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Where Worlds Collide

When The Night Closes In

MOTHER is lying in a hospital bed in Tarpon Springs, Florida, severely deformed, alone and dying; too slow for the pain she’s experiencing, too fast for the life she’s lived.  She’s frightened, and not at all ready, and there’s not a thing in the world I can do to help her.

I want to be able to do something more for her, I really do.   She’s a sweet old lady, made of whip smarts and a spitfire wit, a sharp sense of humor and a genuine reason to love me, but, the idea that she and I have the kind of relationship that would warrant the type of response one would typically expect at the passing of a parent is just one more of the many delusions that have comprised the majority of her 70+ years on this earth.  And it hurts me to say that, it really does.  But I can’t deny it’s the truth.

The reality is, she’s not my Mom.

Not really.

My Mom calls or texts me regularly to see how I’m doing, to get the latest status update and find out what’s going on with Mother, so she can pray for her, and for me.   We’ve talked extensively about the impact of this experience on me, especially falling so closely on the heels of my Father’s passing, just a few short weeks ago. 

The latest chapter in Mother’s ongoing adventure of hospital explorations came to my attention a few weeks back, when I got a call out of the blue from a stranger in her neck of the woods, who wanted to confirm that I am, in fact, her relation.   This member of her church spoke with me at great length about his concerns.  At first, it seemed he was informing me of her condition, but, upon closer inspection, I think he was mostly reaching out for help.  He’d been in her house by then, and was overwhelmed by its unexpected state… Her home environment was so slovenly that it more or less amounted to a biohazard worthy of a call to the CDC.  She was not entirely a hermit, as she still worked outside the home, but, she was reclusive, living like the opposite of Howard Hughes… no money, and an aversion to anything that gave off the merest suggestion of cleanliness, completely surrounded by the clutter and debris of a life of total chaos. 

I felt for him, and the position that his family, who’d effectively adopted her as a kind of surrogate grandmother, must have been in, trying to find some way to positively impact her circumstances, rather than returning her to this wasteland, where it was hard to understand how a human could function. 
He was very glad to talk to me, because I was able to shed some light on a better impression of what her life had been, and how she’d come to that point, with a perspective he hadn't had, and an insight that helped to make looking around her hoarder’s nest and observing her extreme neglect of her now grossly disfigured body make a bit more sense… to some minor extent.

But I couldn’t help him, anymore than I could fix her. 

I’d given up that battle more than 25 years ago, about the time I saw her last.

Turns out, however, that particular quandary wasn’t going to remain all that relevant.

Things went very quickly from bad to worse, and, suffice it to say, Mother has reached the end of the line, and will not be coming back home.


I’ve lived a fair portion of my adult life expecting at any point on some random day to get a phone call from some stranger telling me that Mother had left this mortal coil.  I didn’t always know if there was anyone in her life in tune with her enough to even know that she had children, much less to be able to contact any of us.  I think everyone in our family would always have supposed I'd naturally be the one of us most impacted by her death.  At age 3, I’d been old enough to remember her, but young enough to get over being abandoned by her.  My brother and sister, 8 and 7 years my seniors, respectively, were not quite so understanding.  After Mother eventually acquiesced her five year long battle with the state in which she tried to convince anyone who would listen that she hadn’t been a paragon of everything unfit about raising children, my siblings were no longer of the optimal age to be adopted to another family, or to be able to move on quite so easily.  They avoided making any attempt to stay in touch or maintain a relationship.  I at least make a phone call on birthdays, holidays, Mother’s Day, and other occasions I know hearing from me would make her feel special.  But that’s about it.  I learned long ago that the only way to have any kind of successful interaction with a Paranoid Delusional Narcissist with Borderline Personality Disorder is to recognize the relationship for what it is, and to not try to expect anything more from of it.

Mother could never have been any more to me than what she was.  The kindhearted lady who created me was also a weary, tortured soul with neither the skills, nor the coping mechanisms to know how to raise me.  And, I really can’t fault her that, so I don’t.  I’ve long ago put far away in a box on a shelf any childish, foolish hopes for something more than she could give, and, I’ve learned to just love her for what she is, without trying to force her to be something she’s not.

But now she’s dying.

She’s been reaching out to me in these last few days, as a dying parent would to a child in an hour of need, and I don’t really know how to respond.  She plays a game of manipulation, a dance she knows so well it’s second nature to her, in which she rewrites history so convincingly that she believes it herself, and, for a brief moment, she almost convinces me.  She is not ready to die, she wants me to pray for a miracle.  She says God is not through with her yet.  She says she can’t go, she has still has so much more to do. 

She wants to fight.

     She wants to LIVE.

