The procedure was done the next day. I held her hand as we escorted her to the Laparoscopic Lab, deep in the bowels of the hospital, where the surgery was to take place. A nurse showed me to an empty waiting room and let me know that the surgery should only take about 45 minutes and that someone would be along after the procedure to let me know how it went.
Surgical waiting rooms do not exist in the same space time continuum as the rest of the world. Time seems to move far more slowly. And one of the most perverse laws of physics is that fewer people who are with you the slower time passes. The waiting room was devoid of people as most scheduled laparoscopic procedures take place in the morning. Being by myself, and with no one to have idle conversation and with time creeping by slower than ever recorded on this planet I retreated into my own thoughts.
Dr.Kole had not held out much hope for this procedure. She had seen how messed up Mom’s lungs were. Years of smoking, cancer and radiation therapy had wreaked havoc on her left lung. But I am by nature and training an optimist. I try always to devote myself to positive side of the equation and wait for the shoe to drop before I begin to consider the negative consequences. Worrying about the future without enough data points only served to wind me up like a rubber band while focusing on the positive allowed to press forward without fear. I devoted my thoughts about what was going to happen when the operation was a success. Would Mom need to go to rehab? Likely as she had been in a drug induced fog for the last ten days. She would need patience, time, and monitoring to get her beyond the physiological effects of the drugs. She would need to see a physical therapist and others to coax her back to walking with a walker let alone with a cane or unassisted. This was not something my sister or I could do nor was her home. But she hated the recovery centers. Even the nice ones felt like dormitories of death and she had enough of them the past that I knew she would be resistant to going to one of them. But she was also a keen observer of her own condition. She would agree with rehab and then immediately push to get out. There would be conferences, and squabbles and complaints. However, as she usually did in the end, she would prevail. We would bring her home. If previous times were guides to the future, I would be the one who would have to arrange for the home health care aides, coordinate their schedules, get the equipment needed to sustain her, and be on call 24/7 when things went off the rails.
As daunting as these thoughts were, I found them comforting. Bring Mom home. Mom is home. The base of all emotions when you thought about it.
I looked at my watch 10 minutes had passed. This was going to be a long afternoon.
I tried to distract myself with cleaning up my emails but I soon abandoned it. Facebook proved no better a diversion. It’s incipiency of what I had for lunch, look how smart my dog/cat/kids/spouse or the latest political outrage by the President did not have much relevancy to me at that moment and the idea of sharing with the world my angst over Mom’s procedure seemed contrary to the family code of privacy and stiff upper lip forbearance to life’s trauma. I tried reading but when I found myself reading the same paragraph over and over again I realized that even my greatest weapon against awful thoughts was defeated.
I waited by myself in that lonely waiting room with only NJ1 on the small television in the corner as company furtively looking up anytime anyone walked by in the hallway. The world proceeded at a slow march for nearly 3 hours with each minute lasting at least 10. Finally, Mom’s Dr. came into the waiting room. He had the manner of a fighter who had just lost a decision after battling for 15 rounds. He told me that this procedure normally takes less than an hour, but they had been with Mom for nearly 3. They had tried everything they could to get to the source of the bleeding but her arteriosclerosis and altered lung structure had continually blocked them. They could have pressed harder, but they felt that if they did it would have ruptured a major blood vessel or injured the lung so severely she would have died on the table. They had done their best but they could not help her. Mom would be returned to the ICU and we could discuss next steps with Mom’s attending physician.
But I knew it was over. The ending of the story written except for the details. Mom would be removed from all of the equipment that supporting her life. No more breathing tube. No medications other than those designed to ease her pain and dull her sense of passing. No monitors. She would be moved from the ICU to a single room where she could slip quietly into the good night.
The next morning, they moved mom from the ICU and brought her here to this room overlooking the town in which she had lived for 52 years. I lived the closest, had the least amount of outside demands-my consulting business was home based and my clients paid on results-and it had been my role to be her primary care giver the last seven years, I was left to supervise the move. My sister and brother both promising to show up sometime that afternoon to relieve me and to take some of the burden of the death watch on them.
