Elegy in Real Time: Shirley Hocking


[In the months before her 93d birthday, my mother experienced a series of catastrophic health concerns, including dementia and three rounds of pneumonia. I moved in with her in March, and served as her healthcare proxy until she died in late May. Too often I felt wholly unprepared for my role. I began chronicling my days on Facebook to both order my thinking and, hopefully, allow my experience to be useful to others. I recognize now I was also trying to better make sense of our relationship and her life. So, while these fragments are from my perspective they also offer, perhaps most importantly, an elegy for our life as mother & son.]

Restless night.
Awoke with headache.
Weird self-portrait with Brady Bunch paneling.
Organized day. Did email. Achieved laundry goals.
Beat headache with hot shower and Motrin.
Completed errands.
Arrived for care team meeting to find genial patient.
Productive care team meeting. Solved mystery of weekend ‘issues.’
Supportive phone calls.
Awesome tuna melts.
Rejected by optimal assisted living facility.
More laundry.
Questions about assisted living plan-b.
Received new bicycle.
Fielded call about recurrent cough. Requested blood work. Patronized.
Rode bike to rehab facility.
Genial visit with patient. Inexplicable questions about pending ‘general meeting on the second floor.’
Rode bike home.
Planted trees.
Read impressive thesis draft. Treated self to dinner at historic Waverly Tavern.
General anxiety about tomorrow

Awoke too early. Is it spring? Stress? Age? That glass of wine?
Chores. Email. Coffee. NPR.
Survey half-assed yard clean-up.
Self-portrait in fog.
New bike tire flat overnight. Puddle of sealant on garage floor. Why did I go tubeless?
Painting? You could call it that.
Chatted-up patient’s virtues to plan-b rep.
Real painting.
Return bike for reseal and pressurization.
Coffee & conversation with high school Latin teacher (lovely).
Laundry drop-off. Check-in with visiting family friends. Patient genial, but nodding off.
Wander into family drama not my own; concerned patient urges my intervention. Circular logic (?) ensues.
Wander into chapel. Spontaneous lesson on the four laws of love. Or god. Or man. Something about four & love. Maybe Jesus.
Productive assessment with plan-b, the new plan-a.
Intrigue concerning so-called ‘secret dinner’ being served on alleged second floor.
Check bike tire. Fingers crossed.
Thesis reading.
Dinner. Out again.
Stop & Shop
(Cable TV is a vast wasteland.)

Long night of doubt & inadequacy, no real sleep.
Laundry. Coffee. Email.
Self-portrait. Again.
Horoscope: reinvent for a better day. Maybe hair, apparel or deep inner transformation.
Another flat tire. The other one. Mercury retrograde?
Read for meeting. Mindlessly eat satsumas.
Matthew calls.
Meeting with Cynthia.
Bike shop.
Coffee. Late breakfast, might as well be lunch.
Schedule meeting with plan-a, the old plan-b. One foot before the other.
The patient is confused. More talk of ‘fours.’ A walk. A nap in the sun.
She asks to hold hands now.
Stumble upon Ilona, hanging pictures. An oblique connection between her and the patient’s past. Talking about it delights patient.
More napping, now by the propane fire. Warm feet. Cold arms. Persistent cough.
Physical therapist finds us. Swollen ankles. Thinning skin. Tight knees. Bone grinding hip bone. Knotty muscle. Progress walking. Everything being relative.
Confuses ‘chest’ and ‘thigh’ while indicating palpitations.
Ask for chest X-ray. Told maybe, but no fever to indicate concern. ‘Hypothermic,’ I say. ‘It’s in her chart.’ ‘Oh, she’s one of those.’
Call Rick. Leave belated greetings.
A walk. In the woods. Without walker or wheelchair.
I’m not without gratitude, but experience sentimentality as violence. This is complicated. We can talk plainly.
Missed calls. Photographs. The market that used to be ‘Everybody’s.’ Dinner at ‘home.’
Talking with Rick as the sun sets.
I want my life back. This is my life.

Decent sleep. Slight headache. It’s going to rain.
Coffee. Email. BBC.
Ordered new bike two weeks ago. Still don’t really have it. (The Universe hates my self-care regime.)
Self-portrait. In studio.
Paint in poor light.
Plant trees. The last three? I imagine three more.
Painting in better light.
Art supply store.
Swiss cheese & avocado sandwich on the fly.
Signed assisted living/memory care contract.
Bike shop (fingers crossed).
Arranged for a mover, five days later than I’d like. Write to ask for a few more days of rehab.
Arrive to find patient enmeshed in another’s dementia-induced crisis. A circle of handholding. Tears. Past pain relived through current circumstance. The patient’s compassion extends beyond social convention, and demands my complicity. An hour in, Richie’s call breaks the circle, allowing crisis to be passed to the arriving husband.
From left field, patient seemingly attempts to fix me up with a strapping lad named ‘Joe.’ Still surprising.
Bathroom break. Fireplace. Quick nap. Drop her in the dining room.
Back in the world.
Everybody’s. (I can’t call it the new name.) Cooking. Newsy.
Dinner. C-Span. I want more bandwidth.
An early night.

Broken sleep. Late start. Mother’s Day.
A dream: George HW Bush asks me to be his healthcare proxy. (As if I didn’t already have enough to do.) He confides that the drama about Barbara’s funeral was all do to ‘costs.’
Coffee. NPR. Studio.
Overnight, bike tires hold PSI.
Texts with Roger. Quick check-in with Natalie. Janet. Texting Joann. Kath. Sylvan. Patti.
Paint. Buy gift. Lunch. Paint.
The patient’s sleeping when I arrive. A nap of 90-minutes; I scroll my phone.
Request chest x-ray for third time.
Awaking, there’s talk of death, premature burial, and funerals; a concern I’ll be hanged. Reassurances. A Mother’s Day gift used deftly as distraction.
It’s a day of proclamation. My card, a success, its plain message, ‘I Love You,’ must be shared. A tour of the dining room begins with assertions of love for all, but quickly shifts. ‘Let them know who brought it.’ I demur. Chanting: ‘Peter Hocking! Peter Hocking! Peter Hocking!’ Embarrassing enough, another turn: ‘Long Live Peter Hocking!’
Love erupts via unexpected idiom.
A quick retreat to the empty hallway near Sunday’s deserted Physical Therapy. A lie about our next destination. Back on the unit, she pours her gift, chocolate covered cherries, from their bag to the cards’ envelop. A simple gesture, communicating a lifetime of consolidating things into strange containers.
I show her the flowers she’s received from Joann. These too must be paraded and shared. Dave and his daughter appreciate the gesture.
Dave’s my pal, although he doesn’t know it. Every conversation in three parts: 1. Compliments: Nice pants. I like your beard. I like your hair. Nice hat. 2. Queries & Exchange: Where you from? I’m from Maine. I love Maine. What do you do? Is this your mom? 3. Summation: Thanks for coming. Thanks for being attentive to us.
Five minutes & we start again.
Delivering patient to dinner, I am relieved. Momentarily I’m free of obligation & crisis, free of dementia’s maneuvering & demands.
A moment of grace.
Cooking. Eating. Newsy. A conversation with Natalie.
Every ounce of normality I can squeeze from a day negates the notion I’m a victim. I’m not. Nor is this some ‘gift.’ It’s simply what’s required.