For half a breath when I got the call, I suddenly started into the mode that one goes into when you realize you are faced with one of those situations in life that waits for no one, and cannot be put on hold.  Death takes no reservations.  It gives you a number, and when your time is up, it collects.  It does not linger, tapping an impatient toe.  Death is on its own schedule.  There are no forbearances, and no reprieves.  It will come for us when it is ready, whether we are ready or not.  It is best to hope that we would be; that we could live in such a way that one day is just as good as the next.  But, it doesn’t always work out that way.  In fact, most of the time, it doesn’t.  Yet, Death is never convenient.  Death doesn’t care a thing about your agenda.

MOTHER is dying.

     Mother will be DEAD soon.

          I have to get ready, I have to prepare…

               There’s so much to do, I can’t think straight…

In that mode, I started looking at online airfare costs, coordinating if I could take off work, wondering what I could hire a hazmat team for, and, do they have 1-800-GOT-JUNK in Florida?

And then it hit me.

     …Wait a minute…

          This is NOT my Mom.

WHY exactly am I thinking about jumping through all these hoops???

I had to pause, to think, to regroup.


Nobody wants to die, much less to die alone.  And, I feel for, her, I do… I don’t want her to go out that way.  But, I can’t think about mourning her death, because I’m still in mourning over her LIFE.  I mourn the opportunities that she’s missed.  I mourn the bridges that she’s burned.  I mourn the friendships she’s turned her back on, and the loved ones she’s driven away.  I mourn her body betraying her into the grave now because she has ignored every sign that it has been screaming at her over the last several years as it begged for her attention and her nurture.  She is dying as she lived... in denial.  And when there is nothing left but the end, I can’t suddenly turn back the clock and undo 70+ years of bad habits and bad choices, and pretend like I am the person she needs at her side to show her love and comfort and respect.  I cannot be something that I am not any more now that this is almost over than I could have been able to for the duration of our relationship up to this point.

I called her Pastor today.  I was happy to hear that a large portion of the sizable congregation is deeply concerned over her loss.  I was beside myself with gratitude to learn that they have already dealt with the disaster that is her home.  I am glad to know that she will not be alone, but that she will be surrounded by light and love, and supported in prayer and praise.  I am thrilled to realize she has such a strong connection in this second family she’s created from this church.  Most importantly, I am happy that they will help her to somehow come to terms with this, and accept it, in the hope that she can be at peace.

     Now there’s just the quandary of whether or not I  actually need to be there in those final days.

          How soon can I get there?  Can I afford a ticket?  How long will the trip be?  Will I still have a job when I get back?

     The nurses give me the impression the logistical puzzle is probably a moot point, anyway.


I spoke to Mother on the phone.  I’m not sure she knew it was me.  She called me by a name I don't know.  She talked about a conversation she had with her daughter, someone she thought was in the room at the time, then realized she was confused.  She talked about a day at work like it was yesterday.  She talked about my brother (pushing 50) like he was 12.  She laughed, she joked, she sang... a lot.  She read me something, I think it was the back of a cereal box.  I don’t know if she wouldn’t have been doing the same thing whether there was a person on the other end of the receiver or not.

THAT's not MY Mother.

     I can't help but think it won’t be long now.

I still call her every day, just in case one day she's actually still in there somewhere.  It's always the same.  I remember the last time I actually spoke to her as the person she used to be... it was a good conversation.  I don't really mind it being the last time we talked, in that, I don't regret anything about it.  But, I just didn't know then that there wouldn't be any more... ever.  I keep hoping she'll have a moment of lucidity long enough for me to get through, knowing I may never get the chance... to tell her goodbye, and I wish for her to have peace.  But I may not get that chance... she hasn't really been the woman I have known my whole life for several days now. 

So, if she’s already gone… what’s left?  Funerals are not for the dead, they’re for those left among the living to remember the dead.  But what is there in that for me?  I can't go down there just to be surrounded by a bunch of strangers from her church, remembering a woman neither of us really knows the way the other does.

If mine was anything resembling a normal childhood, or ours was anything akin to a nuclear family, I’m certain that, distance be damned, financial caution to the wind, I would move heaven and earth to be by her side.

     But, it wasn’t, and, we’re not.


My Mom gave us a brief scare a few weeks back, where she accidentally mixed up her Prednisone with her Ambien and landed in the hospital from an apparent overdose of sleeping pills by putting the two different bottles in the wrong place.  She’d gotten up on a Sunday morning, got ready for church, made some muffins, took her medication, and then promptly passed out, unable to be rousted.  Inside of two hours, four of her children (my brothers) were at her side, along with her husband (my dad), and their preacher.  When she was coming out of it, within minutes, we were laughing at her bedside, grateful she was going to be well, with no adverse effects to her health.  She was incredibly embarrassed, but very happy, and we’ve even teased her about her “Ambien Muffins.”  Because if you can't laugh at yourself, what's the point? 