The move went smoothly. Mom seemed to be relieved that she was free of the paraphernalia of the ICU. Only the canula of 02 remained. However, she was unable to speak. Only croaks and guttural sounds utter from her when she tried. I did my best to understand. Did she want water.” A nod of the head so I left the room to find the pantry where past experience told me they would have an ice machine, water pitchers, cups and straws. I held the cup as she drank a few sips from the cup. When she had her fill, she pushed my hand away. I asked her if she wanted something to eat. Despite the water Unable to speak so she just shook her head. She was trying to ask me something so I took a notebook and a pen and a piece of paper and pen from my backpack and gave them to her in the hopes she could write what she wanted. She could not hold the pen firmly enough to produce anything more than just scribbles. You could see her frustration and mine was bubbling up to mixed with a fair heaping of fear and sadness. It made me feel helpless, ineffectual and stupid that I could not figure out what to do for my mother.
I was saved by the duty nurse who came in as bold as a drill Sargent and started asking Mom a series of questions. As it turned out Mom was uncomfortable. She wanted to be propped up in bed. That she did want something to eat but could not communicate what she wanted. The nurse solved that problem by telling her she could have jello and a little weak tea. Grateful for the nurse I took a chair off the wall and sat opposite Mom’s bed and settled in for my “watch.” As siblings we had agreed that in these closing hours of Mom’s life we would try to leave her alone as little as possible. I knew that meant the burden would fall on me but that was okay. I had promised years before she would never be alone.
The afternoon sun was warm and the combination of sleep deprivation, jet lag, and stress hit me like a mile long freight train and I fell asleep without knowing it sitting in that chair. I woke with the confusion that often comes from falling asleep inadvertently. I didn’t know where I was, the day or the time. And there was this old woman with a familiar face in a dressing gown staring at me. She gawked at me as if it were a miracle that I was there. Her gaze was penetrating and directly at me but at the same time unfocused as though she was both looking at me and through me the same time. It was profoundly creepy especially as this staring was unabated by blinking.
I said “Mom whats up?” And for the first time since we moved her from the ICU she said “Ernie?” Ernie was my father who died in 2012 and whom I resemble strongly despite being 4 inches shorter and lacking an Austrian accent.
“No Mom. It is Paul. Can I get you something?” Instead of responding she continued to stare but I realized after a few moments of this that she was not staring at me. Her eyes were fixed at something beyond me.
My first thought was that she was hallucinating as her medications included among other things Fentanyl and morphine. While I grew up in home where science and the rationally explained was the bible there was a bit of the mystical and the paranormal that creeped in around the edges. I once confided to my father that the night that his mother had died I had dreamt that she had told me where to find a ring that was owned by husband that I had lost months earlier. It was only after retrieving the ring from where it had been lost that I had received the phone call that Grandma had passed. My father told me that he was not surprised. That he always believed that there was something mystical about her. He told me about how when he was a boy spending the summers with his grandmother in Farafeld, a tiny town in the foothills of the alps, far from the mean streets of Vienna where he lived, he could always tell what train she was arriving on by the sound of the whistle. He told me he was never wrong.
Perhaps Dad had come to visit with Mom. Although I thought it unlikely. Not because of the lack of scientific evidence about the paranormal but because I was convinced that in whatever adventure one has after this life, if there was an adventure, that my father would be off exploring that Universe full of the sense of wonder of the new and the interesting that had been his hallmark in life. He would not be burden by the anchors of family. He would assume we would do fine without him and despite the reality that his death had caused a gaping hole in all our lives.
But this was his wife. A woman he was married to for just a few weeks shy of 60 years. A woman whom he enjoyed fighting with but loved fiercely. A woman he once told me “was tougher than you think” but always protected ferociously. A woman he could always be gentle with and with whom he held hands with up until the last. Perhaps he had taken a sabbatical from his adventures to help her make her final journey.
Mom continued to stare at me or beyond me and say nothing. I found it profoundly unsettling and uncomfortable. Made more so by her lack of verbal response. I thought that a distraction might help so I crossed over to her bed and used the control attached to her hospital bed to turn on the television to MSNBC which since the election of Donald Trump had been her go to station. The two shared a common viewpoint on 45 and yelling in agreement with Laurence O’Donnell and Rachel Maddow seemed to help her vent her rage and frustration over the idiocracy of the Trump presidency.