Not nearly enough sleep. Finished Aciman’s ‘Out of Egypt.’ Up before dawn.
Coffee. Local news. Studio. Email. Bills. Breakfast. Reading.
Horoscope: unexpected romance falls from the sky.
Try to nap. Laundry instead.
Errands. Hot shower. Real nap.
I deliver fresh laundry to find patient in recreation. Word has spread of her next step. I leave her to the music group and head back to the studio.
I’m behind. I feel screwed even when I know I’m not.
Later, I find some relief in learning the patient’s stay in rehab is extended five days.
A spin around campus. Every flower is a begonia, but agreeable to the possibility of some being azaleas. The tulips, all doubles, and nearly faded, are ‘really something.’
Awaiting an x-ray technician. (Finally.) In the meantime PT: a new wheelchair, massaging swollen feet, and a spot of walking.
Questions about her stepfather bring a memory of his fieldstone fireplace, described as ‘round bricks.’ Where was it? Where did you meet your husband? Where did you grow up? Not one correct answer. Confusion about places dismissed: ‘They ask so many questions.’ She remembers where she was married.
Today would have been their 69th anniversary.
Habituated to a cycle of disaster, I’m apprehensive about the chest x-ray. Rather than commute to RI tonight, I’ll get on the road at 5 AM.
Dinner. News. Correct papers. Motrin. Early night.

Seven hours sleep. Not bad. Still tired.
No pneumonia.
Coffee. Email. Breakfast.
Horoscope: Uranus changes signs heralding an exciting new beginning.
Foggy drive to PVD. A joy to be on the highway before dawn.
Home. Walk to campus. Student presentations: contemplative studies; design studio; design for social intervention; design disruption; ministry; queer history; AA; photographic documentary; & urban planning.
Return Paul’s message.
Back on the highway. Griswold Museum. Home. Lunch. Chores.
The patient is genial. Where have you been? No one’s been around. Everyone is out voting. The vote is for a new toilet. Did I vote? Republican or Democrat?
We go outside, where it’s legitimately hot. I’m corrected. The breeze is cool. Except in the sun.
Flowers have come out since this morning. Or yesterday.
I ask the first names of some of our former neighbors: Belle, Sarah, Ethel, and was it Martha? No, Henrietta. Does that sound right?
‘We knew a lot of older people in town because they all came up with the Indians.’
When you were a little boy you used to pretend to be all sorts of other people. Do you remember that? He’s the same height as his twin brother, Stan. You used to climb all the trees: apple, pear, peach… There are three brothers and two daughter-in-laws. A lot of money is involved.
Tornado warning.
Jackie calls. Thunderstorm cuts power and cell service.
At sixes and sevens.

Broken sleep. New book. Motrin PM. Groggy but rested.
A tornado hit a mile south of the house. Power restored. Internet out. State road to New Haven closed all day.
News. Coffee. Breakfast. Studio. Spoke with Sylvan.
As an infant I was institutionalized for five weeks, until I was adopted. Abandonment is my ‘thing.’ I have an artist residency next week, but I also have to transfer the patient to assisted living on Monday. There’s a scenario in which I can do everything, but I don’t know that I can leave her in a new place and split without feeling like I’m doing to her what ‘they’ did to me. All of which is to say, of course, I’m reliving my own shit.
Mid-morning my neighbor’s dog was struck dead by a car in front of the house. Driver didn’t stop, deepening the trauma. Watched as Animal Control Officer efficiently and carefully did her work. Scrubbed road with another neighbor.
A third neighbor, Chris, and I talk about when we were little and Siah, the Black Lab that lived between our houses, was hit by a car when we were at school. Two girls are coming home to that experience. I try not to think too much about it.
Continued conversation with Jackie. Spoke briefly with Patti.
Brought truck to Wallingford for service. Lots of fluids need replacing. Unexpectedly expensive.
I need to sell some paintings.
Rehab hospital is running on generators. Every third light is on. She’s sundowning, even though it’s barely 4 PM. Uninterested in me, she’s watching the nurse at the computer screen. ‘We’re finally seeing those results from the Olympics. We’ve waited a long time.’
Moving to a better lit part of campus helps her cognition. We run into John’s mother who doesn’t recognize me, and who’s surprised to be recognized. She’s sitting with another woman who recognizes my mother, but doesn’t know from where. They piece it together: Junior Women’s Club. Fifty plus years ago. The interaction is good for her and it’s lovely to be reacquainted.
We look out the window at the lousy weather. I tell her about the tornado, but she’s nonplussed. She’s sorry to hear about the neighbor’s dog. Her Mother’s Day flowers have become an anniversary gift.
We go to the fireplace, to warm up. She tells me she’s had Physical Therapy twice today, the second time with Greg. I say I think both of her therapists are very nice. ‘A lot of them are communists,’ she confides.
Dinner’s a half-hour early because of the generators. It causes quite a commotion on the unit. The patient isn’t hungry. ‘All they do is push food on you.’ But she has to make a choice. ‘Macaroni and cheese,’ she says conspiratorially. ‘You can take it home and heat it up later.’ I tell her to eat all she can and say goodbye.
I bought another tree. And some coreopsis. Three bags of mulch.
I don’t know who I’m gardening for.

