November 17, 2003
As usual, very belated.
I'll try to be brief here: I've been getting a number of emails lately asking what's happening, why I haven't updated this site, made a weblog entry, or answered emails.
A little over a month ago, I decided to head back to Kansas. My mother, who had been sick with various types and severities of cancer, had been getting progressively more and more ill over the summer and fall. Since my mom is so stubborn, she didn't want to worry my sister or me, and it was only mid-October that she let us know just how bad her disease had progressed. I stopped everything here in Massachusetts and flew back to be with her.
For the first week, they kept her in the hospital in Hutchinson, Kansas. She wasn't doing well at all, and her spirits were dismal--she hated the hospital, and desperately wanted to go back home to her little house in Haven (about half an hour away). Even though her movements were limited, and I could tell she wouldn't be maneuvering very well on her own, she seemed to think that her health might improve again if only she could head back home. My sister and I were troubled to see her like this: her appearance, her resolve, everything seemed a fraction of what we usually saw.
They let my mom go home on October 27. That day, her primary doctor told her she wouldn't make it to Christmas. She seemed a little stunned, perhaps a little disbelieving; after all, they'd been telling her similar things since 1994, when she was first diagnosed.
Throughout that week, I stayed at her home with her and sat beside the red-and-green plaid couch where she constantly lay. My cousins and second cousins, who live nearby, often came over to help; my uncle and aunt, visiting from Georgia, were a great assistance to us, too. She could not get up to walk; by late Wednesday, her speech began to deteriorate as well. Thursday was possibly the worst day of my life--I don't want to describe, except to say that she wasn't really any longer herself. It was all happening so fast now, I think it was everywhere inside her. During sleep she carried on endless garbled conversations to my deceased stepfather, my deceased uncles and aunts. Out of sleep, her breaths were filled with pain and fear. The Hutchinson Hospice nurses, who had only met my mother the previous day, brought oxygen. They also brought morphine, which was a wonderful help, and moved her from the couch to a medical bed.
Friday was Halloween. It was chilly but without the everpresent Kansas wind. Strangely, there were no bird sounds at all. Family members visited. I think everyone knew what was happening. The oxygen steadied her breathing slightly. The morphine dulled her completely motionless. I couldn't move. I couldn't stop holding her hand. The phone rang but I stopped answering unless it was Michael or the closest family members. At dusk--early now, with the time change--her best friend Carolyn arrived with something to eat. We ate ribs. We ate barbecued fucking ribs and listened to Mom breathing. Around 6:30 the breathing changed and fit perfectly with all the descriptions that Mary, the main hospice nurse, had given. The watery, the harshness, the rattling. There was more morphine. Carolyn took Mom's right hand and I took the left. Twice the doorbell rang but we would not answer the trick-or-treaters. Then came silence, there was only her. At 8:30 the breaths began to stop. Only little hiccups. Carolyn said beautiful things to her. You're more peaceful now, just let it go, we're here with you. Carolyn said these things. I can't remember what I said. I do remember how soft she looked. I remember the feel of her hand. At 8:45 there was a last soft rattle and then silence. Her eyes opened a little and we knew the breaths had stopped and I stood up and Carolyn closed the eyes with her fingers and I dropped the hand.
These are just little details. There was so, so much more, really. It's all in my head now.
The funeral was "short and sweet," just as Mom had requested. Outside it was rainy and gray. From the stereotypically flamboyant, blond-mustached florist, I bought way too many white roses, all white, expensive, weirdly worth it. The female pastor went against our wishes and spoke far too much about Christ and salvation. The funeral director and staff were incredible, sweet, understanding people who made me reevaluate my opinions of midwestern folk. My sister and I sat in the family box and gritted our teeth and smiled. We saw lots of friends and family we'd nearly forgotten. Michael, my savior through all of this, flew down from Boston and was his usual amazing self. When the funeral was over, my sister couldn't touch the body. I couldn't stop touching it. The funeral director let me stay beside my mother "for as long as I wanted" while everyone else waiting. I put my face against hers and spoke in her ear as though she could hear every word, and then I was done, and then I stepped back, and then they closed the casket.
I know it's weird to use a website diary to tell these things. Hell, I'll probably be embarrassed by this later and erase it all. But right now it feels right I think. So far, I'm finding it really hard to describe my mother's death to people I don't know extremely well. I suppose I'd rather describe her life, although now the enormity of what I've just experienced is really all I can think about. Of course I want to somehow convey how much I loved her, how essential she was to my life, how much she shaped me into the writer I am, the obsessions with music and game shows I am, the sense of humor I am, the Scott. I will never be able to do that.
So I write this tonight knowing that I may read and regret it later, yet hoping that somehow--by listing the final moments of this beautiful, noble, stubborn woman's life to email pals and distant acquaintances--I can do her some small amount of justice. Still, I feel like a failure. We Disappear, my third book, the book I've been working on for years now, has always been, and will continue to be, a book about, and for, my mother. The biggest regret of my life is that I could not finish this book for her. Still, I plan to continue writing it, and hope to someday translate the experiences of the past weeks to this novel.
So. Once again, I apologize for being silent. I hope everyone else is doing well, and if I owe you an email, please trust that someday I'll get back into the swing.