Mom is concerned for me, through all of this.  She spends a few minutes preaching at me when we talked last; she didn't really mean to, it was just hard to pass up the opportunity to point out the lesson I could take away from this example of how a tragic life ends, and how she hopes for so much better for me.  Of course, her idea of better for me is a life closer to the one she understands.  I'm just not there.  I don't know if I ever will be, to the same extent that she would want me to.  She believes in something I just don't, and, I envy her that undying conviction, but, trying to find it at this point is just a little more than I can handle right now.  She apologizes, says she wants me to be comfortable talking to her, and doesn't want to overwhelm me... I know she means well.  I love about her that she has learned to pray for me in that respect without being angry, because she has come to be able to disconnect her love for me from her desire to save me, and, it's the most amazing thing she's ever done — for her, for me; for both of us.  Now she leaves the fate of my soul for me to work out with my God, and she just loves me anyway, so that her sense of responsibility for me no longer has to come between us. 

And I love her for that most of all.

I don’t want to lose my Mom anytime soon.  But if I have to be ready to, I can be.  Because, when her time has come, there won’t be any concerns that she hasn’t done everything that was asked of her.  Whether she fades away over a period of weeks or months, or she is taken by a bus tomorrow, she is fulfilled, and she is ready.  She is loved, and, if it is possible, she will be surrounded by that love in her final days.  We will mourn her passing, but we will celebrate her LIFE.

No, if I am given the opportunity, there will never be any question as to whether or not I’m going to be there at the end of days for my Mom.

     Ø     My Mom, who raised me from the time I was 10.

     Ø     My Mom, who put in the hard work of growing with me through the changes of my life, 
             from at-risk youth to troubled teen, to independent woman.

     Ø     My Mom, who made herself vulnerable to me, with all of my walls and defenses, 
             who demonstrated tough love in the face of my indifference, and stood her ground 
             in the path of my aggression, knowing that she wouldn’t escape unscarred.

     Ø     My Mom, who made mistakes along the way, but who took responsibility for them, 
             who learned there was still more learning to come and more growing up to do, 
             and who found a way to rise above it all, to work through it, and to overcome.

     Ø     My Mom, who has discovered how to forgive, and to let herself be loved.

     Ø     My Mom, who, over time, has come to want nothing more for my life than I want for myself. 

     Ø     My Mom, who finds a variety of ways on a regular basis to tell me that she loves me… 
             for no other reason that she just wants to make sure I know.


We aren’t born with instructions.  There’s no right way to figure out how to get through this life, and, for sure, life is the only endeavor from which none of us will ever make it out alive.

Life doesn’t always work out the way we want, and certainly, death doesn’t either, but, for many of those among us who’ve ever taken time to give thought to the way we might choose to die, there’s a commonly desired image in mind for when we get to that stage.  We may not always have the choice, but, if we do, we tend to lean towards the option to be surrounded by friends and family and faces of those we love, and who’ve loved us along the way, offering comfort and compassion as we pass into the next stage.  But, if we die as we have lived, then, if we want that, we have to be living a life that brings that love and support of family and friends all along the way, throughout the journey, so that it can be there with us at the end, just as it always has been.

And a life like that doesn’t come with batteries included.  You have to build it as you go, piece by piece, one brick at a time…  a smile, a laugh here; a gesture, a hand there; a kind word, a hug… a moment of time... maybe just a cup of water.

With the materials you lay down, you’re paving the road to whatever comes next.


God be with you, Mother. 

I love you.  I will never forget you.

Rest in Peace.

LJ Idol | Season 8 Week 12 - Topic: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED
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( 43 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jan. 31st, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
This was sad but well-written.
Jan. 31st, 2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It was not at all easy to write, but, it refused to remain unwritten.
Feb. 1st, 2012 12:54 am (UTC)
Yowser, what a story. I can see how this had the power to refuse to remain unwritten, as you said in your comment.

I like the distinction you make between Mother and Mom. It's hard to know what I'd choose to do in your shoes, but you've certainly made me think.
Feb. 1st, 2012 06:06 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I really know, either, to be honest. Ask me again on another day, and you might get a different answer. My brother is going down there today, to formally represent her as her next of kin. The legal responsibility falls to him, as the oldest. My sister has asked everyone to just leave her alone and stop giving her updates, because she just doesn't care. The distinction has always been there... it's how I separate the people who raised me from the people who gave me life. Mother doesn't mind that I call her that, and, I think it suits her. Thanks for reading.
Feb. 1st, 2012 01:33 am (UTC)
wow. This really spoke to me for many reasons, about my own personal debate on what to remember about my dad, and just how much to forgive and forget, and how much to remember and accept.