Split sleep. Raining. Internet still wonky.
Coffee. News. Drive into town for Wi-Fi. Drive home to work because woman at cafe table next to me yells when she speaks. Write thesis response. Drive back to town to send it. Drive to New Haven.
Work used to be obvious, 9 to 5, concrete, scheduled. It’s amorphous now. What’s vocation? Avocation? Profession? Career? Ethical imperative? Show up, help out, passing through…
British Museum for ten minutes. The Hockney’s gone. Celia Paul is worth the stop. Delightful lunch with Martha at Atticus.
Drive home. The rain has burned off to summer-like humidity. Upon parking the truck, a call about discharge. Very poor reception. Dropped. I drive to rehab hoping to resolve details in person.
On arrival, the patient is disoriented. More talk of voting. Did I vote? ‘It’s for the President of the United States.’ ‘Wishful thinking,’ I mutter. She wonders where my brother and I have been. That I don’t have a brother is beside the point. She pairs me with any number of other men she knew as boys. Yesterday it was Stan. Today we settle on Paul. ‘He’s on his way to New Hampshire,’ I say. ‘Oh. Where have you been?’
I tell her about lunch with Martha and take her outside to see storm damage. Two white pines at the edge of visitor parking, snapped in half. A broken fence and a car partially crushed. ‘Really something. A real mess,’ she concludes.
In the midst of the visit I’m chasing down a hospital bed as the social worker chases down my signature. Securing a bed might be the thing that snaps my cool.
She’s more focused by the time I leave, aware that I have calls for work and that I’ll return tomorrow. It gives me hope that the structure of memory care may help her stay anchored to the here & now. But then she has questions about her car, specifically whether the door opens. I suspect it’s a thread from yesterday’s conversation about servicing my truck — and her assertion she needs to do the same once she gets home.
I don’t have the heart to tell her she’s never going home, perhaps because I don’t want to admit it. The process of deciding which furniture will go to assisted living has been pressing on me. Moving her things will create an undeniable void, changing forever her home of 66 years.
It’s trash night, so I bag a few piles of garden debris and drag the cans to the curb. I should’ve taken a nap, but brewed coffee instead.
In the garden, Siberian iris are sending up buds, reminding me that the sixth anniversary of my father’s death is imminent. His illness and death were swift. He was convinced he’d die at 62, so the extra 27 years must have been a real surprise. Perhaps borrowed time prepared him for death, took some of its teeth. I think mom continues to fight because she’s always feared death. She’s sensible that way.
I still can’t get stable phone reception at home, so I drive to a town park to speak with one of the graduate students I’m advising this semester. In the distance kids are playing lacrosse. On a day very much like this one in 1982 I got my drivers license and for the first time drove by myself to coach softball. This place changed very little in the 35 years I’ve been away. I’ve changed a lot.
Talking with Helen and then Caitlyn I’m reminded of what I needed from my parents, but never got. In her way mom’s trying to complete unfinished work. Trying to fix me up with ‘Joe’ was seismic. She doesn’t want me to be alone, and seems now able to let homophobia go. Of course, I could be projecting hope onto her. I’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter. It’s the kind of peacemaking, real or imagined, I’m willing to accept.

Apparently it’s impossible for me to sleep through the night.
Coffee. Still no data / Internet. Laundry. Switched up summer curtains in breezeway.
Drive into town for Wi-Fi.
I understand why my mother became obsessed with school buses and mail delivery. Nothing else happens here.
Fucked up cell service is making everything ten times more difficult.
Wheelchair & hospital bed rental / delivery finally confirmed.
Salvia. Henry Eilers. Coneflower.
The medical supply distributor ‘misspoke.’ Wheelchair & hospital bed to be delivered day after planned transfer. Request rehab extension. Scramble to shift details, but everything falls into place. I didn’t lose my cool.
Pre-move meeting at assisted living. I’ve got some shopping to do. And packing. There’s a list of poisonous plants banned in memory care. So much to learn. Lovely people. Hopeful.
Caitlyn is leaving the patient as I arrive. She’s genial, but tired from Caitlyn’s visit. We go outside for a moment, but it’s too cool. Inside she’s curious about the show that’s about to begin at the theater. That we don’t have tickets is enough to shift her attention to the ‘treasure hutch’ — a permanent tag sale tucked into a corner near the box office. Drapery stays, ‘a steal at $6 each,’ catch her eye. ‘Buy two,’ she directs. ‘We don’t need them,’ I say. ‘But we will,’ she retorts. ‘By the front door.’
We turn down a corridor she believes to be new to us. ‘See,’ she says pointing out a window we’ve passed a dozen times, ‘a new vista.’ At the end of the hall we run into John’s mother again. A quick hello as she has tickets to the show. There’s a round table near an entryway. I’m directed to circle it several times with her wheelchair. She then directs me to go outside through a door we’ve legitimately never used. We sit in the sun for a few minutes and I snap some pictures of us.
There’s something about elevators I’ve yet to crack. She points out each one we pass, and when we stop at the fireplace near the restaurants she declares, ‘This place closes at 9. The elevators run until 11.’
She nods off in front of the fire. Upon waking, she stares at the propane flames and says, ‘I’m intrigued by this log. I hope we can sit here long enough to see it burn down.’ She nods off again. When she next wakes it’s time to take her to dinner.
I walk the wooded trail at Brooksvale. Lots of trees down. Otherwise verdant. It’s Lady Slipper season in Provincetown. I keep hoping to see some here. I’m resigned to missing them this year, but content in my choices.
Salmon & basil yogurt dressing. Asparagus. Trying to eat clean again.
Exhausted but feeling accomplished. Perhaps tonight I’ll achieve unbroken dreams.

Split sleep, but enough to be rested. It’s going to rain.
Coffee. Royal Wedding (I know!). Breakfast. Internet’s back, which is more relief than I’d like to admit.
Putter in the studio. Hardware store. Tea.
In Provincetown I live & work in less than 300 square feet. The house feels sprawling, even as I confine myself to a quarter of it. What to do with it? How much time do I spend here? It feels like my house now… No, that’s not right. I inhabit it easily. But it still belongs to them.
There were no paramedics, no ambulance when she left the house. Somehow we, she more than me, got her into my truck and drove to the ER. Backing out of the driveway I thought it might be her last time at home. I said nothing. How could I? She made no good-byes I know of. It pains me that I’m the one who took her from home.
I paint halfheartedly. The light is poor and it’s a few degrees too cold. Sinus headache doesn’t help.
Lunch & coffee ease headache a bit.
I make a round of calls to my mother’s friends. I’m asked if I’m taking care of myself. I tic off a list of things I’m doing, realizing a few are merely aspirational. Surely I get points for knowing what I should be doing?
Superfluous trip to art supply store. I’m getting nervous about my summer show. I have all the materials I need.
Arrive to find the patient in bed. Breathing labored, fluid in lungs, she’s sleeping. We’re awaiting a chest x-ray. Were I superstitious I’d correlate this turn with my hopefulness about assisted living.
Drove home for my phone charger and a book. Drove into town for a large coffee. Intuition tells me it’s going to be a long night.
She’s awoken by the CNA to get her evening meds. She looks at me, but says nothing and slips back to sleep. Surprisingly her oxygen level is good. The nebulizer eases her labor, even though it’s clear she doesn’t like it. The CNA puts her on oxygen as a precaution. She looks at me plaintively as the x-ray technician arrives. I go to the rest room. That’s when the tears start. So much for my theory of depreciating grief.
My mother’s roommate doesn’t know she’s at rehab. She’s angry and a tiny bit mean. We’ve spoken a dozen times, but she doesn’t remember me. She asks repeatedly for carfare to get home. Tonight I find it difficult to hold space for her.
The patient’s talking in her sleep. I can’t make out words — probably not meant for me anyway — but she’s calling out with muted urgency. She’s living her whole life at once now, conflating her caretaking of boys in 1936, 1956, & 1976 into a single era. In many ways I think she always preferred the potentiality of boys to the reality of men. Or simply of me. I don’t mean that unkindly to either her or me. We can’t help what we love. Or who we become.
It’s pneumonia. Oral antibiotic. Monitoring & waiting. She awakens for a few minutes and acknowledges me. It’s late and quietly on the wall the Royal Wedding is being replayed on CNN. I tell her Prince Harry got married. She watches a moment, says, “Finally the last one,’ and falls back to sleep.
On her deathbed, my grandmother made me promise I’d care for my mother. Thirteen years later, sitting with my dying father, he solicited the same promise. I suppose it’s what I’m doing, sitting in the dark listening to raspy breaths, waiting. It feels too passive to be caretaking, but tonight it’s what I’ve got.

