Family Matters

Family Matters

Living Backward and Forward: In Search of the Stories that Bind Us

By Janine Roberts

March/April 2018

Mom gleefully holds up two crossword books and says, “See, 111 puzzles in each. They’ll keep me here a long time. When I finish them, I can die.”

Mom, age 99, hasn’t talked about dying in a while. I remember with a shudder her plaintive calls last year in the hospital after her 10th fall, her head gashed and bleeding. “I want to die. Please . . . die,” she’d said. The words still careen back and forth in my mind. Now, I grab the opening Mom has presented and ask, “What are you feeling about dying?”

She replies with bravado, “I couldn’t care less if I die.” A slow swallow. “I can’t do anything about it.”

I stroke her back, something that she loves. “Are you afraid or scared?”

“I’m in great shape.” She says nothing about her emotions, and I feel a sear down the center of my breastbone—the old flagrant hope of getting a glimpse into Mom’s feelings, hope that first infiltrated my body when I was eight years old. Tottering in Mom’s high heels, I’d reached into her jewelry drawer for the silver wedding chain I loved to wear for dress-up. But what was this folded piece of paper under the box that held the chain? I opened it and read in Mom’s pointy handwriting: “I want to die here in the meadow. The lupine and Indian paintbrush around me.

My young mind raced. Die? Kicking the heels aside, tripping over the long, beaded skirt, I ran with the note to my 12-year-old sister. She wanted nothing to do with it. After that, every week…

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