Sadly, the television only broke the silence that hung in the air. My mother continued her staring at me unabated. Despite entreaties, pleas, and exasperated statements she continued to stare at me like I was a revelation. It made me profoundly uncomfortable. It made me want to leave but I stayed because of my promise and the absence of my siblings who were now hours over due to relieve me. I stayed, and buried myself in my computer busy work and then with the endless black hole that is social media. However, despite the distraction I could still feel my mother’s gaze. It along with the stress and anxiety of watching your first and constant fan die made me wish that the dials on my watch would move more quickly and that brother and sister would be there to relieve.
Unfortunately, neither the clock or my siblings schedule were my friends that afternoon. Time seemed to progress at 1/3 speed and the text updates that I received from my sister and brother were those of excuses and explanations on why there were not arriving at the hospital to relieve me. A midafternoon arrival turned into a late afternoon arrival. A late afternoon arrival turned to a stay tuned. A stay tuned turning to early evening.. And Mom’s staring eventually abated when she mercifully fell asleep late in somewhere after the light had faded from the sky.
Despite the relief my mother’s sleep brought me my frustration and my anger grew. Every moment they were overdue I felt additional anger at them both for leaving me with this awful task. I felt abandoned and alone. As time went on without their presence the hurt of the abandonment and their lack of compassion towards me or our mother boiled inside me creating a steam of anger waiting to be vented.
The anger was compounded by the antipathy I felt for my brother from years of his lack of interest in in caring fortwo aging parents. It was active disinterest. Even when begged by both Marissa and myself to do more to help relieve the strain on both she and I his response had ranged from defensive “I call them every day” (he did not) to providing opinions on their care despite his absence. This lack of engagement, apparent caring, this outward appearance had produced long hours coping with my anger and frustration and trying to understand how a brother whom I loved could be seemingly so callous and unfeeling towards siblings and parents. I thought that I had made peace it. Every family it seemed that one person could not deal with the sick and the dying and they left the task to others believing that benign neglect would allow them to avoid the thoughts and the questions these tasks generate.
I have learned over time that ascribing reasons for others behavior is a fool’s errand. All you can hope to do is catalog their behavior and accept it for whatever it happens to be. In this case David had, over a long period of time established that he did not want to deal with illness, death and dying. I knew from my own experience how tough this can be. Seeing someone you love suffer and not be able to do anything about it is one of the most frustrating things you can experience in life. Watching someone you know slowly slide into death is horrifying as you contemplate a world without them and your own mortality. Changing a parent’s diaper is embarrassing and humbling. Visiting a hospital or a nursing home and seeing the countless ways in which the human body is insulted by injury and illnesses and the consequences of them is suitable for a film by Wes Craven.
In my more compassionate moments this had provided me with some peace. Who really wants to deal with those things? That compassion never lasted. Every time I found myself at exhaustions door burned out from caregiving I could not help but resent the fact that my brother had done less than a minimum amount to help. Worse it made me search for a pattern in his behavior that I could chronicle so I knew how to predict his behavior moving forward. Much to my dismay it appeared to me and others who knew him that he lived a life in a narcissistic bubble. It seemed almost everything in his life boiled down to the equation “How will this help David.” If the math did not add up, he did not participate with little apparent thought on how it effected others.
The paramount example of this was the day before my father died. He had chosen to end his life at home after refusing dialysis. Death from kidney failure is as gentle a death as one can hope for in life. The toxins in your body build slowly first causing an alternate consciousness and then coma followed by death. When the hospice nurse had told me that day that is was unlikely that Dad would survive the night. I called my brother and sister and let them know the time was at hand to say goodbye. My sister and brother in law came late in the afternoon and had there goodbyes. My brother, who was vacationing on Block Island, which is 5-hour drive from Summit, chose not to come at all claiming a tennis match and issues with packing. Choosing tennis and packing over saying good bye to a parent who would not know you are there seemed to me a very practical decision when emotion should have won the argument.
