Category Archives: Life

Hot Air

Who Cares?

We care about many things in this holy land.

We are a diverse group of some 320 million souls, passionately concerned with things like guns, football, which movie had the highest box office figures this past weekend, whatever Kanye West has to say, the Kardashians, and those idiots who sell duck calls.

Oh, we care, deeply, loudly, and, often as not, irrationally.

One thing we don’t care much about is what happens to our parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, husbands and wives, and any others who’ve had the poor foresight to grow old.

And the funny thing is, we’re all headed, inexorably, toward that moment when we are unable to lift ourselves out of bed, unable to recognize our children, unsure of what day, month or year this is, incapable of contributing to and participating in this competitive, free market world.

That is, unless we’re lucky enough to go to sleep one night and fail to wake up in the morning. Many people consider that a tragedy. But it pales compared to watching a human being waste away as one health care facility after another says, Hey kids, you’ve gotta move your mother now! Her insurance is running out. Her bank balance is approaching zero.

My mother, for one, won’t ever vote again, so no politician really cares about her. She won’t ever be able to contribute money to any lobbying groups or professional associations or advocacy organizations, so no one with any clout will speak up for her.

She’s superfluous. A drain on society. A taker.

And many of us loathe takers. So many, in fact, that we’ve elected to Congress a whole raft of men and women whose whole purpose as public servants, it seems, is to protect the rest of us from takers.

They’ll be damned if they’re going to spend our precious tax dollars on all those takers.

So rather than provide reasonable, comfortable, resting spots for our fellow aged human beings, rather than financing dignified send-offs for those preparing to take that mandatory plunge into heaven or hell or the chilling nothingness, we instead give them…, well, nothing.

Because we don’t care.

A friend of mine comes from the Netherlands. Her parents were elderly and sick. They were in pain with no hope to ever lead productive, fulfilling lives again. So, in their homeland, they were given the option of convening all their friends and loved ones for a big going-away party where they could say goodbye and tell everybody how much they loved them. People ate and drank, there were laughter and tears, embraces, and closure. Then each of the parents was given an injection and within moments, was dead.

What a way to go.

We don’t do that here because we care about something called the sanctity of life. I wouldn’t argue with those who espouse that, only every time I see my mother, I pass roomsful of people lying in their own shit, their eyes aflame with dementia, their sleep disturbed by three or four other hapless souls down the hall wailing like banshees, their rooms flooded with harsh, fluorescent lighting, their arms pierced with needles, and tubes coming out of their urethras so that the janitorial staff won’t have to spend all day mopping up piss. I’m not seeing much sanctity when I go see Ma.

The closest things come to that is when Ma stirs out of her private misery long enough beg her god to take her, now.

I’d love to throw Ma a going-away party, the way they do it in the Netherlands. I’d do it because I don’t care about any “sanctity of life.” I care about Ma.

Life’s Hot Air

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.

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