Awoke at dawn. Surprisingly sound sleep, if not enough. Foggy but warmer.
Coffee. Email. Studio. Shower. Breakfast. News.
The patient is awake and alert and eating a few bites of breakfast. IV antibiotic & two liters of fluids on today’s agenda. Oxygen. Speaking is difficult. To indicate she wants the window open she repeats ‘Air.’ Birdsong enters the room as she falls to sleep.
She calls out for keys. Her mind is preoccupied by everydayness: last week it was taxes, yesterday it was her car, pocketbook & mail, now keys. A few weeks ago, really two months now, I frequently said she was experiencing a rapid onset of dementia. The doctor, who finally diagnosed her, dissuaded me of this. Vascular scarring indicated it had been happening for probably two years. Her intelligence & discipline masked her decline. She was impeccable with routine. It’s no wonder it fills her dreams & fantasies.
Assisted living doesn’t do IVs. Barring a transfer to the hospital, or something more dire, she’ll remain at rehab for at least this cycle, and quite possibly longer. We’ll deal with these details tomorrow when the workweek begins. Regardless, they want me to move her furniture as scheduled. This feels both hopeful & futile. I hate it.
Last week, when Mary was at her most agitated, the patient would inch her wheelchair close and reach out. ‘Holding hands will help,’ she’d say. It’s what she and I have been doing this morning. And frankly it’s gobsmacked me. But it might be what I need. I try to mask my tears with splashes of cold water in the restroom. From whom am I attempting to hide my feelings?
At times her gestures are reassuring — folding the hem of the sheet, adjusting her johnny coat — and remind me of her old self. Then she picks up the televison remote as if it were a phone. A familiar gesture, to be sure, but its lost intention reveals her drifting mind. As the afternoon progresses, she becomes more active, if less alert. Her gesture becomes worried. She spends ten minutes half-communicating a thought: ‘A shell in the cavern,’ although it might be ‘shale’ or ‘cellar.’ She winds back to an earlier obsession about ‘millions of dollars’ (sometimes ‘billions’) and the ‘time element.’ I’m grateful it’s Sunday and my deflection about ‘business hours’ isn’t a lie. I blatantly lie about having already submitted the paperwork.
The next time she wakes, the sentence takes shape: ‘In the cellar, pull the chain on the light.’ Okay. Whatever.
In another reality, I’m beginning my Twenty Summer’s residency in Provincetown today. Over the past weeks. I’ve nursed a dozen scenarios about getting there for some part of the week, but the idea of it is now a faded dream. My collaborators are sending photos which offers possibility, but my work is grounded in place and the unanticipated discovery that’s revealed by immersion. My paintings right now, like so much of my psyche, are memories of feeling, not exactly feeling itself. Yes, yes…I am making paintings about here. But that won’t exactly build my summer show. I may just go with it & call the show ‘remembered.’ That’s some fierce irony.
At the shift change I run home to eat as the patient has her IV refreshed, etc. Curiosity demands I descend to the cellar and pull the chain on the light. I find nothing. I don’t know what I’m looking for.
She’s sleeping peacefully when I return. Her oxygen was low, but has returned to the respectable 90s. The nurse reminds me she’s only had one dose of the more powerful antibiotic. Setting the virtue of patience aside for a moment, I return to the shadow over our day. Her context is fraught. Three bouts of pneumonia in six weeks points toward the inevitable. My tears are justified, and maybe a barometer of the pressure bearing on us. Nothing to hide.

Crows wake me after a full night’s sleep. Gorgeous daybreak.
Pack. Coffee. News. Email. Laundry. Studio. Plant basil.
Horoscope: This is a time of deep feelings.
The patient is getting dressed when I arrive. This feels hopeful, but she doesn’t respond when I say, ‘hello.’ I step out to let the CNA finish up.
Fitted with portable oxygen, off to the dining room, she has a few bites of French toast and a few sips of orange juice. She waves to a friend, but isn’t really speaking. I think it’s hard for her to speak, but also consider whether she’s deeply disoriented. Before leaving, I say, ‘I love you.’ She attempts to respond. From the cadence of her mumble I know she’s reciprocated.
The movers arrive thirty minutes late, giving me time to trim the crabapple tree. Sal is gregarious and his crew is efficient. He asks about my mother and tells me about his father’s death. I’m learning this is common. While I have no illusions, I’m still focused on the possibility of her remaining days and the joy I’ve seen her experience in small pleasures. Death will come soon enough, I’m fully aware.
Moving furniture to assisted living feels like a fools errand, but the house feels lighter after the movers are gone. Regardless of whether she ever arrives there, the act of removing some of her things from the house concretizes the reality of her departure. In other words, if nothing else it’s cathartic for me.
Vent frustrations with Mike, who listens generously.
I tell students that if you sit in the studio long enough something happens. I have to sit longer.
Purposeful trip to art supply store.
She’s had a lethargic day. Sleeping since lunch. Swallow test scheduled for the morning to determine if recurring pneumonia is due to pulmonary aspiration. I tell the nursing staff that I don’t expect her to fully rouse for another two days… at least that’s been her pattern.
Several people have told me I’m strong. I don’t think it’s true. At least, I don’t think I’m stronger than anyone else. And I’m painfully aware of the moments I fall apart. But things have to get done and there’s no one else to do them. I’m doing what humans do. Carrying on.
We decide to bring her dinner rather than bring her to dinner. She eats some egg salad, more than I expect, and tolerates the thickened cranberry juice she’s required to drink to minimize aspiration. She falls asleep while eating. I wake her to say good night and with her lips she says ‘I love you.’
I plant a linden tree — last of the nine trees I’ll plant this spring. And cone flower, salvia, and coreopsis. The Siberian iris are ready to pop & columbine already have. Lily of the Valley are everywhere.
I make dinner & prime canvas.

