I’d been on my knees that day, in the chapel. No wait, I didn’t make it to the chapel—I was in the WC down the hall from my mother’s room.
An auto-flush toilet, sanitizer, and hand washing signs in two different languages discouraged us from sickening ourselves or others with carelessness. A senile gaffer screaming at me that he found his momma’s lye bucket was my only company. And he was on the other side of the door.
I got on my knees and asked God to intervene because she was too fucking willful to let go on her own. I was sweaty and discombobulated even in that air conditioned box. When I stood it was to wash my hands, correctly and repeatedly, until prepared to join my significant other waiting for me outside, keys in hand.
We weren’t yet married. I wasn’t expecting God to listen.
We were still in the parking lot when she died. My sister tried to catch us but track and field never was her strong point. Mine either.
I experienced the compulsion to say one more good-bye and ignored it, as people are sometimes wont to do. Had I heeded that impulse I would have been by her side, but that would have cost as well. My sister (along with one of our uncles) was in the room, relieved that our mother had finally chosen her, and her alone.
When it comes to sisters, uncles don’t rank.
I returned her call before even removing my shoes. We cried, we commiserated, we made funny-to-us jokes about putting a stake in her heart but didn’t mean it—she was being cremated, after all.
My mother did not go gently into that good night–I thought of killing her myself. Seventy-nine pounds is unacceptable over the age of ten. Part of her jaw had been removed, a tube was implanted in her chest, her spine protruded from the flesh on her back, and her toes fell off from lack of circulation as that wraith of a corpse scrabbled through the sheets, “Have you seen it baby, have you seen my toe?”
Even in a moment of clarity she laughed. To my horror I laughed too, even as I gagged on that segregated nub of skin and bone and summoned the nurse. We stared at her foot, giggling and crying, until she said ‘enough’ and returned to her morphine haze, leaving me alone in the aftermath.
I watched her slumbering and understood that the horror in horror movies is the quasi-humanness of the creatures in the features. The degradation of flesh, blood, and bone, the grotesque devolvement of something that was once like me into something with which, without love, I could easily dread.
She haunts me less at six feet under than she did at a hundred and sixty kilometres away. Watching her die like that was a slate-wiper. Her various trespasses were forgiven; compassion was reinstated.
On my part, anyway.
Some say she got her comeuppance; I say God was extending one last olive branch, marvellously obscured, which she accepted. Some say God is a lie; I say they look disappointed as their hellish ideation of justice fell short and they consoled themselves with her agony, humiliation, and terror.
My prayer for the dying was transient and improvised and the dirt was there but invisible, like so much of my relationship with her. Sometimes, like pissing and swearing, you have to pray right now or you will die, to hell with proper facilities or the company you keep.
She would have done the same for me.
My mother knew about desperate measures and falling to your knees in a moment of need. Or duty. It’s funny what you perceive from a reduced position. It’s funny too what you can forgive when your heart is positioned just right, or when you get down low enough the only place left to look is up.