, and of course, we haven't seen her for a few years, either. But then we got another call on Friday, saying that she'd taken ill and gone to the hospital. It seemed like no big deal, but the birthday party was called off.
Then yesterday, we got another call, saying that her health had deteriorated significantly, that she was in a 'critical zone', and within the next 24-48 hours, we would have some idea as to whether or not we might be planning a funeral later this week. The speed with which things had gotten to that point was a bit shocking. So, we decided we needed to drive down to see her, since it could possibly be for the last time.
Our four oldest kids all had personal memories of her, and wanted to come with us to see her, so we borrowed a minivan from friends of ours, so we could all travel together, since our cars are all small, and could only carry five people at most (and not very comfortably, if all five are adults).
We were finally ready to leave around mid-afternoon, and we all piled into the minivan and hit the road. We hadn't even gotten outside the city limits of OurTown, and I was still 'getting the feel' of the unfamiliar vehicle, driving in the left lane, when the vehicle in front of us (a black Avalanche, if anyone cares) suddenly put on its brakes. Hard. I stepped on the brake pedal, and it was instantly apparent that I wasn't going to be able to stop before rear-ending the Avalanche, so I veered left, onto the paved shoulder of the freeway, to miss him.
When I got onto the shoulder, I suddenly saw what had caused the Avalanche to brake - a red Honda Civic in front of the Avalanche had braked suddenly, and was turning into an emergency turnaround, so as to head back in the opposite direction. So, when I veered onto the shoulder, the Civic was also on the shoulder, a couple car-lengths in front of us - still not enough room for me to bring the minivan to a stop before I hit the Civic. So, leaving the pavement, I took the minivan onto the freeway median.
At this point, I was mainly trying just to hit the Civic at an angle, with a 'glancing' impact, rather than T-boning directly into the driver-side door (even though the idiot probably had it coming). It was a foregone conclusion that there was going to be a collision; I was just trying to make it as non-catastrophic as possible. A road sign announcing that the cut-through was for 'Emergency Vehicles Only' passed within inches of my window as we dipped down onto the median, then up-and-over the turnaround lane. Evidently, the driver of the Civic saw enough of what was happening that he stopped before turning fully into the cut-through, so we found ourselves back down on the median, on the far side of the cut-through, having somehow missed the Civic completely.
We were still going somewhere around 50 mph, and fortunately, the weather was cold enough that the median was frozen, and not a mud bog, so I was able to angle back over, and popping over the snowbank (it was not at all clear that we wouldn't roll the minivan in the course of attempting to pop over the bank), we got back onto the freeway, virtually as if nothing had happened. For several seconds, the six of us sort of looked around at each other, as if to say, "What just happened here?" And when the realization set in that we were all okay, and the minivan was okay, and we were still on our way to Detroit, suddenly everyone was talking at once, in high-pitched, excited voices.
Behind me, I heard two 'clicks' - 3M and 4M hadn't had their seat belts buckled. 3M was sitting in the middle seat, directly aligned behind the 'gap' between the two front seats, occupied by Molly and me. If we'd had a collision, he'd have been catapulted directly into (and possibly through) the windshield. 4M was seated behind me - he'd have been slammed into the back of the driver's seat (where I was sitting), possibly breaking my neck as he flew into me. And somewhere along the line, it occurred to us that our four youngest kids came very close to being orphans in those few seconds. . .
But somehow, miraculously, we completely avoided a collision. The entire episode might have taken 3-4 seconds, and we were back on the road as if nothing had happened. Our guardian angels earned their pay in those 3-4 seconds. . .
We did get to the hospital safely. My mother was heavily sedated and sleeping when we got there. We got to sit by her bedside for a while, speaking into ears that couldn't hear us, but still we said things that we needed to say to her - 'Thank you', mostly, and 'I love you'. It is, of course, sad to see someone whom you've only ever known to be in robust good health, suddenly clinging to life, with various tubes passing in and out of her. I don't know if she could hear us; but I can hope that, in whatever deep and hidden way, I was able to speak to her one more time; perhaps the last one.
It was very gratifying to meet her nephews - her late second husband's brother's sons (four of the five of them were present together, and two of their wives), and to trade stories of how we'd known her. They mostly knew nothing of her life in the years before she'd married their uncle, and so were glad to hear me tell them what I could about those years of her life, and they had some fun stories from the years in between when she'd left my dad, to when we were reunited, more than 20 years later. It was a warmly friendly time, and I am so grateful that we could meet (although, as is always said of such things, it might have been nice if we could've met in more pleasant circumstances; but then, why would we?)
So, perhaps my 'first mother's' time in this life will be coming to and end soon. But even if so, I'm at least glad that I could see her one more time before she leaves.
As bizarre as it might seem, yesterday was actually the second time our family had a vehicular near-miss while traveling to meet my 'first mother'. Seventeen years ago, in the spring of 1992, Molly and I and the four children we had at the time (along with 5M 'in the oven') drove down to stay with her and her husband for a part of spring break. We were traveling southbound somewhere on I-95; traffic was heavy, and flying - thousands of northern college students had similar ideas to ours of heading to the warm weather for spring break.
At one point, while we were driving in the left lane, in the course of doing a regular scan of my mirrors, I noticed that there was a small gap in the traffic just behind us, in the right lane; I remember thinking to myself that it was a possible 'escape route' if I needed one.
And almost instantly, I did. The vehicle right in front of us (I don't remember what it was, but it was a gold-colored compact) suddenly did a nose-down panic stop. There was absolutely no time, nor space, to bring our car (our old minivan) to a stop before rear-ending the car ahead of us. So, hoping that the 'gap' that I'd just recently noted in the other lane was still there, I cranked hard on the steering wheel, hoping that (a) I'd miss the car in front of us, and (b) some other car hadn't filled the 'gap' in the last few seconds.
I don't know how it happened, but we missed that collision, probably even more narrowly than the one we missed yesterday. Molly and I both had the same reaction - in our minds, we 'heard' the collision, so convinced were we that we were going to crash.
But we didn't crash, and I think between the two of us, and the occupants of the car we'd just narrowly missed, there could hardly have been any people in the eastern United States more surprised to find themselves still moving down I-95 at 75 mph. Driving side-by-side now, we looked at each other with identical 'what just happened?' expressions.
Of course, there remained the question of what had precipitated the whole thing in the first place. As I pulled alongside the gold car, I saw the car that had been in front of him, peeling across the wide median, throwing a rooster-tail of dirt 15-20 feet in the air, trying like mad to get over to the northbound lanes. I wondered what had provoked such a precipitous response from him, until I saw a state trooper sitting on the median-shoulder of the freeway, about a quarter-mile further on. Apparently our hero was eager not to be seen by the police. I'm not sure that peeling out across the median, throwing up a huge dirt rooster-tail behind himself, was the most effective strategy in that regard, but he certainly gave it his best shot.
I'm not sure what connection there could possibly be between going to see my 'first mother' and vehicular near-misses, but it is at least amazingly coincidental that we've had two incredible close calls (and with the same six people in a minivan both times), both while on the way to see her.
And we've apparently got some very capable guardian angels. . .