Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Day Two: Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Part Two: Evening

The plane ride was uneventful.

Actually, because I rarely do it, flying is always a bit exciting. You know, the take off, looking out the window, all the weirdos in the cabin with me and whatever they're up to, the free beverage. It's fun. And yeah, I was able to separate myself to some extent from my reason for flying and enjoy myself and all the air travel procedure. I listened to jazz on my iPod and read Noam Chomsky.

But then we landed and my stomach started to hurt. Very soon, I would be meeting my father and older brother, and our shared loss would become all too real again. I got off the plane and made my way toward baggage claim.

And there they were.

I hugged my dad first. I couldn't help but think that as sad as I was, Dad was taking it worse. As Commander Riker's father once told him of his long dead mother during a father/son knockdown-dragout during an otherwise forgettable episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "She was your mother, but she was my wife!" Dad lost his lover of forty seven years. I simply cannot imagine that. What does it mean for the life in which you had invested a half century to fall apart instantly? He was clearly sad, but managing.

Then I hugged my older brother. The hug was stiff, as usual. Chris had always been a non-hugger. He always chaffed a bit when Mom hugged him while we were growing up--some things will never change.

But this made me think. How will our family survive?

We were always a family of men, tempered by the presence of a single woman, Mom. She was the emotional center of the family. She was the counselor, the negotiator, the communicator of difficult information. The strong one. She was at the center of all family relationships. She's how we all managed to get along without male aggression mucking everything up. Losing her literally means the end of our time-worn family structure.

How will our family survive?

I think that it was maybe then that I determined to make sure we survive. Somehow. I still don't know how, exactly, to do that. But it would be a damned shame, a dishonoring of my mother's memory, for us four men to go our separate ways. We will survive.

On the way home I learned more details about her death. She had gone to a hospital/professional building to do some mall walking. That is, what was supposed to be a shopping mall back in the eighties, but was never finished due to an oil recession, was eventually converted to a medical purpose; it's still laid out like a shopping mall, but with doctors' offices taking up one half, and a hospital on the other. So Mom had gone to get some exercise.

According to the account of a friend of hers, Janis, who was there when it happened, my mother entered the building and started up a conversation with her. Only seconds into their interaction, my mother stopped talking in mid sentence, her eyes widened, and she simply collapsed. Because they were in a hospital, the code blue people were there almost immediately. Janis had the wherewithal to grab my mother's cell phone, find my dad's number, and call him.

He was there in minutes and was able to watch them work on her. But it was just too late. They worked for hours, he told me, but they think she was gone before she hit the ground. My younger brother Steve, who has a house in Kingwood, got there later. Chris got the news very quickly and left Austin immediately; all the fireworks were over by the time he arrived, but he was there, too.

As I've already written, I didn't find out until hours later, so I couldn't be there--I'm still not sure if I was cheated by fate out of something important, being on the scene of my mother's death, but it's only an intellectual sense of deprivation; I guess I don't really feel cheated. Besides, what does it matter? She's dead whether I was there or not.

I really wish I could have hugged her one last time, though. Told her that I loved her one last time. Been her son one last time.

The manner of her death did nothing but add to my sense of walking through mythology. It was as though Zeus, first among the Olympian gods, struck her down with his thunderbolt from on high. Or as if God Himself, Yahweh of the Judeo-Christian perspective, decided that He needed her. Right now. I wondered if this is what the Rapture was supposed to be like; of all the Christians I've known in my life, my mother always seemed to be a likely candidate for the chosen few--but then, the Rapture is supposed to be a bodily, as well as spiritual, experience, no physical death involved.

When we got home, we looked at some of the old pictures of her that Chris had been going through, to be placed later on a memorial website, some of which I've been posting here with these Grieving Notes. Very quickly, my older brother started crying. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he said as he weeped.

"Don't be sorry, Chris," I told him, "we're supposed to be crying now. We need to cry." I was starting to wonder if my new role among our all male family was to take over Mom's job as emotional facilitator. I'm the actor, after all; the emotions are my landscape.

Later, after Dad went to bed, I asked Chris what the doctors think killed her. I was surprised to learn that they didn't know. "It might have been her heart because she's had cardiac issues for so many years, but the thing is that she was being well monitored for all that, and her most recent checkup had her in really, really good shape. Maybe it was a stroke, or an embolism, or an aneurysm." I also learned that Steve and my dad simply couldn't bear an autopsy, so it was likely that we may never know what actually killed her.

I'd like to know. But I also understand that won't bring her back. And I fully understand where my father and younger brother were coming from. Why cut her up? What good would that be, really?

I stayed up late, as is my habit, watching television by myself. When I went to bed in the room in which I lived as a child and teenager, I lulled myself to sleep with classical music on my iPod.

A family of men and one woman: me, my mother, and my two brothers in 1986 or 87.