It took until early afternoon on Friday to be ready to go. There was some rank stuff in the fridge that clearly needed to go. Sheets to strip and wash so I could make the bed when I got back. I threw my stuff together and bailed. I had seen the thing through to its bitter end, there was nothing else for me to do. It wasn’t like I was going to be able to take her home with me, now that the IV meds were no longer required and prop her up at the dining room table with a blanket around her shoulders and a cuppa in her hands. There are ways these things are handled. A procession of nurses to determine that yes, for sure, this one is dead. And then a gurney and a trip to the morgue, where you are refrigerated until the crematorium picks you up and drives you to a brand new fridge.
There was none of that for me to participate in. So I ran for the shelter of my sister’s little helpers.
In my wake, I left behind a house that was much as it had been when my mother left it to get admitted to the hospital. Her bedroom in particular. Stacks of clean clothes, piles of change, a ring in the clutter. Other random stuff that had no where else to be and so she’d stuck it just there. Her bathroom counter was a mess. Her makeup bag where she’d last laid it down, her cheek tint on its side. Toothpaste by the side of the sink. A house that is lived in. The house *she* lived in. Her nail polish was on the mantle from when she’d last painted up her toe nails.
One of the last things she said to me: I want to be pretty. I want my hair to look nice.
The house is orderly to her, more or less. She’s had a lot of company over the past year, so the kitchen is a little haphazard with all of the *help* she’s had. But otherwise, the system may be indecipherable, but there was a system. A system best read by her daughters.
I just got back to her house tonight. I call the landlord’s mother to get the alarm code to disarm it so we don’t call the police just because I opened up the garage door, I get into the house, and I start looking around. I’m still on the phone, the level of shock in my system rising quickly as she ever so cheerfully tells me about all of the helpful things she’s done in the house.
I go into the bathroom. This little evidence of my mother, evidence I would have photographed now that I’ve got the house to myself and no one can think I’m weird for doing it, is gone. It has been “tidied” by a woman with better intentions than awareness of what is and is not appropriate. She tells me with pride of all of the places in the house that she touched. She’s re-made a bed I made, this time with nurses corners and a buttoned down neatness that I kind of want to go jump on. She’s re-made other beds with clean sheets because she took the laundry home and washed it for us. Isn’t that sweet?
Meanwhile, my horrified and stunned is turning into a hulk-like anger that is sickly green and growing larger every second. And with my holy outrage, I proceed to … write an e-mail fully intended to make her feel like shit for invading our privacy and untertaking the “clean up” operation that should have been ours. My mother’s daughters hands the last to create order, and a new order. A divided order. This pile for sister one. This pile for sister two. This pile for sister three. This one for aunts and uncles and everyone in the whole world who it seems like had a connection with our mother that they’d like to remember by something tangible.
In her misguided attempts to help, she stole from us. She denied us the first choice about what goes where, the minute alone with the stuff, imagining mom’s hand reaching for that brush, that weird thing she did to get her eye make up on. Death is sudden when it comes to the on/off switch. But in either direction, there stretch out rituals and obligations. Before, there are doctors appointments and a mad scramble for the right paperwork, the admission to the hospital, the hope that they’re wrong when they say they are going to send her home because this is the kid that already dropped the lady once, and I ain’t doing that again. That morphs into the idea of what a long haul might look like. Then the functions go one by one, and the strength goes day by day, and you realize that every day is taking you a little closer to dead. But it isn’t dead.
That happens in the last horrible breath. Days after oxygen prevention would have rendered her permanently brain damaged. And then you’re standing at the foot of the bed making phone calls. You think that’s dead. Then you think the cremation thing is going to be dead for real. But you aren’t dead, not really, until someone that loves you has gone through your shit with some respect, re-purposed it, but first sat with it and let the space where you used to exist hold you once more.
And we were robbed. I used the words that *should* make her feel like the biggest idiot on the face of the planet for not asking before she barged in, for not just leaving well enough alone, for not thinking about what it might feel like to her daughters, for not thinking outside her own experience.
Just don’t help. I know what I want to get done, I have a plan in my mind for how I’m going to do it. Don’t help. Get out of the way. And don’t do weird invasive shit that sets me back in a big way and then get all proud of yourself over it. Don’t touch my shit, heifer. Or my momma’s shit, while we’re at it.