talk to my mother
Friday, November 4 2011
This morning we called my mother (Hoagie) to see if we could talk to her. This was the third day since my father had died, and the only information we'd gotten about it was from someone who likes to work references to dinosaurs or Hitler into nearly all of his declarative sentences. That someone, my brother Don, answered the phone with the formulaic, "Muellers' residence, may I take a message?" I chatted with him for a little while; he said Hoagie was taking our father's death really hard and now was considering selling the farm just to get away from all the memories. I told him that I really wanted to talk to Hoagie if that was at all possible, so he went across the road to the neighbor Sarah's trailer to fetch her. She was over there drinking her morning coffee.
Miraculously, my mother came to the phone. She sounded like her usual cheerful, overly-talkative self. I asker her about how my father had died and she told me the story. He hadn't been feeling very good the night before, and she asked if he wanted to go to the hospital. He'd insisted on not going, that he was dying, and damn it, he wanted to die at home. (88 years before, he'd also been born at home.) So she'd gone to sleep on the couch nearby in the same room. At 2:30 in the morning, she heard Maple the dog freakishly howling the way dogs do when people die. She got up to check on my father and he seemed dead, but she didn't want to deal with it quite then and went back to bed. In the morning when she got up, she found him cold and stiff, so she called whomever it is that one calls when one has a dead body in one's house. The upshot of all this is that my father died more-or-less peacefully in his sleep. That's about all anybody can hope for in this cruel, unfair world.
Gretchen was with me on the line, and over the course of many paragraphs, we got the sense that Hoagie didn't want anybody to come down to visit her now. She'd rejected such offers from her twin Barbara in Connecticut. I assured her that things would get better and Gretchen recommended that she not make any decisions about how to proceed for a year. My father's good friend Mike Jones has an idea of having a little ceremony of spreading my father's ashes down in the marsh (he's already been cremated), and Hoagie is okay with that idea, though probably not until spring.
I don't actually think Hoagie will ever move away from that farm; she has too much of her life there. If she can't part with a few old horse supply catalogs from the late 1990s (this is an experiment I have conducted), it would be impossible for her to trim her possessions down enough to live in some crappy townhouse. My father was a huge part of her life, partly because of the close circumstances of their tiny house. Taking him out of the equation changes the math completely, and it will be months before she has a normal routine. Though she'd seemed almost negligent when he was in the nursing home, the fact is that they shared an enviably deep death-proof love. It was enough at times for her to know he was somewhere so she could see him if she needed to. Now, though, the reality is sinking in that she can never see him again. Aside from her lunatic Hitler-and-dinosaur-obsessed son, she lives alone. At least she still has Sarah across the street, though Sarah is a cancer patient with dim prospects for a deep future.
The highlight of my day was watching the latest episode of Gold Rush: Alaska, which now seems to be chronicling the fortunes of three different sets of goldminers. They're using a quick-zoom-on-a-map-of-Alaska transition to help the viewer keep the threads straight.
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