Slept well. Red sky at dawn.
Coffee. News. Email.
New discharge date: no sooner than 6/5.
Studio. Painting is harder than usual. There’s no solace in it. No delight. It’s all pushing; work in the grossest sense.
She’s in rough shape when I arrive. Not strong enough for the swallow test, it’s been vaguely postponed. She’s aware of me, but without energy to communicate. The CNA arrives to bathe and dress her & I go for coffee. The tears are strong this morning.
A round of calls, a morning of visitors: Pam, Paul, Joann & Lynda. I believe she recognized them.
Missed connections with Lisa. Rick actively listens to my stories of unfolding weirdness. I read Barry Lopez as my mother sleeps.
The CNA who’s been with her all day comes to check in before her shift ends. On its surface the phrase ‘see you tomorrow’ feels glib in its optimism, but I know it’s also something of a prayer. She kisses my mother’s forehead before stepping from the room. Her gesture brings tears.
Like when administering palliative care for my father, or like when Kurt was dying, it’s not the fact of death that makes me cry. Rather, it’s care taking and small acts of generosity & love that break me down.
Her sleep is without the weekend’s disturbing raspiness. It’s mostly peaceful & reassuring. I’m aware of its illusion and my frequent absentminded assumption — as if her underlying dementia were a dream — she’ll awaken and speak with me as if nothing was wrong. Often enough I freeze in panic, like my thirteen-year old self, knowing how cross she’d be with decisions I’ve made. I doubt very much she’d actually disagree with my choices, but she’d disagree with my having made them. And she’d hate the trees. As a matter of principle.
Because she’s having trouble swallowing, she’ll get another liter of IV fluid. I’m glad for it, even knowing it’s second choice. I hold her hand as the fluids are connected to her line. She doesn’t let go.
I go home to eat as her dinner is arriving. I’m told she ate fifty-percent and drank some fluids. The raspiness is back when I return, so she’s taken off fluids as a precaution. How much can she tolerate?
‘What does comfortable mean?’
A new nurse, very attentive but unaware of the patient’s progress & habits. She’s nervous about doing the right thing, and I appreciate her rigor. But I find myself slowing the grind of intervention. Let’s aim for a restful night. Let’s do our best, continue treatment, & keep her comfortable.
Tomorrow I’ll have a Hospice consult. It feels too soon, or too late, or right on time. I’m wary of hopefulness, but unwilling to give it up. I’ve been here twice before with her and she’s surprised me. She’s fighting and it’s her right to hold onto the world in whatever way she needs. For however long she can. And I’ll do what I can to keep her ‘comfortable.’ Until she let’s go.

mom jr womens club5/23
Thunderstorms at 3 AM, otherwise sound sleep. No phone calls during the night.
Coffee. News. Studio.
Horoscope: Epictetus wrote, “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”
The patient’s sleeping when I arrive, no change from last night. Blood pressure & oxygen level at respectable levels. Temperature low. Nurse & CNA washing and refreshing her. I go for coffee.
John’s mother asked to see a photo of my mom when she was chair of the Junior Women’s Club. I found it and put it on my phone. She’s with a group near the coffee shop, and I share it. They agree she was a real beauty. ‘Still is,’ I say.
They ask her age and the age my father was when he died. Someone says, ‘You can look forward to a long life.’ I don’t correct them. My birth mother died at 65. Life’s a crapshoot.
I’m writing to remember, to order my thinking, and because nothing (maybe Tolstoy) prepared me for the last three months. We need to speak plainly about these things, and not retreat from moments of shared humanity.
Since she’s not responding to the antibiotics, it’s likely her pneumonia is viral. So it’s truly up to her. She’s still not eating or drinking, so we’re trying dextrose / saline again — at a slower drip. There’s nothing to indicate discomfort, so I’ve put off the Hospice consult another day.
I’ve made friends with the cranky roommate, which is not an unqualified advantage. Like all of us, she needs to be witnessed. Perhaps more urgently given her advanced years. I try. At the very least, our conversations spare the nursing staff some valuable time.
Being present to various forms of dementia, I recognize it’s our deepest habits that remain as filters fall away. Do I still have time to cultivate deep habits? What final essence do I want to leave this world?
I’m surprised how deeply my mother’s presence has affected those caring for her. She’s shown them parts of herself withheld from me. I’m glad to have witnessed this, and glad, too, that she’s had to witness me in this context. Is this our reconciliation? Our mutual redemption? Or mine alone? Perhaps it doesn’t matter.
There’s a fire drill. She sleeps through it. I’m unsure if this means she’s slipping past our plane, or simply inured to the bings & beeps of institutional life. That, of course, is a lie. She’s far from home.
This weekend will be the sixth anniversary of my father’s death. I’m trying not to be superstitious, but it feels familiar — the light, the first Siberian iris, morning birdsong, the vigil, and the hum & pump of oxygen being administered carefully and consistently.
When I drive home for dinner, I find the lawn’s been cut thoroughly and well, which would please her. The driveway smells of grass & Lily of the Valley, and low light filters gracefully through the maples. The familiarity makes me ache. When we were living in the house together I’d refer to it as ‘her house,’ and she’d correct me. ‘It’s your house, too.’ I still resist this, because my homes are elsewhere. Also elsewhere, I guess.
I try to hold her hand when I return, but she doesn’t reciprocate. Her skin is cool. Various nurses and CNAs pop in and assure me they’ll be checking on her. Earlier in the day, a receptionist asked if I’d stayed the night. Too glibly I said, ‘I’m dutiful but not obsessive.’ Tonight I’m not so sure.

