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The night my mother died

I have talked about my mother’s death here before. But today, on the one-year anniversary of her passing, I want to talk about the night she died. I don’t have much point to make. This is a very disjointed, stream-of-consciousness entry. But I’m ready to talk about it, and I want to have a record of what it was like.

Casey, Sarah, and I drove down together. We came home into a very clean house—partially, I think, for all the people who would be coming in, and partially as way for my dad to feel in control. He’s a strong man— believe me when I say almost impossibly so —but he channels stress into things like that. He had food waiting for us. And he took us upstairs to see Mom.

They had put a hospital bed next to the big bed in their bedroom. That was good, she hadn’t wanted to die in the hospital. She wasn’t conscious; she was on a sort of liquid morphine that basically knocked her out. They put her on oxygen, but it wasn’t doing much good, and she kept gasping, trying to breathe. She couldn’t, really, but her body would try to anyway.

Dad was so in tune with her condition, with everything he’d done to take care of her. He’d called the previous day and said it would happen very soon. And we went home the next day, because he was right.

He asked if we remembered the part in Harry Potter with the thestrals, which are only visible to you after you’ve seen someone die. “I think we’re going to see thestrals soon.” He’s not usually one to talk in literary references, so that one struck me.

A hospice nurse came and spoke to us. We were kind of normal and together, which I think surprised them a little. But we don’t act out in front of strangers. I was proud, though, when the nurse took a moment to tell my dad how impressed they all were with how my dad took care of her. She actually said she’d never seen anything like it. He is strong, and he loves her.

It was very surreal. How normal it was, while Mom was right there dying. Mostly it was waiting. We’d sit with her for a while, holding her hand, talking to her. My dad and my brother had a lot to say. How much they loved her, but how it was okay for her to go, that she didn’t need to hurt anymore. Neither of them have ever been afraid of or uncomfortable with their emotions, but their frankness and their verbosity impressed me. This process made my brother a lot softer. And my dad, well, he’s perceived by some to be a hard, intense man. But he loved my mother utterly. Reordered his whole life to be there for her in her illness. And damn certain he was going to tell her everything as she died.

Dad told us stories of how they met, when they were young. How they were friends for years before they ever dated. How after graduation they traveled cross country to Yellowstone National Park in a van with three other friends and a German Shepherd. How they were camping in the park, smoked some weed, and went swimming at the same time there happened to be an earthquake, but because they were high, they weren’t sure if they imagined it or not. How my mom said to my dad, “If you grow up a bit, you might be worth keeping.” It made me smile to hear all that. Funny to think of my straight laced parents being cooler and more adventurous than me.

I just cried a little, quietly. Weirdly, I found I didn’t know what to say, and felt too embarrassed to try. Words are supposed to be my thing, and I didn’t have any for my dying mother.

It’s okay. She knew how I felt, and she couldn’t hear anything anyway. But it was weird.

So we sat with her, listening to her try to breathe. Then we’d get hungry, or have something to do, so we’d wander off and do it. Dad had a little camera set up in the room, so we could watch her from the kitchen. In case it happened, we could rush up and be there.

She looked like a scary troll. I feel awful about thinking that, but she did. Not like my mother at all. Her hair was gone, her face and body were bloated and stressed. She had tubes coming out of her all over. Horrifying. The picture of death.

We took a picture of her. Not sure why. I guess because it was real, it happened, and there’s no pretending that it didn’t. I have it and Casey has it, but my dad asked us not to show it to anyone. It’s private. It’s the last picture of my mother on this earth.

Casey’s girlfriend Sarah was with us. My family is private, intensely so, so it was a question as to whether or not she would come for this part of things. Bernie was working, so in deference to both of those things I had chosen not to bug him until there was actually a funeral. Dad probably would have been okay if Bernie came. Though in fairness he hasn’t known Bernie as long. Casey and Sarah had been together for like six years then, and he wanted her there, and Dad was fine with that.

Sarah was so good. The whole time I couldn’t imagine how awkward everything had to be for her. Being in the middle of other people’s uncomfortable, private, tragic moment. But she was perfect, being present and quietly, lovingly supporting my brother. I have so much respect for how she conducted herself in what had to be a deeply difficult situation. I already liked Sarah, but that was when she became family.

It was late when it happened. When the life finally slipped out of her. Her breath, already choppy, became more and more infrequent. She twitched for a while. Then she was still.

I posted on Livejournal when it happened. And Twitter, I think. That’s probably kind of sick that I even thought of it. But I wanted to mark the moment.

Dad called the hospice. They would send the right people. So we waited, there in the bedroom with the remains of Mom. I had been laying on my parents’ bed, right beside her hospital bed. I stayed there, staring at her as she went cold. Her skin became so gray, that weird troll that replaced my mother.

Nobody came for a long time. Everyone curled up someplace and slept. I don’t know where everyone ended up. I think Casey was on the floor. I slept there beside her. It didn’t seem strange. She was either a sack of dead disease, or she was my mother. I’m not afraid of either.

The hospice nurse came. I dragged myself up, sat in a chair and was polite. Same as I was with the nurse the previous day, be nice to the stranger, have good manners, even if you just lost the most important person. She asked for all mom’s medications and destroyed them. She was decent and said nice things, but I don't really remember what they were.

Two men in suits came from the funeral home. My dad remarked how weird it seemed to come ready to move a body dressed in a suit, but I guess it was supposed to be gesture of respect. They were very careful gathering her up, zipping her into the body bag. I watched them do it, which likely made them take extra pains, but honestly I didn’t care. In that gray shell there was more remaining of the cancer that killed her than there was of my mother. What did I care what happened to a dead sack of tumors, when the person who bore me, raised me, loved me, made me who I am, was already gone forever?

I went to my own room and slept. The next day, I stripped the hospital bed, washed the clothes, made up the guest bed. They were the only sheets we had that fit it. Bernie and I slept that night on the sheets my mother died on.

I mention all this because it feels like it should have been weird or creepy. But none of it was. At least not to me. I just love her, and miss her, and I still don’t quite believe she’s gone.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 20th, 2015 11:37 am (UTC)
Those are good memories. Thank you for sharing your experience.
May. 20th, 2015 03:05 pm (UTC)
May. 20th, 2015 05:57 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you shared this with us.

It breaks my heart that people have to die of cancer.

It breaks my heart that people have to die.
Sep. 30th, 2015 05:25 am (UTC)
Missed this post originally. Just read it and wept.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

About Me

My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

My productions:

Upcoming Productions:

MRS. HAWKING part 2 and 3

at the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016

presented by The Chameleon's Dish

Vivat Regina
by Phoebe Roberts

at 2PM


Base Instruments
by Phoebe Roberts

at 6PM

Saturday, May 13th 2017
at 274 Moody Street, Waltham, MA

Other Achievements:

"The Tailor at Loring's End" screenplay
Quarter Finalist in the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Competition 2013

"Adonis" screenplay
Top Ten Percent in the Bluecat Screenwriting Contest 2015

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April 2017


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