I have been fortunate in life to have to deal with a very limited amount of death. Marilyn’s death was the first death of real consequence that I was forced to confront. The aftermath of that death lasted for what seemed an eternity.
When Dad passed away I felt an odd sense of relief. I believe the relief came from the feeling that I no longer had to face the shell of a man that he had become and as a result didn’t have to deal with ghosts of our past relationship. A short time after his death I wrote that I felt there were two possible reasons for God inflicting him with Alzheimer’s.
The first reason was that it was so all the people he had cared for all those years would be forced to care for him for a while. The second reason was that Dad had, for years, been a cyanide carrying member of the Hemlock Society as a means of controlling the time and place of his own death. That led me to believe that Alzheimer’s was God’s way of wresting that control away by removing that thought, and the cyanide from Dad’s memory … he simply forgot about it.
All that aside, even though Dad’s passing was sad, it was also a relief and easier to live with because he had lived a long and successful life. Marilyn’s death was anything but that. It was tragic. It came way too early. She was supposed to outlive me, grow old and live in the basement of Peter and Heather’s home and teach her grandchildren dirty words.
But now I’m faced with the impending death of my mother. Her health has deteriorated dramatically in the last 2 week and precipitously in the last 5 days. While it’s true that, like Dad’s death, it will be at the end of a long productive and comfortable life, it means a final end to the longest relationship of my life. There are so many facets to a relationship like that of a mother-child, especially one as old ours. Considering gestation, we’ve been a part of each other’s lives for well over 70 years.
I have no idea what to expect when she’s no longer here. That thought serves up a cocktail of emotions that is difficult to swallow. Since Dad’s death eight and half years ago, I’ve spoken with Mom nearly every day. We’ve talked about what our day was like that day; what was going on in our lives. I wonder how long it will be before I stop looking at the clock each night at eight or nine and thinking, “Oh gosh, it’s time to call Mom.” I didn’t feel that way when Dad died, but I will when Mom is no longer there answering the phone with, “Hello, Phoenix A Z!”
What will the remainder of our family become? As siblings, my brother, sister and I have never been close. In my sister’s case, she was so much younger that by the time she was four, I was out of the home. In the intervening years we have developed a comfortable though not close relationship, but close enough to list her as my next of ken on any documents requiring that kind of information. The reality of our mother’s death has had an adhesive effect of sorts. At the close of our last conversation this evening she said something to me that she has never said, not verbally anyway. She said, “I love you.” The closest she has ever come to that is “Love, Sal” on the humorous birthday cards she is known for.
When I was writing the original draft of Dear Mom and Dad I realized that the memories I had of our brother were for the most part unpleasant. We fought frequently long into young adulthood, and they weren’t all just verbal altercations either. Our personalities were nothing alike. The original draft of Dear Mom and Dad contained detailed descriptions of those altercations, but I elected to delete them because I felt they added nothing of value to narrative of my life. In addition I hoped that by deleting those portions I would keep open the possibility that someday in the future we would be able to live in harmony and love as siblings should. Sadly that has not happened.
Last week our sister sent an e-mail to “me” and him about our mother and her deteriorating condition. I replied to “all”. The following day I received a nasty and vicious reply telling me that I was a “perverted figment” not fit to be a part of our family. All the feelings of the past, the anger, the disappointment, the hurt came in a flood of emotion.
So … I realize that with our mother’s passing there will be nothing left of hope for a family united in love. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m left to believe that when that time comes it will be the end of our family unit and our parents would be grief stricken to see it. My brother would be quick to say that all I have to do is to live according to his parameters for a “brother” and all will be fine. I of course would reply that , “all he has to do is live according to my parameters for a brother and all will be fine.” The difference is that I have lived with his nature and loved the good, discounted the bad but still accepted him the way he is, “full of bullshit, but lovable in a strange sort of way.” In keeping with his character, he will love you only as long as you are what he thinks you should be and only then.
I’ve tried to justify and accept that I am partially to blame, but in the face of that nasty tirade I simply cannot. Short of a complete repudiation of his attitude this is the last time I will speak of my brother. The time has come. As our sister responded when she saw his e-mail, “That’s so sad.”