My octogenarian in-laws have been thinking more than ever about what happens after one of them dies. After dinner last night, around the table a discussion arose among the four of us about their London house, and where would the survivor live, etc. My father now living without my mother in the same house they had bought together in Pennsylvania, and what he is going through as a widower, was the main immediate conversational catalyst.
However, my father-in-law insisted several times on taking matters too lightly for my mother-in-law’s taste. At one point, she put him on the spot: “Don’t joke,” she admonished him as he chuckled. “What will happen to you if I go first like Robert’s mum? You’re useless. You can’t do anything for yourself. You couldn’t live alone….”
I dread this: I have to call Dad in Pennsylvania – I haven’t spoken to him in about 5 days. I want to work as usual of course, but my mind will be pre-occupied until I get this over with once more. I can’t really ring him before 12 noon UK time.
For all the years I’ve been living over here, in fact since I was a college kid, my mother was the one with whom I did most of the parental talking on the phone. She was the center of it all: information was shared with her, and she then told him. Only rarely did I talk to him for any length of time; he was never a big phone user.
This morning I’m driving my now widower father, and my 44 year old sister (she lived with my parents, and so now lives with my father: let’s please not go there right now), up to our (my wife and mine’s – and I know that’s ungrammatical, but I don’t care right now) place in the Catskills for a few days.
We probably don’t have to do this, but I desperately want to. Dad agreed. He needs a different view and I think he knows that.
And I have to get the hell away for a while from this (my now late mother’s) October 26 place of death. Increasingly, I can’t bear this f-cking house. I never wanted them to move here to Pennsylvania (it’s not about PA itself; but let’s not go there either right now), and my late mother is “everywhere” here still, of course.
I received an encouraging and sympathetic email recently from the woman who forms the character basis for “Mrs. Hall-Surrey” – and had laughed aloud when she first “spotted” herself (and her husband) on the pages in Frontiers. (“The little so and so! Darling, he’s written about us!”) I wrote her back that I was relieved I had essentially finished Distances before my uncle’s death and my Mom’s terminal cancer diagnosis. Had I not, I don’t know I would have been able to summon up the mental strength to have done so anytime soon.
Naturally I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline. However, as I’d written here a couple of weeks ago, some of what’s in it is shockingly prescient and unexpectedly relevant to where I find myself in my life right now. Frankly, I can’t believe the number of similar touchpoints.
With publication just days away, time again for the dedication.
After a parent dies, at some point inevitably you have to start to go through their possessions and what’s stored away. My father is already thinking about what to do with Mom’s clothes and coats. But you never know what else you might find….
I was messaging with my “chocolate cake delivering” cousin last evening. She’s feeling exceptionally down about her Dad and my mother. Obviously, I’m shattered about my mother and saddened about her father, too. Going back and forth helps a little bit, I suppose.
I’ve had to leave my phone on “airplane mode” overnights in recent weeks, because it was buzzing with messages and well-wishes in the middle of the U.S. night. All were well-intentioned, of course, and REALLY appreciated by me…. but just not necessarily at 3 o’clock in the morning! (European friends and relations, yes, I’m looking at you! :-) )
I delivered my mother’s eulogy at her funeral Mass back on Saturday. It was the toughest few pages I’d ever had to write. Even harder was sharing it verbally in the church with the other mourners.
After all, there are the basic facts to cover: her birth, bits on her upbringing, her marriage, her family, where she’d lived and worked, etc. More important, though, are the human aspects. Somehow I got through the 10 minutes or so without breaking down, but, as I spoke, I remember feeling numb….
Her death was, insofar as we could tell, peaceful. She had deteriorated rapidly in recent days, and we were sensing the end was approaching. It came mid-afternoon: I was messing around on my iPad, sitting at the kitchen table feet away from her (her hospital bed had been set up in the dining room), and my Dad was in a chair next to her watching television. We had thought she was sleeping…. then we realized she wasn’t moving at all….
Little new to report on my mother’s cancer. The hospice people come in and out of my parents’ house, checking on her, and offering what help and support they can. I don’t think I need to say that it is emotionally devastating to be able to do nothing but sit by and watch your mother – in a hospital bed positioned in her former dining room – so sick and slowly fading away before your eyes.
The best way I can describe how it feels to care for someone you know inevitably will die? It is a sense of being completely trapped. You know that no matter what you do, ultimately it will be futile.
Yes, sometimes there are smiles, but all you see ahead of you is darkness. Your days are spent knowing you will be clearing up urine again. Or you will try to get her to roll over on her side to avoid bedsores. Or you will slip the nebulizer mask over her nose to try to help her breathe a little easier. Or you hope she’ll eat something.
You look for a way to divert your thoughts when you can manage it. I happened to notice that my mother keeps some of my late grandfather’s books shelved in a lounge cabinet. He was an avid reader and had a wide collection I’d always admired. I have a few of his books already, but what I don’t have is the series of “great literature” that was beautifully hardback published in – wait for it – 1936:
Among the 20 volumes is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays. I had never read Emerson extensively, but find I spend the evenings with it. Reading works like those causes you as a writer to sit back and lament, “What could I possibly hope to write about anything that would even fractionally add to, or build upon, the likes of this?”
While sitting here in Pennsylvania, going back and forth to the hospital, trying somehow to deal with my mother’s deteriorating condition, we received another devastating blow: my uncle (my mother’s older brother), the novelist, died yesterday in Rhode Island.
He was 75. He was also my godfather. (Although, as I learned only in my early twenties, organized religion was not exactly his thing.) He had been in declining health for some time, yet somehow also seemed “indestructible.” His end came quickly and unexpectedly.