When the Last Guest Leaves
Dying with dignity is one thing. Helping your mom do it is another.
Rama Hughes / www.ramahughes.com
Pulling the trigger, 9 a.m., January 4, 2010
Killed Mom a few hours ago. I haven’t even had my coffee.
Actually, the state of Oregon says I didn’t kill her. The state says that “Death with Dignity” is not euthanasia. Not “assisted suicide.” But the State of Ben says know yer liberties. As individuals, death is nothing if not our own. Call it what you will, there’s one thing I know: She wouldn’t have done it without me.
Now Mom’s the deepest vision of silver-haired sleep, literally chilling on her side next to me in bed, snuggled up like a happy child, my hand on her shoulder, her head, her hair. I call my peeps to tell them it happened, that three months after her diagnosis and the following downhill slide, she rolled over at 3 a.m. last night and woke me with, “I want to do it now.”
And so we did it. She swallowed the stuff and died and my friends say wow and what was it was like.
“Amazing.” I say. “In-fucking-credible. Insane.” And I mean every syllable.
“So where is she now?” They ask.
“Uhh, right next to me,” I say. I am still in bed next to her.
Their gasps resound clearly.
“It’s too cold to get out from under the covers,” I say.
It’s not cold, but the lie helps. What am I doing here? For many months I was there for my mom. Now I exist for myself.
I tell my friends I’m going to put shades and a hat on her and take her for a ride to the incinerator in her convertible, and I almost believe myself. But when I gently raise her head and slip the sunglasses over her ears I realize that, despite knowing such an irreverent gesture would have won her complete, enthusiastic, and unadulterated approval, she’s cooled down now and stiffening, and I can’t follow through.
I dial a budget mortuary and a calm male voice answers.
“I want to . . . schedule a pickup.”
It was . . .
Pancreatic cancer, caught late.
PankC is like that. If it is not stumbled upon in its infancy, you might not notice its presence while it sets up camp, collects kindling, and builds a roaring fire.
Looking back, Mom was losing weight and said she was tired, but she seemed old enough to thin out—and coating the growing cracks of her illness was the armored exterior of a multifarious past. Count back from over 70 and imagine a little girl growing up in a loud, incendiary Berlin. She was abused, emotionally and physically, but she hardened up, swam on the German national team, and was very smart. She made it to the United States, got her master’s and PhD in psychology, but then couldn’t make it through her own psychotherapy. These complexities eventually became an attractive and risky—to those who loved her—mixture that made up her duplicitous personality.
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