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Goodbye - Page 5

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As the days go by,
I keep thinking,
“When does it end?
Where’s the day I’ll have
started forgetting?”
But I just go on
Thinking and sweating
And cursing and crying
And turning and reaching
And waking and dying And no,
Not a day goes by,
Not a blessed day
But you’re still somehow
a part of my life.
And you won’t go away.

—Stephen Sondheim

The death of my father interfered with the realization of a long-talked-about family fantasy. My brother had finished converting the basement of his New England home into a place for my parents to live. Without my father to join her, my mother at first refused to move. Some weeks later, however, she consented to a weekend trial run, but just for one night.

The morning after that first night she announced that she was never going back to the apartment where my father died. And she never did. She moved into the basement. Between her and the rest of the household she erected a Chinese wall on a foundation of shame and gratitude.

She consigned herself to the physical care and supervision of my brother and his wife, and I, at long distance, became responsible for her emotional well-being. Her children were taking over for her husband. And was it ever any different? Perhaps I just gave up fighting it, and my brother stopped running from it. Several of the physical ailments she had left untreated during my father’s last years finally got taken care of. And to me, living 200 miles away, she could express the loneliness she felt she had to hide from the people with whom she now shared a house.

We began a semi-annual pilgrimage.

My mother would come to New York and I would take her to my father’s grave. There, as if on cue, hysteria would reign. She’d cry and wail, “Why did you have to go? Why didn’t you take me with you?” I felt pushed further into the role of parent and resented having to watch over her, having to let her emotional outbursts and needs predominate. She’d forget I was there, then remember, then balance her statements, editing as she went. “Why did you leave me? I’m all alone. I have nothing to live for. . . . I mean, of course, I have the boys, but you promised you’d never leave me.”

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