This morning I sat in the outdoor courtyard of Mom’s assisted living home, listening to the sparrows calling to one another and the grasshoppers buzzing, as the sun rose over the rooftop and woke up the hibiscus. Coffee in hand, I had just come from the hospital, trying to sort through my thoughts and feelings.
Her doctor had just told me it was time to put Mom on hospice.
This wasn’t a shock. Still, there was something hard and cold and definitive about the word hospice. The end was now becoming real. My reaction bounced from graceful acceptance to profound sadness, and from certainty that a conspiracy theory existed in the medical community against Mom to contemplating the overall meaning of life.
As writers, we’re taught that the beginning and ending of a story must be both meaningful and memorable, or else the story in between doesn’t matter. But how can this be, if fiction is meant to be reflective of real life, to help us better understand real life? Few of us remember our births, and it remains to be seen whether we’ll remember our deaths, so does that mean that our life stories in between those bookends may not matter? I think not.
I once gave Mom a framed print that said, “A Girl’s Best Friend is Her Mother.” I was a new parent at the time, and at that phase in my life, she indeed was my best friend, always happy to hear my voice calling, always willing to listen without doling out advice. She made me feel like a valuable person in a way that others didn’t or couldn’t.
And yet, there was always a thin wall between us; we were two very different people, and there was something unnamable that prevented her from completely understanding who I was. I suspect she saw that wall, too. And as we’ve both grown older, that wall has thickened like plaque in our arteries. Now that Loss is about to come calling, memories of our friendship and regrets about the wall are competing for my attention.
In “Escape from Spiderhead,” (Tenth of December, George Saunders) a dying character says that his only regret “was Mom. I hoped someday, in some better place, I’d get a chance to explain it to her, and maybe she’d be proud of me, one last time, after all these years.” Wow, I can relate. The arrival of hospice means the loss of my relationship with Mom is near, and my chances for getting her to understand me better¾to be proud of me¾are dissipating.
And yet, in these final days, I know what I have to do: worry less about the wall, concentrate more on the friendship, because that will be the key, I think, to making sure the story of Mom’s life will continue to matter.
G. Elizabeth Kretchmer is the author of The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife, and her short work can be found in The New York Times and other publications. When she’s not writing or visiting her mom, she teaches therapeutic and wellness writing.