I think the only decision that's right is the one you feel comfortable making, and it looks like you got there
Feb. 1st, 2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much.
Feb. 1st, 2012 02:23 am (UTC)
I don't know what to say........your courage just in writing about this is moving.
Feb. 1st, 2012 07:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks... it isn't really a requirement for me that anyone should say anything... this situation is fairly unique, in that, most folks will lose parents, but, not many will lose 4, and, of those who do, most won't have this kind of conundrum, so, I don't really expect anyone else to really be able to relate to the circumstances of this experience, though, perhaps the emotions are universal. Either way, I do appreciate your thoughts, and thanks for reading and for sharing.
Feb. 1st, 2012 03:12 am (UTC)
Amazing. I'm speechless.
Feb. 1st, 2012 10:33 pm (UTC)
It is a bit hard to know what to do with something like that when it's just spilled out, and there are no common scenarios that would allow most people to relate.


At least it comes from a journal entry, and not drooled all over you by some random stranger at a bus stop. ;)

Thanks for reading.
(no subject) - mac_arthur_park - Feb. 1st, 2012 10:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 1st, 2012 09:32 am (UTC)
This was just so touching. For you the Mom that was never there, as apposed to the Mom who was. So many conflicting feelings. An illness that obviously consumed her eventually.

A powerfull piece that needed to be written.

Personal note. I lost a brother at 63, he made bad decisions, drank too much; We talked on the telephone, told each other we loved each other, as we did. He died a long way from here, I couldn't afford to go to the remote place, his daughter who he had not seen for years went, as she lived near. His life had been destroyed, at 60 he looked 90. So sad. But I was glad my last words on the 'phone had been "Love you Bruv". Just do what you can, phone, if that is all. She may not make sense, but she knows the voice. May she rest in peace. Hugs. I am her age, 70+....... I count my blessings every day.
Feb. 1st, 2012 10:29 pm (UTC)
The illness that is consuming her is cancer... it had progressed to stage 4 before she discovered it, because she'd ignored all 7 stages of warning signs, and now it's everywhere, even her lymph nodes. It's causing blood clots that have mangled her extremeties completely out of shape, until she hardly looks like a real person anymore. But, really, probably, the underlying illness that brought her to the space which caused her to punish herself into the grave is more associated with her mental instability. She'd gotten to a point she could hardly get around in her house anymore because there was no space to move, with all the mess she's been collecting. She even shares her bed with it. She reads her mail on the toilet because it's the only clear seat in the house, and, even its normal function is hardly ever put to use because she consumes less than an ounce of liquid a day. She's eaten nothing but fast food happy meals for more than 20 years. I wish I understood why she felt so horribly about her life that she refused to take care of it. Her birthday is May 13th... she would be 72 this year, but, I don't expect she will see that dawn. I pray that the end will come quietly, and that she may find some way to meet it ready.
Feb. 1st, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
I don't know what to say, but I'm too moved to say nothing. *hugs*
Feb. 1st, 2012 10:18 pm (UTC)
I will ALWAYS take a hug where words fail. Thank you.
Feb. 1st, 2012 03:43 pm (UTC)
Powerful. Honest. Respectful. Thought-provoking. Beautiful. Well written. Excellent take on the prompt. I love the clear contrast between Mother and mom and your ability to discern your own feelings and actions. Brava! Great entry!
Feb. 1st, 2012 10:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I've made that distinction ever since I was adopted. Mother and Mom were two very different women to me, who filled such distinct roles, it just didn't do for them to have the same handle, and, I think it made my Mom feel better to know she wasn't really sharing my love, because I'd made space for both of them, but in very different ways, much the same as she could with her five children.
Feb. 1st, 2012 07:58 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry for your coming loss. I'm glad you are finding peace with the good and bad memories.

An upcoming loss brings up so many emotions.

I hope you find comfort in your journey.
Feb. 1st, 2012 10:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 12:25 am (UTC)
Incredibly heartfelt and well-written, and I'm so sorry you're going through this.
Feb. 17th, 2012 01:34 am (UTC)
Thanks. Sorry I didn't respond sooner... slowed down a bit that week, naturally, I think. I appreciate the sentiment, though, and wanted to thank you, better late than never.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
I touching piece of writing. Well written. I could feel your confusion and your frustration and your love. Well done.
Feb. 17th, 2012 01:36 am (UTC)
Sorry I didn't thank you for this comment earlier... a bit frazzled during this time.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 01:54 am (UTC)
This was so sad, but so, so good. It's on one of the best entries I've read this round, probably one of your best ever. Sound composition, form, subject, emotions. It's just fantastic writing.

