I remember very clearly the last time I spoke with my mother. This is what I remember of that conversation: I remember joking with her. I remember the silence. I remember the lack of worry in my father’s voice. I remember the silence. The mournful silence only I recognized.
It was December, just a few days after Christmas, and I stood on a sidewalk outside a coffee shop, anxious to get off the phone. I needed to go inside. I needed to write.
This is a tiny part of what I wrote that day.
I have talked to my mother three days this week. More than I have in a long time. Our conversations have been brief (my choice, not hers) and empty of anything but dialogue about clinical crap. The details she gives me are sparse, though. She is tired and not really aware of what is going on. She picks up the phone when I call and there is silence. I imagine her picking up the receiver, fumbling and uncertain which end is which. Even more uncertain of the conversation that is about to occur.
Long pause, so long I become terribly uncomfortable. I think of hanging up, pretending to lose reception. But then there she is.
“Hi, Kim.” Trying to sound surprised, excited to hear from me.
I fake it and dive in. Ask how she’s doing, how she’s feeling and what the doctors have done to her, what tests, what results. How much longer in the hospital?
And then we tumble into it. We are talking about the body. Her body, but not entirely hers. We talk about it as though it belongs to a set of clinicians.
Potential blood clot in leg. Ultrasound comes back negative.
Drained fluid from hip (total replacement 28 days ago, following fracture). Suspected fracture occurred prior to back surgery—which occurred several months ago and was successful. Little to no pain in back. Regained mobility. Physical therapists in rehab insist back brace must be worn when upright. Orthopedic surgeon says brace no longer necessary. Same situation with boot. Foot is fully healed, but rehab staff insists patient continue wearing boot.
“You have a suit of armor,” I joke.
“A what?” She does not, cannot get the joke. She can only recite what she’s heard, and all she’s heard lately is a series of updated statuses. She hears what is written in her chart and she fights to remember, and to recite it to my father when he comes to visit, or to my sister when she calls. Or to me, on those rare times I call.
Incapable of actively participating in casual conversation. Confusion caused by potassium intake. Administered large doses of potassium intravenously. Large IV bag, increased fluid intake. Blood pressure through the roof. Crash cart.
Use medication to lower blood pressure. Levels stabilized. Cause of potassium decrease: antibiotics administered for potential infection in leg at site of hip surgery. Test for potential infection comes back negative. Slowly discontinue use of antibiotics.
Potassium levels should increase once antibiotics are discontinued.
“But a few days ago you told me she had a high fever, wasn’t eating. There was a suspicious lump in her neck; all signs of infection.”
I am now talking to my father, who spends nearly as much time in the hospital as my mother. He is, for the most part, healthy. And though he tells me he is fine, I know the signs of depression and anxiety. I can pick up on these things in the emails he sends me—daily updates on my mother’s health.
From here my writing took an unexpected turn. I began to write from yet another point of view—that of my therapist. I remember writing feverishly. I remember how good I felt when I was done. It was as though I had washed myself clean of all this worry.
I put it aside. I tucked that journal on the shelf, next to the others, and I didn’t think much of it for a while.
Six weeks later, I got The Call. A week and a half after that, I was back in Seattle, and I picked up my journal and read all I’d written. I’d processed my mother’s death before it happened. I’d worked my way through so much of it.
Here’s what I wrote (Again, this is from a therapist’s pov. I speak of myself in third person and refer to myself as “the client.”):
Should an emergency occur, client’s father will pay for plane ticket. Mother is in poor health and client fears catastrophe may occur at any time. Thoughts of family emergency increase client’s anxiety. Guided imagery exercises prove useful.
Client suggests father may also be in poor health. Rarely telephones daughter. Prefers to communicate via email.
Client should consider phoning parents instead. Would likely feel more in control. Recommend good self care immediately following phone calls.
Client has spent a great deal of time processing past and current issues with mother (quite strained due to mother’s mental illness and ongoing declining physical health). Assisted client in processing feelings in regards to mother’s impending death (not predicted by clinicians, but certain to occur nonetheless).
Client has greater sense of self-awareness and emotional stability as a result. Will experience complicated grief when mother’s death occurs. Currently mother is scheduled to return home this Thursday. Clinicians have prescribed physical and occupational therapy. Will likely have setbacks and further complications, however. Mother’s dog passed away twenty eight days ago (due to liver cancer) same day as total hip surgery for which mother is still recovering.
Mother has not been home since dog’s death. Large periods of prolonged and intensified grief anticipated.
Client is bracing herself for potential catastrophe.
What happened five weeks after writing that did not feel then, nor does it feel now, like a catastrophe. It is simply a thing happened. My mother was in poor health, she recovered and declined, recovered and declined. And then one day we all woke up, and she did not.
Here I am, processing, considering, thinking of distances.
And here is where I have arrived: I have thought a lot about what I’ve been processing, and why I’ve been thinking so much of this grief and how it feels now compared to how it felt then. I cannot point to anything that has brought all of this on, other than the upcoming anniversary of her death.
Driving to work the other day I linked all of this together. How it came to be that I would return to writing now. How different my life has become, and how it all forms together.
Several years ago, I used to stop off at a bookstore on my way to therapy. I left work at 5:00 and always had a little time to kill before my appointment. So I’d go to Third Place Books and find my way to the back corner, to the poetry section. There was a book there that I loved, and I resisted buying it just so I could read it while I was in that in-between time. I can’t remember any of the other lines of the poem, but I do remember that Robert Bly wrote, “a poem is some remembering.”
I could make that line mean anything I want. And I will. This is about some remembering. All of it. All that I write—fiction or non—is some remembering.
What I know, what I am trying to tell you, is this: there is a point at which it all converges, at which the four corners of my life draw together and fold in towards the center. That is where I am with my writing, I think. I am moving all of this remembering to one place. Or I am trying to, anyway. I push these memories around like dustcrumbs. I sweep them into the middle of the floor and kneel down and look at them all, there in front of me. And I want to write it all. I want to draw it all together and say, “See? This is my story. This is it.”