In a strange way I actually admired his lack of engagement. I thought it gave him the ability to strive for success in a competitive environment. However, the empathy gene he apparently lacked appeared overly stimulated in me. I could not say no when my parents had asked for help or when I thought they needed it. As a consequence, I had been the primary care giver to my parents during their declining years taking them to the Dr, running errands, listening as they complained, even cleaning my father’s ass when in his final months he became incontinent.
The last was a supremely humbling moment for both father and son. Dad was an exceptionally proud man. He had by sheer effort of will and determination survived the Viennese ghetto of his youth, the 2nd World War to become one of the most renowned men in his field of educational psychology. This man of will was now having to have his ass cleaned by his son. He kept apologizing to me for having to put me through this as he knew how unpleasant a task it was. And it was unpleasant, the image of my father’s ass is easily conjured, but at the time I felt so badly for him having to go through the humiliation of having his diaper changed by his son, that the task itself became mechanical with not a tinge of revulsion. When he told me for the umpteenth time how sorry was for this, I had told him, punning on purpose “it was no big shit, he had changed my diaper” and now “it was my turn.”
It was a bonding moment for us. The act stripping any façade so that the only thing exposed were the two humans underneath which allowed us to love each other all the more. It was an experience I wish I could have shared with my brother. Made him understand what those moments meant to me and to our Dad but he was not present and he never asked. It was an opportunity he missed yet one he will never miss. To me this defined the tragedy of my brother’s absence in our parents final years. He would never know what he missed.
However, this moment the intellectual understanding of what he had lost and what I had gained were today lost in a miasma of anger. I was exhausted. I had gone directly from a 17-hour flight to directly dealing with Mom’s illness and end of life decisions. The contemplation of her demise and all that it entailed had produced far more tossing and turning than sleep. My overtiredness was all the medium needed for the virus of anger and upset to grow. It blossomed into “why had my sibs abandoned me to this death watch alone.” It had budded the feeling sorry flower of “Why am I shouldering this last moments alone?” And the contemplative fear bloom of “What will happen to our family when she is gone? Will we break apart. David taking his part of the family and split away into its own little fiefdom. Will my wife and I be set adrift with no children, no greater family.”
My brain was processing more questions than answers. The pace of those hyperactive fears, trepidations and resentments kept increasing as both brother and sister kept pushing the time for their arrival later and later in the day. 3 became 4. 4 became 5. 5 became 6:30. 6:30 became we will get there when we get there. Meanwhile my mother continued to stare and try to verbalize things that I could not understand. And I kept asking myself, why just one of them could not arrive to spell me. I needed to flee. To forget this awful scene. To be alone with my grief and confusion and get away from my mother’s glare.
When brother and sister arrived together around 7:30 the last inch of fuse had disappeared into the powder keg. The explosion of hurt and dismay on the edge of ignition. I barely said a word to them as I packed my bag but not smart enough to leave well enough alone I tossed out “Nice of you two to arrive together” as I slung my bag over my shoulder and headed for the door. As I had asked for, but had hoped to avoid, my sister took offense to the comment and said aggressively “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I was here all afternoon by myself while you and David were doing who knows what and then you arrive together like you arranged it. I have been here all afternoon by my fucking self and now you walk in like you arranged it.”
“You think that we did this together?”
“If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck. But honestly, I am too tired and not the right frame of mind to talk about it right now. I just want to get the fuck out of here so I can eat something and get some rest before I come back here tonight.”
In truth, my instinctual self, my id, wanted to have a fight. I was hurt and tired and all the autonomic parts of my body were itching for a knock down screaming fight. It would be cathartic and syphon off some of the resentment from that afternoon. But I had learned over time and through many a session with a psychologist that this was almost never a good idea. To say things, do things, in the heat of the moment did not work for me. I said and did things that I would regret long afterword. So I took a beat and said “ Look I am tired and angry. I do not want to get into this now. Let us put a pin it and deal this with later.”
