It’s Mother’s Day. Don’t Tell Daddy That Mom Is Dead.

I made the executive decision, back when my mom died in December. “We’re not telling him,” I said, regarding my dad. Some people thought that was weird. They weren’t divorced, or estranged, or anything that might explain why a man wouldn’t need to know that his partner of 53 years was gone. That he was now a widower. My parents were still married. He still liked her. He still asks for her, sometimes.

“She’s sleeping,” is what I tell him, every time.

During the funeral, I kept thinking of him, sitting there in a nursing home, completely unaware of the death of his wife. Of the fact that we were sitting in a church, crying as the priest said nice words about her. Of the fact that his daughters had lost their mother. Of anything. Maybe that’s a good thing about Alzheimer’s Disease – you can let them believe whatever seems best.

“Mummy’s sleeping,” I say.

The other day, I was sitting with him in the dementia unit lounge and he said to me, “Where’s Mummy? Is she still sleeping? Wake her up, she was supposed to bring me something to eat.”

I said, “Oh, let’s let her sleep. She’s tired. Your lunch will be here soon.”

I wasn’t lying about the lunch. It was there, within minutes. He ate most of it, and did not ask about Mummy again.


This Mother’s Day, I wonder what she would think of all this. If there’s one thing I know about my mother, it’s that she sometimes enjoyed seeing people suffer. She loved the show American Ninja Warrior and one of my kids once said, “That’s because she likes to see people get hurt.” We had a good laugh about that. I even told it to my mother, and she laughed about it, too. Now, when it rains, we say that Grandma is in Heaven competing on the show. And just fell in the pool because obviously, you never make it through the course on your first try.

I don’t think she’d want us to cry and sob and be overwhelmed by grief forever, about her death. I do, however, believe she’d want the full impact of it to be felt. Especially by her spouse, who by rights should miss her at least as much as the rest of us do.

Instead, where Daddy is concerned, her death was a non-event. Nothing to see here. Mummy’s sleeping.

So on that note, I’m composing a little note to her, to take the place of the Hallmark card I’d have normally given her for Mother’s Day. Here it is.

Dear Mom:

First of all, happy Mother’s Day. You did a good job. I learned from the things you did wrong, and the things you did right were so eerily, perfectly right that I still can’t quite get my head around how you did it. Allowing me to read at the dinner table, for example, my book propped up around my plate and maybe even hiding half my face, when I was younger. This is a habit that has served me well, particularly when I choose to eat alone in public with my book propped up around my plate. Not many mothers would permit this type of behavior. You told me you figured that at least I wasn’t doing drugs at the dinner table. This is a logical leap that I still can’t follow, but thank you for it, and for all the other exactly right mothering you did.

Second: no. We have not told Daddy about you and we’re not going to. But the nurses have said they think he knows, anyway. He gets teary-eyed when he hears certain songs, and when he asks, “Where’s Mummy?” you can see a little more than just your average-level curiosity in his face. Also, the fact that he asks “Where’s Mummy?” at all is a pretty good testament to your legacy. He doesn’t ask about anyone else. He still expects you to deliver his meals. I like to think you are still taking care of him, from wherever you are, and so I let him think it, too.

Also, I like to imagine the reunion, when he joins you in the afterlife. “Jesus Christ, Maureen,” he’ll say. “When did you die?” And then you’ll laugh, and tell him how it happened, and then he’ll say, “But why didn’t those assholes tell me?”

Then you will both laugh, and then you’ll probably go to get him something to eat.

The only bad news is that I’m pretty sure he will beat you at American Ninja Warrior. But on the bright side, no one ever completes the course on their first try, so surely you’ll get to see him fall a few times. That will be fun.

Third: I love you. We all do. Rest in peace.

And happy Mother’s Day.


Can’t Kill Him Even With The Euthanasia Cocktail

Maybe a year or so ago, my mother told my dad, “I was just in the hospital for a few days.”

This was around the time that my mother’s health, never great, really started to go downhill. She’d just learned that she had atrial fibrillation on top of the COPD, high blood pressure, super-high cholesterol, and fairly extreme artery blockage. My mom had spent years taking care of my dad, which couldn’t have done her health any favors. By the time of this particular hospital stay, he was already in a nursing home and so knew nothing about where my mother had been.

“I was really sick,” she went on to tell him. “I could have died.” She was hoping, I’m sure, for some care. Compassion. Concern. Something.

Here is what she got instead: my dad looked at her, shrugged, and said, “Really? Huh. I was all right.”

And we laughed and laughed, because this is how it had always been. Mom struggling through, lucky to come out alive some days, while through it all Dad remains “all right.” Even as his mind has failed him, he continued until very recently to insist to anyone who would listen, “I’m in good shape.”

Well, you can’t kill Daddy. This was my mother’s and my joke. Because you couldn’t. He seemed to walk through life in an invisible bubble, not catching colds, not breaking his arm, not even getting sunburn. I am pretty sure the guy never took so much as a Tylenol, except for the occasional hangover.

I am also pretty sure that despite it all, you still can’t kill Daddy.

As I’ve mentioned before, he stopped eating around the time my mother died, and lost over twenty pounds in a few weeks. It was upsetting and highly unusual, and I couldn’t believe I might lose both parents in such a short amount of time.

He got better. He’s gained the weight back. He eats fairly normally now.

His right leg became swollen, and they were concerned it could be a blood clot. All that sitting, I thought. I wouldn’t be surprised. 

It was apparently not a blood clot. A few days of antibiotics and the leg was fine.

Then he got pneumonia. Well, this might be it, I told myself sadly. He’s old, he’s weak. Maybe this is just his time. While he had pneumonia, he fell and hurt his hip. You could see he was in pain. They were worried the hip might be fractured; we’ve all heard of elderly people who break a hip or an ankle and it’s all downhill from there.

They did an x-ray. He had not broken his hip. It doesn’t seem to hurt him anymore. He’s also over the pneumonia.

You cannot kill Daddy.

Captain Immortal, enjoying a little light reading.

Then, one day, I got a call from his hospice nurse, saying he was in bad shape. Apparently, the night before, some severely misguided nurse had given him both Ativan and morphine for “restlessness.” A sedative and a narcotic, for someone whose restlessness never extends past a tapping foot or jiggling arm. He was practically comatose for the entire next day and into the night.

Needless to say, I was quite alarmed.

“Has something changed?” I asked the director of nursing, when I finally got in touch with her. “Is there something I need to know about his behavior at nighttime?”

Eventually, after much prompting on my part, she told me that no, nothing had changed. “There was no reason for him to be given those drugs. We’re educating our nursing staff.”

“Better educate them quick,” I told her. “Because when I Googled ‘Ativan and morphine combination,’ I immediately came across the phrase ‘euthanasia cocktail.'”

Both the director of nursing and the director of the entire facility looked mildly panicked at this. Which was more than a little satisfying and hardly surprising. “Oh God, no,” one of them told me. “No one was trying to kill your dad.”

“I know that,” I said. “But, they might have killed him all the same.”

I have no intention of suing them. I never did. But I left the vague threat hanging in the air anyway. What the heck.

What I didn’t tell them, but what they’d have known if only they were paying attention, is the one, most obvious fact.

Fact: you can try; you can do your damnedest. You could probably detonate a nuclear weapon right under his nose. You can take away everything he loves in life, his grass-cutting and his bird-feeding and his two pieces of toast in the morning. Go ahead, give it your best shot. Because no matter what you do, the simple truth remains. As my mother and I knew all along: you just can’t kill Daddy.