Home at midnight. Six hours sleep. The sound of crows. Daybreak feels like joy.
She rallied a bit after 10 PM. Open eyes. Moving arms & legs. Holding hands again. Enough to feel a flash of hope. Enough to permission sleep.
Coffee. News. Breakfast.
The patient is already washed when I arrive. The same as when I left: Sleeping. Vitals good. Wiggling feet. Nurse says she’s hopeful she’ll bounce back.
The cranky roommate is having a bad morning. I sit with her and listen. A retired psychiatric nurse, she has opinions about the quality of care she’s receiving. I have no complaints about the care my mom’s received. They have fundamentally different personalities. And that matters.
I listen attentively until my mother starts crying in her sleep. Bad dream? Or is she experiencing the negativity of her roommate’s words? Her cough is productive. The congestion is causing mild apnea. It may simply be physical discomfort.
She’s not alert enough to receive oral medication. We’ve decided to switch her to an air mattress. The cranky roommate, who I’m coming to adore, has been escorted to the nurse’s station.
My mother cared for several elderly family members. She was brilliant with logistics, loving & deeply engaged, but struggled to be present at the end. She couldn’t sit with her mother as she died, and when my father opted for palliative care she made her good-byes and waited at home. I respect those decisions but wonder what she’d make of me. When her mother was dying she told me my grandmother didn’t want us sitting around, holding vigil. And when Kurt was dying, her advice was ‘don’t get too involved.’ I recognize her projection. I also recognize the necessity of my presence. Undoubtedly, were she to have her say, my approach to these days would land on our list of irreconcilable difference. Like so many things on that list, I no longer care.
Spoke with Matthew. Spoke with Paul. Spoke with Priscilla.
By mid-day she’s clearly not responsive. I no longer believe she’ll again become responsive. I have to make a decision. I have to decide soon.
I try to remember that the woman she knew herself to be, wanted to be, is already gone. She’s a being of essences now, not living or looking forward to a life she preferred. Those facts must be honored.
After grabbing lunch at home, I returned to my mother’s side. Her roommate doesn’t recognize me and is confused. There’s nothing I can do for my mother, so I move across the room. Her roommate believes I grew up in her old neighborhood, no matter how many times I try to dissuade her. I steer the conversation to her career as a nurse and she describes, in rather vivid detail, attending to early lobotomy and electroshock treatments.
The social worker arrived and I excused myself. We discuss my decision and she says she’ll alert the nursing staff.
I walk around the complex, stopping at the nature trail to watch turtles sunning on a fallen tree. I wish I’d found this spot when my mom could still go outside.
I leave a message for Jackie. Joann arrives and we have a good conversation. We’re on the same page.
A nun overheard me speaking about my mother’s condition and stops me to ask her name. She’ll include Mom in her prayers. Her kindness is an opportunity to chat, which reveals a mutual friend, recently widowed, and opens a conversation about grief. This is a community of extraordinary people, and the common currency of illness and rehabilitation, dignity and loss allow us to connect on a human level. It’s a sharp contrast to other places I’ve experienced, places that feel bounded and governed by meaningless social hierarchy. I won’t miss the sadness I’ve felt in this place, but I will miss its compassion.
Mom’s roommate has sundowned, and is convinced she’s been moved to a room downstairs and needs to find the stairs. Nothing will convince her this is the first floor. I use my charm and deflect her to another topic before bringing her back to our room. At the first opportunity I slip away to sit with Mom. She calls for me and wheels herself around the curtain. Seeing us is too much for her. She tells me of the recent deaths of her brother and son, blesses us, and wheels away quietly.
Mom is generally hypothermic, but as the sun lowers she’s finally warm. A good sign that she’s fighting the virus? Or another false hope?
I feel guilt when my mind wanders towards what’s next, but nevertheless crave the relief of a reboot. These weeks have revealed gaps and irrelevance which I’m eager to respectively fill and shed. But there’s still an indefinite pause before I move on. I’ll live in it for as long as it takes. While yearning for a better future.

I woke thinking about the unraveling last days she was home. The morning she slept in, probably the ripple of a TIA. The futile hope I placed in PT & OT. The garrulous visiting nurse who encouraged me to advocate for neurological consultation. And that final, terrible night when the last of herself, her texture and nerve, drained away.
Crows call from a neighboring yard. The air tastes of humidity. More summer than spring.
Laundry. Coffee. News. A little work in the garden. I cut my hand again, not nearly as badly as before.
The rhododendron are blooming.
On the Friday before Memorial Day in 2012, basically six years ago today, I gave the order to take my father off the respirator. He’d lied to me for weeks, always saying he was a few days from being discharged. Mom called as I was getting into the truck, about to drive to Provincetown for the holiday. ‘I need you to come down. We need to talk about palliative care.’
Dishes piled up over the past few nights. Mom would be horrified by her kitchen’s disarray. It takes me no time to wash up & sweep the floor.
Like the previous night, last night her eyes opened mid-evening. We held hands for a few minutes before she slipped back to sleep. The hope of it makes this morning fraught.
The nurse stops me when I arrive. She couldn’t tolerate the IV during the night, so we’ve paused it for the time being. I’m told she smiled for the night nurse, but she’s unresponsive when I get to her bed. Her breathing sounds worse, maybe due to the fluid saturation.
Priscilla & Jim visit. Over lunch we piece together some family history. Priscilla says something about the finitude of memory, which reminds me how lives distill into stories, and how stories fade over time.
Joann arrived and we spent some time with Mom before going for coffee. When we returned, we were met by the nurse. Our mother died just after 2:30 PM.
I made a first round of phone calls. Spoke with the funeral home. And reminisced with Joann and Lynda at the house. Tomorrow I’ll continue with the mechanics of death. Tonight I’m going out for dinner and a glass of wine.
In February my mother’s last childhood friend died. Soon after she said, ‘It’s my turn.’ Within days the mask of her dementia began falling. And we never stopped tumbling.
I sat with my mother’s body and cried. Tears offered release from the tension I’ve been carrying. I’ve been grieving her for months. I’ve also been anxious about her disapproval regarding the decisions I made about her care, and on guard anticipating her considerable capacity for resistance. I did everything as right as anyone could do, so don’t get me wrong. I don’t need reassurance. And in the end she never said a cross word about my decisions. She even once thanked me. But there was stuff there. Deep & ingrained. And it’s only through this passage it can be released.
I loved my mother & she loved me. At the end of everything, that is everything.


I walked 15 miles today, some with friends & some on my own. In the dunes I got the shape of a eulogy, but not yet its poetry. Tomorrow it will come. Or it won’t. It’s okay for a eulogy to be a little awkward. Or so I tell myself.
I’ve felt held by my communities with a depth that defies words. I’m grateful to everyone, near and far, who’ve witnessed and affirmed my reflections over these past weeks. Thanks for the hugs, conversations, comments, messages and the many hearts. Because of you, even at my loneliest I was never afraid.
I wrote to remember and to figure things out, and I was grateful for the sympathy & empathy I received, but it meant the most to know that my chronicle of our experience was useful to others. I think my mom would be gratified to know that too.
I’ve been in Provincetown for a couple of days because I needed to step back toward the life I stepped away from to live my life as the universe called me to do. I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity and love I’ve encountered this weekend. Thank you, friends. I aspire, whenever needed, to be able to reciprocate your care.
One more thing ahead. Deep breaths. Onward.


