Yesterday marked the sixth year since the death of my mother - December 7, 2009. In the weary distance of acute absence, it seems more like a century.
My mom Marie and her sister Ann were extremely close their entire lives.
It seems much more than a coincidence that they both died on the same date, December 7, and died at the exact same age. The date haunts me.
Ann was the mother of my cousin Nancy, who lives near me here in Tennessee.
My mother Marie (right) and her sister Ann.
Mom is holding the family cat Figaro.
The last photo ever taken of Mom (left) and Ann. I took this photo in the spring of 1995.
We've all suffered losses - - and in the great tragedy of death, our loved ones often become sainted in the shattered and selective realms of our memories.
I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that my mother was extraordinary - brilliant, beautiful - - one of my closest confidants, my anchor in a sea of chaos.
There's no doubt that our bond was enforced by the lifetime of violence and abuse that we endured from my father. After he died, in 2005, my Mom's health began rapidly deteriorating. I took care of her until her death in 2009. If nothing else, those final years were deservedly peaceful.
She had a stroke on her birthday, November 14, and clung to agonizing life for three more weeks - - one week in a hospital and two weeks in the worst "rehabilitation center" that anyone could possibly imagine. We were in a tiny, isolated west Texas town, where medical care was mediocre at best.
The weather during those nightmarish weeks was the worst I'd ever seen in Texas. Blizzards, ice storms, bitter cold. I sat by her hospital bed every day, from early morning until late at night. Then I'd go home for a few hours and collapse on the bed, fully dressed - praying for an unobtainable miracle and dreading each new day.
She seldom recognized me, babbled on and on incoherently, had several more strokes. The doctor - who hardly spoke English and was completely indifferent - saw her about three minutes each day. The "staff" was non-existent. When Mom was shivering from cold, I had to find a storeroom and get her an extra blanket.
After a week, she was sent to a local "rehabilitation center" which was even worse than the hospital. She was plied with ten different medications (I demanded to have a list of them) and basically left to fend for herself. At mealtimes, she was tied to a chair in the dining room. I witnessed scenes in that hellish place that are too devastatingly horrifying to remember.
I spent every waking hour fighting doctors and staff to get my Mom released from that ruthless infirmary. I kept reassuring her (whether she understood or not) that I was going to take her home. The last time I saw her, she called me Carl. That was her brother's name.
Finally, my efforts were rewarded. She was scheduled to be released into my care on December 7. I spent the entire weekend getting things ready for her return.
On Monday, December 7, she died, without ever returning home. I won't relate details. There's too much to tell.
I remember driving through an incredibly dangerous ice storm, to arrange her cremation at the funeral home. The indifferent staff was as frigid as the weather....
....and my neighbors, who had so many impudent children and so many loud, wild drug parties that I was forced to leave my own house. I'd drive to the nearby frozen lake and sit in my truck all day - utterly alone with the blessed silence and my shattered thoughts.....
I was in the remote realms of west Texas, far from friends and relatives, far removed from reality..... I had absolutely no one, but I was glad. There was nothing anyone could do.
A few days after my Mom died, I began writing my book Notes From the Midst of December. It recounted my mother's life and the final three weeks before her death. It was such a fiercely personal and sentimental account that I didn't want it to be publicly seen. I published a private edition, which I hesitantly sent to all my relatives.
Only two of my relatives ever mentioned the book. I'm assuming that this cool indifference was generated by the brutal realities I revealed. Truth is often difficult to accept or digest.
My plan is to revise this book and have it published publicly.
This has always been among my favorite photos of my mother - taken during one of the happiest times in her life - when she was young, single, and living with relatives at their resort in Red River, New Mexico.
I posted more photos on my other blog at this link: