It was a year ago last night that my father called me just before midnight to tell me that my mother was dead. The first thing I did after hanging up the phone was to fire off a prepared series of e-mails to people who would be directly affected by this—my editor at O’Reilly, the guy covering my radio show for me, and so on. My second act was swapping the home page of meyerweb for a memorial page I’d created earlier in the week. At the time, it contained her picture and the first five lines; I added the actual date of death just before putting the page online. I’d intended to revisit the page to write something meaningful and then decide whether or not I’d show it to Mom. There just wasn’t time.
We had seen her a mere six days before, on the day the doctor told her that the chemotherapy would kill her more quickly than the cancer, although I sometimes wonder if that was really true, and that there would be no more. That whatever time she had left was between her and the cancer. On that Friday, she was still strong and in good spirits. She walked around our back yard, looking at the gardens and giving Kat some advice. We all went to lunch at a local diner, and then they hit the road for Mansfield. It was a beautiful sunny spring day, and Mom was still herself. It was the last time Kat and I ever saw her.
After she died, I had the opportunity to see her body at the funeral home before it was cremated. I declined. I wanted and needed my final image of her to be vital and alive, and I know beyond any doubt that’s what she would have wanted.
Even now, it’s still hard to grasp that in the span of six days, she went from that strong and cheerful woman to being at death’s door, and just a few hours later passed through it. All of her energy had been put into fighting the cancer while there was still some chance of beating it. Once the fight was truly hopeless, she relaxed—and died.
We sometimes wonder if she went so quickly in order to spare us the sight of her wasted, ravaged body and having to see her in a drug-dulled state. I spoke to her by phone the afternoon before she died, just hours after the hospice nurse had told us that she likely had no more than a week or two to live. She was confused and had little short-term memory, and had to ask three times with whom she was talking. But she always knew who I was when I told her. She’d simply forgotten the last few minutes. We both said “I love you,” and that was that.
The phone still in my hand, standing in the living room and looking out into the back yard where she’d walked and smiled less than a week before, I wept. She had always feared losing her mind, and it was starting to happen, I thought. A part of me hoped she’d be released from her suffering, even as another part hoped she’d live for a few more weeks so I’d have several chances to see her, to talk with her, and to hug her a few last times.
Only one part of me got its wish. She was dead six hours later.
The next time I cried, it was late December. I was holding Carolyn in my arms and desperately, hopelessly wishing that Mom could have somehow met her granddaughter.