When my mother was about to begin eating her breakfast yesterday morning, she paused and said, “You know, I just realized something. It dawned on me that I’m never going to get better, and that I’m really just dying — and too slowly.”
She wasn’t upset, or even bothered. “Isn’t that right?” she said. “Don’t you agree?”
Such sudden logic, from someone who almost always has difficulty telling the time.
I told her that I didn’t think it was my judgment to make, and that even a few hours later in the day, she might feel quite differently on the subject.
“But it is true,” she said. “I’m almost eighty-five. People that old never get better. I have good days, or good afternoons, but I never actually get well. So really, if I’m not getting better, that means I’m dying. . . . I mean, we’re all dying. I know that. We all have to die. I’m not afraid to die. But it isn’t a very pleasant thought.”
Then she began to eat, just as if we had been talking about a neighbor, a recipe, or something in the newspaper. And so I told her that her coffee was almost ready, and that I was planning to make some soup as soon as I got home. After I’d made a few more unnecessary trips down the hall and through the room, we exchanged our usual parting comments and I left.
She had slept late. It was already after eleven. As always, though, I checked in on her at about two. We always sit for the better part of an hour, during which time I make sure she has something for lunch. When I arrived, she was in her bedroom looking at her clock. She asked me if it was four. I said no, that it was a little after two, and she said,
“I wonder what the other clocks say.” And I said, “The others are all the same.”
While I was there, she didn’t mention our earlier conversation. But it was apparent by her expression and in her tone of voice that the mood still lingered.
As we sat and talked, despite or perhaps because of the intimately familiar scene and surroundings, the thought occurred to me that there was no truly reliable way of knowing we were alive, and that we could just as easily have been two ghosts from another time, conversing in someone else’s house, the current dwellers of which might or might not be aware of our presence.
“There it is again. Did you hear it?”
Before I left again to spend some time with my wife and two of our sons, I showed my mother the pan of soup I had left for her on the stove. I lifted the lid to reveal life-giving potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, parsley, and tomato. They seemed real enough.
June 15, 2007
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