Sunday, December 11, 2011


Where do I begin?

My mother died on my son's birthday. We were at the House of Air, an upscale reclaimed warehouse turned trampoline palace - very San Franciso. I had taken two hours away from my vigil at my mother's bedside. "You've got a few days" said the hospice nurse. "Nothing is going to happen today" said the social worker. And so Ben and I had loaded six five-year-old boys, two extra daughters, and assorted cupcakes into the mini-van and headed for the city.

It was Veteran's Day and the place was packed to the rafters with shrieking, bouncing children and sleek, slightly flustered, urban mothers. Ben and I, with the aid of his sister Anne, managed to peel off coats and shoes, stow cupcakes and throw small boys onto the vast field of trampolines. I was checking on the pizza delivery when my phone rang.

It was the nurse. I ran through the throng like a quarterback at the Super Bowl to get outside where I could hear her. She was with my mom. My mom was gasping for breath. She was revising her previous assessment. Hours, not days.

Stunned, I hung up and went to find Ben. "Go," he said. "You need to go."

I was finding my shoes and instructing Ben about pizza, cupcakes and gifts when the phone rang again.

"Hold on," I said, running for the door. I could hear someone saying something. The only word I could make out, repeated many times, was "sorry".

Finally I burst into the wet November air.

"I'm sorry," I heard the nurse say. "Your mother just died."

I stood in front of the House of Air, leaning against the giant warehouse windows.

"Oh," I said.

I had envisaged this moment since my mom's Alzheimer's diagnosis years ago. Where would I be when I heard? What would I feel about a death that meant the end of her agony? Would I cry?

Turns out I would. I hung up the phone and stood in the rain, fashionable young parents skirting around me, shepherding children who were turning to stare.

After much maneuvering, Ben and I managed to leave the party in Anne's hands with another Ann, our friend, on her way to help.

I cried all the way from the Presidio to the house in Corte Madera, one of the most beautiful drives there is. I sobbed across the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Headlands, down Waldo Grade with it's picture perfect view of Mount Tam.

We walked into my mother's room. It was empty but for her. Hardly able to breathe for crying, I put one hand on her arm and the other, in the pose of universal grief, over my eyes. She was still warm.

Ben brought me a chair and I sat for two hours, crying like I've never cried before and hope to never cry again, taking my hand from her body only to wipe my face of tears and blow my nose. When I'd touch her again, she would feel the slightest bit colder, which renewed the shower of tears every time.

My mother looked beautiful. She was always an attractive woman but somehow, during these last years, as her body has shrunk, the bones of her face have become prominent again. She looked, as she lay there, like the girl she once was in the picture on the dresser. She looked like her essential self.

The tears finally dried. We left, one last look over my shoulder at this woman who had meant so much. I walked back out into a changed world, a world that is empty of her. I'm still, a month later, trying to reconcile this strange place, this place where I do all the same things - make groceries lists, walk children to school, read novels, make jokes - with the one that was before. Only when I'm sleeping do I feel right. In that dreamworld where everything is strange, where nothing makes sense, that's where I feel at home. There I float with my mother, with my father, in the space between this plane and the next.