In search of story



My Uncle George was the dearest man in the world. His first wife, my pretty Aunt Mary, died of breast cancer in 1953. Forty-five years later, dying, he lay still and unaware for days. Except for one day when he was restless and agitated. It was the anniversary of Mary’s death.

My incorrigible Grandma Mauck, 90, was in the hospital apparently comatose. She was unresponsive, removed from time and place. She died on the same date Grandpa Mauck had died 36 years earlier.

How did they know?

Some years ago, I told my wise friend Mary Jo that I felt bad but I didn’t know why. “Don’t you have some anniversaries right now?” she asked. I was astounded. I was the one comatose! I’d been unaware of the time, the late winter months. Same time it is right now.

I’ve been struggling with insomnia for weeks now. It is horrible. I have inventoried several reasons for it, including heredity, but only yesterday did I remember Mary Jo’s words. This is a time of anniversary. Dad’s last months. The memories are insistent, grueling. It isn’t the death; it’s multiple deaths; it’s the dying. The anger, the aloneness, the exhaustion. The rising tide of losses.

Does trauma imbed itself in time so that it comes again and again, revolving with the earth? Are our souls aware when our minds are not?

“This too shall pass” is cruel platitude.



I look like a shmoo.

It’s a three-robe morning: the cold is in my bones, and all my robes are called to duty.

The first robe is an ancient peachy-pink flannel. I’ve lost count of its years, poor thing. Maybe twenty? It is a favorite — you know, one of those things in your closet that should never wear out. Its zipper and elastic have gone the way of the pyramids. It is threadbare, limp, exhausted. An old friend. I love it.

Then the new robe, an authentic fuzzy pink. A vaguely bubble-gum pink, alas. Incredibly warm everywhere but my ankles, where the draft is wicked.

The top robe used to be Dad’s. A sober, grey, thinning pilled thing, trimmed in black. My sons and I gave it to him for Christmas after Mom died, and, had Dad known how much it cost, he never would have worn it. But wear it he did! When I had the audacity to wash it, Dad, Linus-like, sighed with relief when it was returned to him fresh from the dryer and he could meld with it again.

The night Dad died, in the comfort of Hospice care, I was wearing his robe, curled up in a big chair next to his bed. I’d fallen asleep. The aide came in, looked carefully at Dad and said, “It won’t be long now.” Within a minute I saw Dad’s body let go.

Do I think of that whenever I wear this robe? Pretty much. Sometimes it’s a butterfly memory, passing by lightly. Sometimes it’s Godzilla.

But three-robe cold will come. And I will meet it shmoo-like. That’s how life is.



I’m stuck. I want to write about something but can’t seem to do it; I’ve tried.

The scene is my Aunt Jean’s studio apartment. She is dying of leukemia. Her sister, Edna, and the hospice volunteer are there. It is the day after my father’s funeral, so my California brother is there too. And me.

My aunts, immensely strong-minded women, had made their own ways in a hostile world, one a CPA and the other a PhD. So there, in that tiny space, are three great forces of nature — Jean, Edna, Death. A humidity of exhaustion and grief makes the air thick. The epic warfare between emotion and O’Hern control has become grim hand-to-hand combat. I have walked into this as one being ambushed.

Edna attacks me with cold, angry words. I am in no shape to handle them. I stare at her while I feel something tear inside me. I am conscious of knowing I am not going to be all right.

I do not look back on that moment; I re-live it. It is as immediate to me as the breath I take as I type this.

In that room an entire family history crashed into itself. Past collided with present, living with dying, unkown with known. How do I write of such a room, of such a moment? I can’t seem to do it, yet I know I must. I want it in my book about caregiving.

I admit there is much in that room I don’t want to write about. When I’ve made myself write it, as a writer must do, I’ve ended up with mayhem on the page. Craig’s List makes better reading.

There is my lament. I now return to my writer’s pacing and muttering.