Sadly, my sister has the same temper that I do. Like me, like my brother and father when temper flares it is hard if not impossible to put it out. She said “No I want to deal with this now. By this point we were in the hallway speaking in whispered shouts. My sister accused me of always thinking the worst of people. And I responded with that it was not thinking the worst of anybody it was accepting the facts. That all afternoon they had kept postponing their relief of me almost in unison and that then they showed up together. While that might be just coincidence it does not seem like it to me. It seems arranged and at my expense.”
I guess our conversation was louder than whispers because my brother tried to intervene. He made the mistake of physically trying to push me out of the way and get Marissa back in the room. The animosity I felt for him considering his lack of participation in Mom’s care and his last minute entrance to demonstrate to those who were watching what a good son he was almost pushed me to the boiling point. I wanted to shove him back into the narcissistic bubble in which he lived but managed to keep my shit together enough to just push him back into Mom’s hospital room telling him to “leave us alone” and that he was not needed.
But his presence made me realize how close I was to completely losing my shit. I told Marissa that I was done. There was a reason I did not want to have this conversation now. I was far too emotional and the best thing for me to do was to go home, cool off, and have something to eat before coming back for the overnight shift. When she asked why I was coming back I snapped back “Are you going to stay? Do you really want Mom to die alone?” The rhetorical question unanswered and the heat of my anger losing steam I added in a quieter tone “I promised Mom a long time ago I would never let her be alone and I am not going to break that promise.”
I turned on my heel and left exiting the hospital in the dark of the winter’s night. I spent the short car ride home in a self-righteous anger. Re litigiating all the reasons that I was on the side of the angels with this argument. It was no coincidence they showed up together. It was typical of David to come in the last moment to “save the day.” That I had not wanted to argue with Marissa. That she had picked a fight when it would have been far better for her to have left it alone. I spent no time realizing that all that all these emotions floating around. All this kerfuffle had little to do with anything but the grief we were all feeling in our own way at the time.
After calling my wife, who was at our home in Brazil and reliving the events of the past 8 hours, and hearing her healing words of support and love, I poured myself a stiff Woodland Reserve bourbon, made myself a comforting Centano’s frozen Eggplant Parmesan dinner and made camp on the couch in front of the television. I hoped that the combination of comfort food, mindless television, and Kentucky’s greatest product would allow me the peace to be able to return to the hospital in a far better spirit than I had left it.
But that did not happen. My brother in law Mark texted me in the role of peacemaker in chief. He wrote that they had spoken to the nurses. That the likelihood of Mom passing during the night was extremely small. That perhaps it would be best if I stayed at home and tried to get as much rest as I could as the upcoming days were likely to be even more demanding the preceding days. I appreciated the common sense in what he was saying and frankly I had no real desire to spend a night trying to sleep while my first fan lay dying a few feet from me. I allowed myself to be persuaded to spend the night in my own bed.
My phone buzzed. The journey of the last few days faded and the reality of today returned. It was a text from Marissa. She and Mark would be at the hospital early in the afternoon. I texted her back that there was no hurry. Mom was sleeping and that after an uncomfortable night, where she had tried to escape her bed and the confines of the hospital, she was peaceful. I did not tell her of my cowardice of removing the drip of snot that was still hanging from her nose nor re examine the lingering anger and shame from our argument from the night before.
I had been at the hospital for three hours. All of that time sitting in an uncomfortable lightly padded hospital chair. My body was screaming to get up and walk around a little bit and my bladder was expressing its need to be relieved of its burden. I got up and stretched and on my way to the bathroom I decided to be a little brave, and touch my mother’s arm, and let her know that I would be right back. But the words never came out. Her arm was cold and when I spent a moment really looking at her I could not see her breathe. I decided that when I finished with my bathroom obligations that I would find a nurse and see if my worst suspicions were realized. There was no hurry.
When I returned from my bio break the charge nurse was there taking Mom’s pulse. She looked at me, shook her head and said “She’s gone.” I nodded my head, returned to my chair and cried like the child I always was to Mom. I cried because I knew how much I would miss her. I cried for the final death of my childhood. I cried from relief knowing that the final shoe had dropped. I cried because I did not know what to do. The nurse, came over to me and put a comforting hand on my shoulder and told me Mom as at rest and that she had gone easily and that was a blessing.
