My Wish For My Mother
The opening line of The Stranger by Albert Camus goes like this:
Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.
That is perhaps the most deft and revealing introduction to a character in the history of the literature. With those two short sentences, Camus tells us everything we need to know about Meursault, the eponymous l’étranger. The rest of the book is detail.
Maman, of course, is the informal French for Mother.
I don’t know when Sue Glab is going to die. But I want it to be now. This minute.
I’ve been in Chicago the last few days. My mother, who had a terrible fall in August and has been bedridden since, is hanging on to life by a slender thread. She’s suffering physically, mentally, and in her spirit.
An infection is beginning to cause her body to eat away at itself. Her mind is going. She hardly recognizes me.
Now and again, she slips into a brief lucidity and begins praying to god to take her away. Thursday she looked heavenward, raised her hands (as much as she could), and wondered aloud, “I’ve been a good woman; why are you doing this to me?”
Throughout the years she’s had a spotty relationship with her god. She’s never renounced him or stopped believing he could help her. But at times, I think, she wanted very much to tell him off good.
Now, she feels she’ll be getting the chance to talk to him face to face very soon.
Happier, Healthier, Younger
When I go back to Chicago later this week, I’m going to bring her a rosary. It’ll make her feel a tiny bit better.
Then again, I hope I get the call that tells me she won’t be needing anything anymore. Tonight, maybe. Or tomorrow. I don’t know.
I envy her the capacity to appeal to her god. If I was a believer, I’d say, “Listen, big boy, quit playing around with my mother! Take her away. Stop being such a goddamned bully.”
Hah. Goddamned bully. As if he could damn himself.
My mother, at times, was as tough as nails. I could no easier get a fib past her or change her mind about a grounding than I could flap my arms and take flight. Physically, she developed a pair of guns by making a weekly batch of homemade bread loaves. She’d knead an enormous panful of dough for long, long minutes every Friday.
Believe me, I didn’t want to mess with her.
Now, she’s skeletal. She resembles nothing more than a bony robin fledgling who’s fallen out of a tree. She can’t even hold up her pencil and one of her beloved crossword puzzles. She hasn’t been able to do that for months.
She is, in fact, dead already. Only her lungs and heart don’t know it.
Woody Allen once said, “Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering — and it’s all over much too soon.”
A joke, sure. But humor at its highest level works because it’s undergirded by truth. And today Allen’s evaluation of life is borne out in spades by my mother’s continued existence. She is miserable, lonely, and suffering. That is the sum total of her life at this moment.
And when it’s over, it won’t be soon enough.