Proximity Makes The Heart Grow Weaker

UPDATE: Well. She died today April 18, 2007 at 13:05 Alaska Time. Thanks everyone for your words of support.

It’s hard to go home. Harder when home is 3500 miles away. Harder still when your mom is dying.

My mom is dying.

I am sitting on the plane as I write this., waiting to take off for the final leg of my journey that started yesterday right after work when I got “the call” from my dad. At each step since that call, I’ve wanted someone, anyone, to tell me it’s okay to stay home in Massachusetts instead of having to travel to Alaska on 12 hours’ notice.

I am weak like that. I fear death.

I know I am not unique in this respect, but right now all I have are my thoughts. If you know me, you know I let my thoughts (my imagination) get the better of me when I don’t talk about things.

I fear death.

I don’t want to see my mom die. Obviously I don’t want her to die at all, but here I mean I don’t want to see it. My mom, the mom of my memory, is a strong woman. Because of her illness her body is failing her. She hasn’t been able to do pretty much anything on her own for many weeks. I know it has been frustrating for her.

When my dad called yesterday I was in a meeting. I went back to my office to return the call. Within a few minutes I was sitting on the floor, crying. It must have been an odd sight for my co-worker friend Katya when she came to say good night before leaving for the day. She sat with me until I’d finished on the phone. Thank you, Katya. Spassibo.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to get a plane ticket to Anchorage without getting screwed by the cost. I couldn’t get the bereavement fare for the early flight, the one that would get me there in the afternoon, so $1400 later I had a ticket.

While I was on the phone with the ticketing agent (I called since I got conflicting info from all the travel sites) I did a little Grief 2.0 online. (Yes, I am sad right now, but my humour sneaks in now and again.) I Twittered about my mom. I’d like to thank Bryan Veloso & Jen Verduzco, Kevin Cheng, Faruk Ateş, and Mike Stickel for their kind words in response (via Twitter, natch).

I wish I didn’t have primarily interweb-based friendships. Or perhaps what I wish is to be a better friend; better at friendship. The distance that inevitably arises is similar to the distance between me and my parents.

Most children grow up (in Amerika at least) to be distant from their parents, I suppose. I don’t know mine very well. I know they love me and I do love them (even though I have a hard time expressing it) but I’ve never… taken an interest?… been curious?… about them as individuals beyond their role as parent.

It’s not like we are strangers. I don’t mean to paint a picture of awkward silences during phone conversations punctuated by non-sequiturs about the likelihood of the Cubs playing October ball. Certainly that happened, but it was never a matter of course.

Funny Strange or Funny Ha Ha?

In the summer of 1990, or at least that is when I am choosing to place this memory my friend Suzanne said something that instantly made itself apparent as memorable and quotable: “Death is a funny thing. One minute you’re talking to someone and the next they don’t exist.”

At the time, it struck a chord (obviously, as I just terms it memorable and quotable) as being true. I don’t know if I believe it outright anymore.

I do believe the person, as they were at the moment of their death, may be the one that ceases to exist. But I also believe the person that was you when last we connected still exists as part of me.

We take that of people which is freely given and perhaps (undoubtedly) a little more. We keep that person with us, regardless of access to the memories, until we decide it’s time to go ourselves. I won’t surmise what comes after except to say it’s probably something we well deserve.

I need to leave it here for now.

12 replies on “Proximity Makes The Heart Grow Weaker”

  1. Elegantly said, and it’s a hard topic to think about. I think I’m similar in many ways in regards to death. I tend to just ignore it until it’s unavoidable. I’ve got no clue how I’d take one of my parents passing away, I honestly don’t know…

    I’m very sorry to hear about your Mom.

  2. I am the same way, Keith. It’s happening in front of my eyes and I have no effing clue what to do. I have to think though… just showing up is what I can and am supposed to do.

    That and take care of the newspaper recycling that’s piled up around here. :)

  3. Oh man, Matt…this is one of the hardest things in the world to face. A small consolation is that everyone faces it, so you’re not alone.

    My mom became terminally ill during final exams in grad school, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. We flew back to see her, but she was already on a respirator but conscious. When she saw us, she could speak, but her eyes welled with tears. After that she lapsed into unconsciousness and we never spoke to her again. This was 15 years ago. In the time since then, my greatest regret was never expressing to Mom how much I loved her in the years since, and how many of my best qualities I can attribute back to her. So I try to continue to remember where I’m from, and how much of that is from her. I think it would have made her happy. I think when she saw my sis and I, looking so scared and shocked, that it was the last thing she wanted us to feel. If I could do it again, I would have sat by the bed and talked to her, telling her what was going on, what interesting things I was looking forward to, and letting her now that yes…we came out OK, and that we’re going to do fine, and it’ll be fun to catch her up next time we see her. I think she would have been happy to hear that, in her last days. Almost any mother is happy to hear that, any day of the week. It might be hard to do because you’re feeling so sad now, confused, and feeling powerless. The way you can be strong now is to be there with Mom, and remember all the things you love about her, what she’s taught you, and tell her that you’re going to be fine because of her.

    You will have plenty of time later for yourself. Your friends are here for you too.

  4. Thanks, Dave.

    I am just being here. Reading to her stuff from online and such. Talking. Trying not to be to… selfish?

    She has seen me, but I got no reaction that she recognized me. But I realized right away that it doesn’t matter if I get a reaction. She knows, on some level, that I am here and that is enough.

  5. I’m also sorry to hear about your mom, Matt. You ARE doing a great thing by being with her right now.

    What’s your mom’s name? I’d like to make a donation in her honor. I will donate to the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation, unless you have another preference.

    Hang in there,

  6. Matt, I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. My dad was killed in an accident when I was 12…My heart goes out to you and your family.

  7. I went through some similar emotions when my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. I didn’t want to have my memory of him tainted by seeing him become weak.

    The odd thing is that it didn’t make him seem weak; he actually seemed stronger than ever, but in a different way than before.

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