Through snout bubbles and tears and with a strained voice I asked her what happened next. I knew that the hospital had procedures but as my father had died at home, I had no idea what they were. She explained, that before anything could be done that Mom had to be pronounced dead by a Dr. Once that was done the hospital would send a few attendants to take her body to the morgue where it would be our responsibility to have a funeral home come and take care of her body. When I asked how long it would be before the Dr. arrived she told me it depended on his duties but should not be too long. She told me how sorry she was for my loss and with a squeeze on my shoulder she left.
With her departure the tears of self-pity and loss returned with a few gulping sobs for good measure. Eventually I was able to gain control enough to text my siblings. “Mom is gone.”
I called my wife in Brazil. Although my wife and I had only been married 5.5 years Elaine had thought of her as a 2nd mother. She admired the fact that my mother had managed to have a successful career and marriage while she had raised three children without damage. She had also accepted with grace my role as Mom’s primary care giver and embraced the burden it placed on her. She would never leave for Brazil without insisting that we go to my mother’s home for one last beijos and abraco. My wife wears her emotions on her sleeve. When I managed to choke out the reason for my call she burst into sobs and for a while we cried together 5000 miles apart.
I became my mothers shomer. It is the Jewish tradition of watching over the body from the time of death until burial. As most things in the Jewish faith this rite had its origin in the practical. Dead bodies needed to be protected from animals and those who would steal from it but had evolved into the spiritual. Jewish tradition suggests that the soul after death is restless and confused after death and the shomer is there to comfort that soul. It is a role that I had played for my father but that had been at home with the body covered. Here in the hospital it was different. There was no comfort in the familiar surrounding of my parents home of 50 years. Worse my mother’s face lay uncovered. The same single drop of snot hanging from her nose and her mouth agape as if catching one final breath. I knew it was an image that would never leave me and as such I did everything I could to avoid it.
To distract myself I made a mental list of what needed to be done. Which funeral home would take care of Mom’s body? Who was going to call Woodlawn to prepare the gravesite? Who needed to be called to be told of Mom’s death? The million details that need to be untangled upon someone is passing.
My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the Dr. who came to pronounce Mom. He was young and harried and it became apparent that the role of pronouncing someone dead was as much bureaucratic as it was medical. He was followed a checklist. He used his stethoscope to measure breath sounds and then heart beats in several places. He took her pulse and examined her pupils. And then he went through the whole process again.
Finally he looked at me and said. “She has stopped breathing but her heart is still beating. I can’t pronounce her until the heart stops.” Up until that moment I had forgotten that Mom had a pacemaker. That it would keep the heart beating until such time as the lack of oxygen rendered the heart muscle useless. I asked how long that would take. He told me it could take hours but he would check back in an hour or so and left.
I had no desire to extend my lonely service as shomer. What I wanted most to run screaming from the building yelling “My mom is dead. What happens now” then drive to the airport and take the first flight I could to Rio De Janiero so that I could be held and loved by my wife. But I could not leave Mom. I had promised to never leave her alone. The marathon was almost over and I couldn’t quit so close to the finish line.
I texted my sister and brother. I did not tell them about Mom not being officially dead as I thought it would serve no purpose. Instead I told them we needed to decide about what to do with Mom’s body. I suggested that I call the nephew of my former wife (the joy of living in the town you grew up in) who was a funeral director at a local home which, while awkward, was at least dealing with someone I knew. My sister approved, he had been a classmate of hers, and I spent the next little while talking to him, arranging to pick up Mom is remains and all of the endless details that were involved in that outwardly simple task.
When I looked up at the end of my call, I saw that the nurse had come in and had taken the hospital bed down flat so Mom was at rest. The visage of her runny nose and of her staring at me only a memory. Looking at my watch only 15 minutes had passed I needed a distraction to help pass the time until the Dr. returned. I could have started to make calls to those whom I needed to let know about her passing but I emotionally was not ready for those calls and in the light of the Dr’s inability to pronounce her dead perhaps a bit premature. Mom would have been pleased that it reminded me of the Mark Twain quote “The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
I decided to distract myself with writing what I would post on social media about Mom. One of the gifts of social media is the ability to express to your community, those who you love and like and love and like you, the milestones of your life easily. Instead of having to deal with them individually and the painful conversations that would ensue you could put it out collectively and receive comfort from peoples notes instantly. I see the downside too. The lack of person to person individualized contact is a net loss. Hugs and personal reminiscent towers above the sanitized world of social media but in the then and the now all I wanted to do was to let as many people know about Mom as I could as quickly as I could.