In my dreams she’s still dying, not yet dead. I wake expecting a call. Expecting she’ll die very soon or anxious about some element of her care plan left undone. Life is made of befores & afters. My unconscious is slow to catch up.
I’m agnostic about an afterlife. I can’t believe it involves reliving the past, because that sounds like Hell. Before is done. Long live the great mystery & potential delights of hereafter.
A day of travel: Provincetown dawn -> Providence noon -> Cheshire sunset.
I’m periodically a weepy mess. But a eulogy’s composed, and a service is planned. Joann’s done the food.
Full moon’s keeping me from sleep. Muscles are sore from Monday’s hike. Self-care involves both workouts & acknowledging the strength these months have taken. Apparently.
A door lock seized and had to be replaced. I’m tempted to ascribe magical thinking. Why would she want to keep me out? Or add to the day’s burden? Perhaps she’s still peevish about me having taken her keys? But we moved beyond anything petty. Of that I’m sure.
I cannot rush grief, but I want what is over to be done. Dawn is still a few hours away. May I yet be rested for what’s to come.

On 5/30 I offered a eulogy.



Birdsong louder than I remember. The house without them isn’t as I imagined. They’re here & they’re (mostly) not. Everydayness insistent as entropy, absence is easier than their departure.
Day after the funeral my bike was flat again. In the six weeks since ordering it, I rode once the half-mile to visit Mom. No longer needed, I’ve yet again retrieved it from the shop. Another thing laden with memory.
In this new/old place, I’m returning to sidestepped obligations, some with joy & others knowing it’s time to move on.
Post Office. Hardware Store. Roaring Brook.
Winterberry. Coleus. Gibraltar Azalea.
Blueberry Netting.
I’m tired, really tired. I have no tolerance for bullshit. I’ll shred irrelevance first chance I get. I need to be with others who understand the world’s weight.
As if past weeks’ weirdness were inventoried in the corpses of trees, Brooksvale’s a waystation for tons of tornado detritus. Seeing a body gets to the fact of it. Allows grief to flow.
I’ve been held in place by more than the obvious. I’ve allowed it, assuming roles that hardly fit. I’m hungry for the work of my life. What’s that now?


I want to say it happened fast, and it did, but it never felt fast. I knew it would be her last Christmas. But I thought she’d make it through September.
I’m recognizing ‘last times’ now. The last time we went to the bank. Post Office. Stop & Shop. That morning we last pulled out the percolator, and she thought I’d drink decaf. The last time she did the Jumble, newspaper and pencil still on the coffee table before the funeral.
They come in questions, too. When did she last walk to the back of the yard to inspect the peonies? When did she move them there? She didn’t cover the blueberries last year. But she reminded me two dozen times she’d had the septic tank cleaned in December. She had a thing about water.
My relationship with her doctor feels fresh, even though we gave her up for other doctors by mid-March. I wondered, driving by, if they miss her at the laundromat or the supermarket or the gas station where she made them, someone anyway, come out and pump gas for her? Or has she simply faded from memory? The ladies at the hair dresser miss her. Thank heaven for intimate places.
I’m erasing her every time I move her things or put a new plant in her garden. My aesthetic will slowly subsume her. And when I move on? Who will remember the tree that was a tenth anniversary present? Or why we planted that magnolia in 1999?
She’s left notes all over the house. The name of the china pattern slipped between plates. The date she froze those berries. A number for the man who could repair the garage door. I found a week’s agenda on a slip of paper by the phone, apparently written right after I cut my hand because ‘7 stitches’ is noted after each item.
Her signature is startling. Never to be made again.
Then there are the orchids, which I gave her & now care for. We watched them blossom, counting the buds and waiting each day for one more. They seem suspended. Impossibly unchanged. She had a knack for keeping plants. I fear I’ll kill the twenty-year old cyclamen, even if I maintained the sixty-year old begonia after her specimen died last winter. I know my limits.
It’s still happening quickly, in that way that feels slow. And I feel impossibly changed, even if I don’t know how. Distance will arrive soon enough.

‘Not Elim,’ she said. ‘It’s too sad being so close to home.’ I wanted her at Elim, but they don’t have memory care, and their waitlist for nursing is nine years. Last night, driving by, it occurred she was talking in the present tense, about her time in rehab, not about the future. Turns out, it is sad being close to where she died.
I planted a third winterberry, outside the kitchen window, where she watched birds (and kept tabs on the neighbors). They will attract birds. I wish I’d thought to plant them years ago.
She told a story of visiting Elim in the 1950s, when they’d just moved to Cheshire. She must have been in her late twenties, maybe thirty. Friends from Milford had a relative there. They had no car, or were afraid to drive all the way out here (I forget which, or she forgot which, I think I heard both) so she would visit for them & report back by phone.
My parents didn’t call me for years, and when I called they’d scold me for not calling sooner. What’s up with that? People tell me what a good relationship we must have had, which is painful to hear. I want to think I’m my own creation, which isn’t remotely true, but there were gaps between who we were, and how we lived in proximity to each other. Crisis has allowed me to better sort the ways I’m her son and the ways I’m something else. Truth is always more complicated than people’s fantasies.
When we took spins around Elim’s grounds she would point to windows and say ‘That’s where so & so used to live.’ She’d visited two generations of neighbors who’d spent their final days in the nursing home. One day, out of the blue, she declared, ‘It’s my turn.’
This morning I drove to the funeral home to settle the bill. There was a discrepancy of $8 between the invoice and the final receipt. I went home to draft a new check. The funeral director was apologetic, but I said, ‘No problem. My mom would have appreciated saving $8.’
She liked a deal. When we were kids she was never brand consistent. ‘Whatever’s on sale,’ she’d say to my protests. Then she’d gaslight me with, ‘It all tastes the same.’ (Jif and Skippy are not the same, mom. And we both knew it.)
Furniture got returned from my star-crossed attempt at assisted living. She’d be vexed by the unwarranted expense. But, I’ll maintain, my timing was always impeccable. She’s the one who kept upsetting the schedule.
I was up too early and I’ve had a headache since dawn. I’ve done everything I that needs doing, and now I have to wait to do the next things. Which means my life is waiting. I just need to find it.
She never wanted to end up in nursing care, but she appreciated being part of the continuity of friends and neighbors who’d been at Elim. And she liked the people she met there. So, sad or not, and it won’t be enduringly sad, Elim was where we needed to be. Like so much I’ve speculated about the past weeks, I’ll accept the likelihood that’s my projection.

