What other way can one threaten if not with death? The original, the interesting would be for someone to be threatened with immortality.” Jorge Luis Borges Biografía Verbal by Roberto Alifano,
[“¿De qué otra forma se puede amenazar que no sea de muerte? Lo interesante, lo original, sería que alguien lo amenace a uno con la inmortalidad.” ]
My mother has begun to talk of dying.
A litany of distant deaths. The nurse at the Farm Security Administration took a day off work sick: ‘They found her that day but she died.’ Her friend Malvina Reynolds in hospital: ‘I told everyone Malvina would get well, but she died.’ Her sister at a nursing home: ‘We left and twenty minutes later she died.’ A neighbor who fell down dead. ‘Can you imagine? Just like that, she died.’
My mother has known other deaths. Why these? They were all so unexpected.
‘I was thinking I was in control of my dying situation,’ she says. ‘I would be able to say when to myself and die when I said. I don’t feel it any more’ My mother keeps her eyes on the corner of her room and clutches the bed rail.
At the end of the week she is calm. ‘I was thinking I might die last night but then I thought it wouldn’t be fair to Alex.’
Her love for my daughter is worshipful.
Alex will miss you very much, but she won’t be surprised.
Why hasn’t my deep grief begun? Is it because our relationship was difficult? My mother in a moment of crisis told me it became difficult for her when I was five (that was not her word but it will do). I thought it was nine when the baby sitter came to live with us.
It has been painful, but I don’t think we’ve had the worst of relationships. We liked to do things together. She introduced me to the summer-traveling, life-changing circus. I took her down the Amazon in a bird cage boat and across the Sinai in a taxi to Palestine for Christmas Eve in Bethlehem.
She put me through college and when I had to have money because my daughter was so desperately ill, I spent hers. She needs me now and I have packed my Irish life and come.
I don’t think it is the relationship that has stunted my feelings. It seems to me that my mother is trapped in a zero sum game. The longer she lives the worse living becomes.
My mother tells me another story about death. A friend was with her mother when she died. “She said she saw her mother’s soul leave her body. It flew around the room several times, so she went to the window and let it out.”
THE JUNK MAN
I AM glad God saw Death
And gave Death a job taking care of all who are tired
When all the wheels in a clock are worn and slow and
the connections loose
And the clock goes on ticking and telling the wrong time
from hour to hour
And people around the house joke about what a bum
clock it is,
How glad the clock is when the big Junk Man drives
Up to the house and puts his arms around the clock and
“You don’t belong here,
You gotta come
Along with me,”
How glad the clock is then, when it feels the arms of the
Junk Man close around it and carry it away
Found in the folder with my mother’s will