Based on my novels’ overall background subject matter, on here as you know invariably some nods are given to the realities of politics. But that’s all. This site is NOT about partisan politics, we’re readers and writers here.
So this post is not some shocking change of pace. It’s not about “politics.” However, a few brief paragraphs of background are unfortunately required for this post if you’ll just bear with me for a moment as you read and scroll down.
Good morning (again) from upstate New York’s chilly (24F/ -4C overnight) Catskills:
Days from publication, I was re-reading parts of Distances in paperback last night. (I’m not entirely sure why: I’m not changing anything at this point!) As I’ve said before, I do find there is some intangible difference between following a novel on paper as opposed to on a screen. A paperback is a better read in some ways, while the ebook is in others, and I have found that again.
Having done it three times now, I find wrapping up a novel to be an emotional letdown as well. It marks an end of a long journey. There was a time that there was NOTHING on the page, and that seems such a long time ago now.
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.
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! :-) )
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….
We’ve settled into a daily routine of helping look after my cancer-stricken mother. Unless something goes amiss, the days are now pretty predictable. But when something does go awry, it can create minor panic.
Yesterday, when Mom’s oxygen was inexplicably not flowing, my father started to “lose it.” I had to step in and reassure him, “Easy. Let’s check it carefully….” All the lights were on indicating correct functionality.
It turned out the line had been loose at the connection on the machine.
* * *
In other tech news, naturally the four year old (that’s right, four) G.E. dishwasher gave up about three weeks ago – before we got here and before her cancer diagnosis. $450 to fix, minimum, the repair guy said; better to buy a new one. “We call G.E. short for ‘generally expensive,'” he added.
Visiting my parents is at times like stepping back into a slower, simpler time. They prefer to use cash. They still write checks. They still do bills by mail.
While they do occasionally buy from Amazon and other online retailers, when it comes to MAJOR APPLIANCES they still go pretty traditional. At least my father does. I’d tried to help him buy a new dishwasher online, but he insisted on going to “old reliable” in person for a replacement.
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?”
My dying mother lies in a hospital bed set up in the (former) dining room. We have no idea how long she has left, but it won’t be long. We’ve made her as comfortable as we can.
There is nothing to do now but wait. We take turns at her side – my father, my wife, and I. (My sister *tries* to help, but she’s, well, f-cking hopeless on a variety of levels I can’t even start to begin to detail here. So there’s sometimes another tension that no one needs right now.) My wife has to return to England in a couple of days, but she will fly back here in a week or so. (We were supposed to go home together, but I’m staying here in the U.S. until my mother passes. My father needs me.)
A hospice nurse comes in every other day or so. To escape the drone of the oxygen machine that rumbles constantly in the house, when I get a break from my Mom I retreat to the guest room where we’re sleeping and stick in headphones. Besides reading the net, about the only escape I’ve got is tinkering now and then with the 99.9 percent finished Distances.
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.