In Provincetown the battery-powered lantern was still bedside when I returned. The last blizzard did her in. There were calls through the day, to both my sister and me, mostly to tell us it was snowing. And there was the terrible call that night, me on her landline, my sister on her cellphone, asking us both at once how to answer the phone. I drove down in the morning.
She said she slept in the couch. When I asked why, she said ‘Joann was in her bed, Peter was in his bed, my mother was in her bed, and there was no place for me.’ I didn’t ask why she didn’t sleep in her bed, not wanting to hear of my father’s ghost. (Is it a ghost when you think him alive?) It was the last night she’d be alone.
Her doctor couldn’t see us for two days but, when she did, she sent us immediately to the ER. The CT scan was clear, the urinalysis didn’t show infection, and we were sent home with a prescription for in-home PT, OT and visiting nursing.
The next week she asked again how to answer her phone. I showed her the cell phone and then the landline. She pointed to the TV remote and asked, ‘What about that one?’ I replied, ‘That’s the remote.’ And she said, ‘Well I know that. But I still need to know how to answer it.’
Over the months I pressed her about accepting companion care, she’d say, ‘I’m not ready for that.’ But she liked it when I finally forced the issue. I wanted her to be able to live in her own terms, but if she’d accepted help sooner she might still be alive. How do we negotiate these lines for each other?
There can be no regrets for honoring another’s freedom to choose.
I’ve stepped toward the future this weekend, or simply out of one facet of my reality and into another. It’s hard to speak holistically when one’s life is composed of fragments.
When is life not composed of fragments?

I found an envelope addressed by her. Last year, several times she’d sent clippings from her newspaper, education columns written by a man she was convinced was me. His biography included teaching at a college in Vermont and the grainy, black & white photograph showed a man with a longish gray beard. She questioned me about it several times, sure I was writing under a pseudonym. That she disagreed with him deepened her resolve.
For thirty years my parents would ask about my career, I’d tell them what I was working on, and they’d say, ‘Yes, but what do you do?’ So it was easy to write off this fantasy as yet another attempt to assign understandable status to my work. Retrospectively, I might have suspected dementia.
I dreamed her body was delivered to the reception held after the funeral. I didn’t know how to get it to the cemetery. So it sat in her living room as I fielded angry voicemails from the funeral director.
In Provincetown the gardens are two weeks behind Connecticut. Siberian iris are in full bloom. Kurt’s birthday will forever be marked by day lily, and her death by delicate purple iris.
I’m sore every morning, the result no doubt of pushing myself hard to get strong after too many sedentary days & months of accumulating stress. Or I’m just suddenly old.
A friend’s note was especially helpful. Her mother’s thought, passed to her & now to me, is that you never really grow up as long as your mother is alive. Is it true? I’m certainly learning how I was unnecessarily inhibited by her judgments. I’m better trusting myself. And the future is mine to plan. So it feels true, if also unfortunate.
Names and labels were of particular importance to her, even if she often got them partially wrong. Over her last weeks in the house she ate small servings from a half gallon of ice cream. “It’s called ‘Rhode Island,’ she’d say, and indeed it was called “Rhode Island Lighthouse Coffee.” It’s peculiar to find Stop & Shop’s ice cream isle is now a place of contemplation. And it’s bracing to finally acknowledge why I find the impulse to name things so irksome. Why can’t we let things be? Or at least get them right? Why the need to dominate through labels?
I still have the impulse to put her name on my ‘to do’ list, my way of scheduling a call. And the idea of calling is more insistent than it was when she was alive. Grief, I’m finding, isn’t so much sorrow as untethered preoccupation.

Her doctor’s office called to confirm her quarterly physical. I should have notified them, but I’m sick of telling people she died. Then her doctor called to express her condolences. Mike was in the truck, so I told some abridged version of the story and we both agreed it happened ‘crazy fast.’ I expressed my gratitude for her years of care and we hung up. Later, a robot called to confirm her appointment. Salt in the wound.
Friday’s are especially bad. Her last lively day was a Friday, and a week later she died. Will I look forward to Friday again?
Three weeks.
Everydayness is nipping at my heels. My academic leave isn’t over for another month, but already I’ve logged more than a dozen hours of preparatory calls. It’s too much. My show opens in two weeks. And another in September. I’m teaching a workshop between the two. There’s residency and work with a dozen graduate students. I want everything to be brilliant, but I’m not feeling brilliant. I have a lot of thinking to do.
After the rains & before the heat, this was her favorite time of year. Last winter, it feels perverse to admit, we yearned for the calendar to turn toward days she’d never see. How much life do we wish away?
I knew she wouldn’t be able to live alone when I found her in the driveway, trying to open my truck with a flashlight, at 4:30 in the morning. The kitchen door’s familiar squeak told me she was up early. The floodlight over the driveway told me something was wrong.
‘What’s up?’ I asked when I got outside.
She was indignant. ‘Where have you been? We’re going to be late.’
‘Where are we going?’
‘Route 5.’
‘What’s on Route 5?’
‘I don’t know.’
Had I not parked behind her, no doubt she would’ve been halfway to Route 5 before I pulled on my pants.
How do you tell someone they’re losing their mind? We talked around it. Until we couldn’t. And then it didn’t matter.
The house makes me sad, but I don’t want leave. I’ll never again see it in springtime. Or summer. Which is hard to believe. But it’s not where I live. And where I live feels unbound. My places now float on borrowed time. Tomorrow I’ll reach for the ground.

The Farmer’s Market was full of strawberries. She’d tell a story of taking me to pick them at Mrs. Tripodina’s farm. I ate what I picked, and was no help to her. What should one expect of a 4-year old?
Time became her enemy. And she knew it. Multiple calendar entries and scattered notes point to attempts to compensate. A lifetime of punctuality became a problem of arriving hours before the salon opened. Christmas happened six days in a row, until it finally came & went. Will I someday look at a clock and anticipate another time?
The Harbor is dead low, but all I see is the winter surge. Was she afraid when she called? Caught up in the drama of my storm, I didn’t adequately consider what enveloped her.
I don’t want to speak with her. I don’t want five more minutes. There’s nothing I want to relive. I want to travel in time and advise her younger self, the woman I never knew, and let her know how things could have been happier. I want to speak as a peer, maybe as an elder, and set things right. She hated children who blamed parents for their problems. And that’s not my point. It’s her happiness I wish to advise.
I’m told I should expect to feel like an orphan, but I’ve spent my life as an orphan — simultaneously living in their world and my own. Always two men in one body, now I can give one up. Give one up, should I choose.

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