And I hope it was cathartic to write, because it had to be more than a little difficult to share something so personal and so important.

She is dying as she lived... in denial.
Such simple words, but the truth in them is breathtaking.

My Mom, who, over time, has come to want nothing more for my life than I want for myself.
This, and conveying their love, is one of the most important gifts a parent can give any child.

Reading this, I'm struck with the thought that I hope you're proud of yourself and who you've become. You have handled the difficulties with your birth-mother with grace, kindness, and forgiveness (right to the end), and you truly see and love your adoptive parents for who they are. So many people, after a lifetime of trying, never get there.

This was amazing. And so are you.
Feb. 17th, 2012 01:49 am (UTC)
I'm truly humbled that you would say such kind things to me, especially over something I was so torn about. I'm sorry I didn't express my gratitude at the time... I was a bit overwhelmed, then, and have only slowly been coming out of the mist that was those few days in the couple weeks since. I have invested a fair amount of personal energy in my life determining what kind of person I wanted to be, and how I wanted to impact the portions of the world I would connect to. It is touching to know that anything I might share here could give anyone the impression that I am becoming the person I want to be, and I am honored and encouraged to know that anything about who I am as that person shows in my writing. So thank you very much for this.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 02:57 pm (UTC)
Remarkable. I admire you for being able to write this, but at the same time I am not surprised to hear it refused to stay unwritten; there's such a drive to it. And along the way, so many powerful paragraphs and striking lines.

"I can’t think about mourning her death, because I’m still in mourning over her LIFE." This really resonates with me, and it helps make sense of a lot of the complicated feelings I have not be able to articulate surrounding the deaths of some people close to me. I will be thinking about that for a while, I expect.

"Of course, her idea of better for me is a life closer to the one she understands." Oh this is my mom too, so much. It's induced me to hide a lot of my life from my parents, with the resulting gulf of dissatisfaction, exacerbated by the fact that they don't even know it's there; they seem incapable of imagining life very different from theirs (which at least means I don't have to worry about them ever suspecting most of my secrets; they wouldn't dream such things exist).

I am sorry for your loss.
Feb. 17th, 2012 01:55 am (UTC)
People see what they want to see, and, to some extent, we can use that to our advantage in those relationships that warrant it. With my Mom, she just chooses not to know what she doesn't want to know about me, because she doesn't want there to be unnecessary conflicts between us, and, I can't say I disagree with that. She has learned to not try and change me, and I am so relieved by that. Thanks for reading... I'm sorry I didn't say so at the time, I just had a lot on my plate right then.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 05:48 pm (UTC)
I hear you, I hear you...I spent the last year of my dad's life wrestling with what to give and how much, balancing love and bad memories and trying to dig for the good ones. There's so much paperwork and technical challenges when they're ill, too. This was so moving - thanks for writing it.

One typo - Tarpon Springs - I grew up a few miles south of there :)
Feb. 17th, 2012 02:01 am (UTC)
Thanks for that... it's been quite some time since I have been nearby any signs that would have clued me in to the correct spelling, so, that was my phonetic guess based on the very Southern friend of hers giving me the details. And thanks for your kind response... I apologize for not getting back to it sooner... something of a whirlwind in my head for a bit, lately. I'm sorry you actually know how this feels.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 07:34 pm (UTC)
Wow. I hope you do what you have to do to bring peace. You will be left behind and you need to find a way to make that decision without guilt. Sending warm hugs.
Feb. 2nd, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
I feel guilty for not getting back to her sooner when she called on Saturday, and was at the time still lucid. If I could have gotten on a plane Saturday morning, and been there in an hour, I would have, because, really, that's the last time she was actually really alive. But, I can't go turn back the clock and make that happen.

My brother did end up having to go down to represent her interests as her next of kin (the responsibility that naturally falls to the eldest), because she is no longer of sound mind, and, he is really not doing very well with this at all. She is not at all herself, and in a lot of pain. She doesn't even know who my brother is.

He called me to ask how I felt about signing a DNR on her behalf. I told him to do it. DNR is not killing her... it's just not taking any extraordinary measures to prolong her suffering. If waiting longer could in some way potentially save her life, it might be worthwhile, but, at this point, that's not even an option.

By now, she's just a mostly empty shell with a dimming bulb, waiting to burn out. All that's left is for there to be an end to her pain.

Thanks for the hugs.
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