So you all know Mom died mid-October and, yes, I’ve been way under the radar when it comes to both the real world and the Internet. Why doesn’t have as much to do with grief, though there’s that, as much as it does shock and anger. Mom was not expected to die. Nobody, even the surgeon who fixed her torsion, expected it. Yes, she was that healthy inside, despite atrial fib. That she died came as a complete surprise. That she chose to do it during the two hours I was gone from her post-surgery room in ICU, having left her to go home to check and feed animals with her numbers excellent and stable, that she chose to check out in a matter of minutes to the ICU nurses’ disbelief, her heart rate steadily declining from normal to zero in ten minutes during my absence, felt like opportunism. She took advantage of the fact that I went home to check herself out of life, and all because of the indignity of a stomach tube threaded down through her esophagus into her stomach to drain off her backed up digestive effluent.
I’m not kidding, here. This is no joke. Her aunt and a great aunt — both of them — did the same thing — willed themselves dead, the 101 year old, having just finished doing a batch of pickles, sitting down on a couch and going in 24 hours upon deciding to die and the 103 year old who, likewise decided, but instead took three days to do it. And, according to family lore, it was the nature of these Eurasian women who, having survived child birth to enter old age, then extreme old age, all of them healthy, to simply and suddenly decide that they now wanted to die …and then they’d do it.
It’s always been eerie for me to hear the tales. What’s knocked me into retreat is the fact that she just had to demonstrate the quasi-validity of her stories, much as the pragmatic side of me sits here and vehemently shakes my head ‘no, not plausible’. What brings the shock and anger, though, is something else: She had everything to live for — friends who called, friends who visited at least once a week, opportunities to gad about and socialize, go to dinner and to parties…. She embroidered, still beautifully. She voraciously read books. She lived in my home, then back to her own home with me there to provide for her every whim and need …excepting those things which I couldn’t provide — being the daughter she yearned for — something feminine and pretty, something vain and vacuous, something willing to chat about triteness for hours on end, none of which is me. I’ve never been able to be ‘one of her dollies’, though how she persistently tried to coerce me to be.
I wrote a short story a few years ago. Though it’s slightly fictionalized to preserve some semblance of dignity, I think I’ll share it… because this, for me, is what it was like having Mom live with us …us living with Mom. It’s called A Moment of Morning, written under my pen name, E. J. Ruek and originally posted to that site: https://www.ejruek.com/a-moment-of-morning/
A MOMENT OF MORNING
In the dark of the morning, I sit in the cold, listening to the faraway, echoing horn of a train. It’s 3:30 AM, my rising time—by habit and need.
My mother sleeps in my living room, slowly dying of self-neglect and petulance, and there’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing that her many doctors, visiting nurses, CNAs, and physical therapists can do. She makes her choices, refusing advice, urgings, instructions. She sticks to those choices. Rigorously. I’m just the maid. My voice doesn’t count, even if I am her only daughter…her only child. (She lost all eight others as fetuses, maybe by choice. I knew by the time I was four that she sure didn’t want me.)
Sipping coffee, waiting for the love of my life to phone home, I cast my mind inward, wondering at a woman who, my whole life, insisted that I “move.” And move I do, more than most, more than any of my contemporaries, except maybe Kathy. Three years ago, Mom moved, too. She was agile and fit. Then, due to her own choices of personal neglect, her ability to do so with ease and vigor vanished. At sixty-eight—did I tell you that I was a very late baby?—she became a maimed slave to a syncopated heartbeat—atrial fib. Now she lays on a bed, ordered to keep her legs up, and delivers me anger seasoned with pouts and, worse, self-pity.
My mother is, in her way, a prima donna—very vain. Yet, she is…or was…generous and caring, too. To and of others. (Never me; never my dad.) She cares for ‘her’ others a lot, especially her anthropomorphized dollies—thousands of dollies.
I keep thinking to myself—what will I do with all of those thousands of dollies, some worth ten thousand, each?
I know nothing of dollies, care nothing for dollies. I find them rather horrifying—porcelain, cloth, plaster, and plastic reincarnations of someone’s symbolically human ideal. (Are humans ideal? Even symbolically? …I wonder in doubt.) “You can tell the artist,” Mother will say, her delicate, model’s hands fondling a dress, a hand, a curl. She’ll line them up and point to the nuances of a particular artist on dolls that cost more, each one, than Dad made in a month. (After she bought them on time, he couldn’t afford the price of his heart pills.)
A friend suggests that I catalog them, then sell them on E-Bay. The very idea exhausts me. The research to price them would, alone, require a year of my time—time I don’t have with running a business and maintaining two households—never mind my writing, recording, and session work.
Then there’s Mom’s piles—decades’ worth of magazines and old newspaper articles, boxes of clothes bought at thrift stores and sales, yards of material waiting to be run up on one of her five pricey sewing machines. There are hundreds of books that she’s never read, toys still in boxes, foot lockers filled with embroideries. There’s hoards of too many dishes and vases and lamps; upstairs is that old wicker couch overflowing with teddy bears….
It’s a five bedroom house, filled to brimming with all of Mom’s treasures—old cradles and buggies, doll houses and miniature tea sets—and all of it’s covered in decades of dust. (She never cleaned house after Dad’s heart began failing—no reason, I guess.)
That’s just the inside. Outdoors, there’s the piles of old garbage, the broken down fences, the rotting car, truck, and trailer, this last a haphazard minefield inside containing a vast store of treacherous gardening tools. (I’d keep the gardening tools and fix up the fences.)
Another train’s passing, its horn dulled by the distance. My coffee is cold and so are my feet. It’s time to close the laptop and get myself started on chores, but I linger out here on the patio, outside in the cold and the snow.
My cell phone rings. I touch the headpiece I wear to hear hubs in my ear, his grumbling voice a relieving welcome.
He’s headed for Canada, a load full of giant, cumbersome coils. He asks after me, then requests some safe truck routes through cities in lower BC.
I oblige, ‘Googling’ the easiest routes. Then, to his question, assure him that, yes, the roof man will be here today to clear barn roofs of snow load.
Did I snowblow the driveway?
No, but I will.
Best do it before the temperature plunges to zero.
Did the dog’s blood work come back?
Not yet. It’s expected today.
I love you.
I love you, too.
In the dark of the morning, I sit in the cold, listening to emptiness. It’s 4:00 AM and time to get started on morning.
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