The challenge was how do you express to a group of people the complicated person that my mother was? How do I explain how important having an individual identity was to her? How, while she cherished creating the collective that is our family, she needed the identity of being a contributor, a creator and manipulator of words through writing and editing. That she was a flawed person and Mom but perfect in her imperfection…at least in the eyes of a son.
That while she had a difficult time expressing it, she cherished her family and friends. This train of thought took me to Mom’s study where invariably you found her at her large desk organizing her life or at her computer writing or at correspondence. It made me think of the lithograph that sat above her desk. An image that I knew she had carefully chosen as her view of the world. So I wrote:
My mother has a black and white lithograph above her desk. It depicts a war zone with an active battle going on but in the middle is a home on a hill surrounded by a fence with a happy family living a secure life without a care for the war raging around them. That was how my Mom viewed her role as a mother, grandmother and friend. To provide sanctuary, love and enough room to be yourself free of the war raging outside.
Mom died peacefully yesterday. She was an author, editor, bibliographer, and distinguished scholar. But her great joy was her family that she along with my father built. She leaves a hole that can never be filled but a legacy that will never die
When I finished writing this I was pleased with my words but decided to delay posting it. I wanted to give my siblings the opportunity to tell their children and friends of Mom’s passing before finding it out in the collective.
The Dr. returned a few minutes after I had finished writing. Once again, he went through the medical ritual of examining Mom for signs of life. I said a silent prayer hoping for my owns sake that Mom restless spirit had gone to wherever one’s consciousness goes when it departs this earth I had done my duty as son for as long as she lived. I was doing my duty as shomer and settling her restless spirit. But I was spent. I had nothing left to give. I needed to find the space to recover and to understand what had happened and to contemplate what came next for me. The Dr. spoke into his recorder “Time of death 12:37 “and after that a whole lot of words that he needed for the death certificate that I heard without hearing. He told me that he would let the morgue know and they would send someone up to attend to “the body.” I wondered to myself when Mom had become the body and then thanked him for his kindness.
Thankfully, the wait for the morgue attendants was not long. Minutes after the Dr. had left two African American women appeared in my room and told me that they were here to take care of “Mom.” They told me that they would first clean her body as often “the body leaks after death.” Then they would transfer it to a gurney and then take her to the morgue where our funeral director would claim the body. They suggested that I leave during this process as it might be unpleasant for me. I did not need a lot of convincing to do as they said but remembering my promise to Mom and my shomer duties I stood in the hall outside her room and watched with one eye closed through a crack in the door to make sure that they treated what remained of Mom with sensitivity and respect. They did.
When the body had been cleaned and placed on the gurney, they wrapped it entirely in a white plastic film. I was not expecting this but understood. Taking a gurney down the hall with a body under a sheet or in a body bag would not be good publicity for any hospital let alone one with the name overlook. Wrapping a gurney with opaque film made it so most people would not even notice the passing of a dead body. They would likely think it something else.
I followed them as they wheeled Mom out of her room and down the hall. When they came to a bank of elevators they pressed a button and we both waited for the lift to arrive. When it did they wheeled Mom on board. I watched as the doors closed.
This marathon was over. I had crossed the finished line and done what I had promised. And while I knew that the next marathon, dealing with Mom’s legacy and estate would begin almost immediately, I let those worries of future days for tomorrow…or perhaps the day after that. For now. I wanted to think about Mom her love and her legacy.
I was gratified and pleased that as an adult I had come to know her as a friend and a confident.
I was grateful for every childhood memory that I could conjure of her.
I thought I knew her well and was the better for it.
Little did I know in the days and months to follow I would discover that I had only scratched the surface.