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.


  1. I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. At times like this, it is hard to believe that life carries on around us unchanged but our world is turned upside down and is forever changed. It makes me think of the opening lines to the poem by W H Auden, Funeral Blues.
    Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
    Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
    I'll be sending you warm thoughts from the east coast.

  2. So funny - I considered reading that at my mom's memorial. So moving and true. Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. I am surprised that I haven't left a comment to this post yet. I have read this post at least ten times over the past few weeks and have thought of you so often since reading of your mother's death. I'm so terribly sorry for your loss.
    Though you're a few weeks into life without your mother, I'm sure it still feels surreal that life carries on without her in it.
    Not even knowing you personally, I wish that I could bring a meal over or a cup of coffee or maybe just myself so that I could sit in silence with you.
    I, too, have often wondered about where I will be and what those first hours will be like when I hear of my mother's death. I don't have that experience yet, but your writing has helped me to prepare a little more for that inevitability.
    Thank you for sharing what you was almost unbearably beautiful and sad.