In the days since my mother passed away, my brother, my boyfriend, and I have been starting to tackle the massive task of going through several decades’ worth of accumulated STUFF in the apartment.

Over the last few days, we have discovered wonderful things (cash) and awful things (mice … or, specifically, one dead mouse and one live mouse which was later caught by a glue trap).  We’ve also discovered a bunch of weird / nostalgic / retro things based on my mother’s tendency to take something she wasn’t using anymore and stuff it into the back of a closet rather than throw it out.

Are you ready for this?  Okay, let’s go … (more…)

My mother passed away yesterday, and while we knew that this would be happening sooner rather than later, we still did not expect that it would happen quite so suddenly.

She had been disabled for several years, and while her condition had taken a slow downward turn over the last few months (it was getting harder for her to hold things and her eyes were getting worse), her health took a very steep decline last week.  That’s because she found out that her sister had just died.  Her sister was the last person left who remembered her as a little girl, one of the last people she spoke Latvian with, and basically one of her last connections to her early life.  The last time I spoke to my mother we talked about the usual things like books and food, but she also asked me about whether or not I believed in an afterlife and whether or not I thought she would see her family when she died.  It was a hard conversation, but I don’t know if it would have been easier or harder if I’d known it would be the last conversation we would ever have.

Wednesday morning I got a message from Life Alert while I was at a meeting downtown.  By the time I was on the bus heading back uptown she had been taken to the hospital, and by the time we got to the hospital she had already gone into cardiac arrest several times and was currently in a vegetative state.  Over the course of the next few days I found my copy of her living will and brought it to the hospital, and they disconnected her from the medicines and machines.  She passed away yesterday morning.

Since my mother planned ahead for her own death more than most people I know, she’d already made arrangements for her body to be donated to Columbia University’s medical program so that we wouldn’t have to deal with a funeral or with funeral expenses (thanks, Mom).

Thank you for listening, and thank you for your support.  Thank you also for your advice, on topics like … Now that I found the will, what do I do with it? and What are some good companies/organizations that will accept (and preferably pick up) donations? and What about wheelchairs?  She had several wheelchairs, and I’d like them to go to people who need them!

I’m on bereavement leave right now, and I’m spending the next few days going back and forth between my place and my mother’s place (which has zero internet access).  So if you write to me and it takes me a while to get back to you, I apologize in advance.  My evenings are being reserved for the tougher stuff, like calling family members and reading condolences.  My days are being spent with my brother cleaning stuff out of my mother’s apartment, which is also tough but in different ways.

Once again … thank you, thank you, and thank you.

And now, for all the foodies in the house …

Making Chocolate Kahlua BavariansMaking Chocolate Kahlua Bavarians

Pork Chops in Panko CrumbsPork chops in panko crumbs

Sweet Shopping Spree From H MartSweet shopping spree from H Mart

Sandwich and Salad From The Meatball ShopSandwich and salad from The Meatball Shop

Drunken Garlic Black Bean SauceDrunken Garlic Black Bean Sauce

Salted Caramel KronieSalted caramel Kronie (a present from Betsy to cheer me up on a lousy day)

I wasn’t sure what I was going to do today, since I caught up with my laundry and there aren’t any movies I need to see in theaters.  But since I’d promised to take care of dinner tonight and since the latest food-related article my boyfriend sent me was particularly inspiring (Where to Order the Best Meatballs in America) I’m now planning out a shopping / walking / eating route!

ETA: Just came back from a scenic walk that culminated in some extravagant lunch and dinner purchases at The Meatball Shop.  I’ve taken so many pictures of food lately (surprise!) that they’re going to fill their own post soon.  Stay tuned!

I visited my mother this morning, and dealt with the usual stuff — picking up and dropping off books, dropping off food and picking up empty containers — but then there was a new twist.  That was the part where she asked me if I believed in an afterlife, and we talked about her seeing her family again when she dies.  My mother has always been a very unsentimental person, so this was an unusual and awkward conversation for us to have.  My boyfriend drove me there, and then afterwards we went out to brunch and went shopping at the H Mart to try to reset my brain and cheer up.

I’ve been spending the last hour emailing back and forth between several teachers from a local high school who all apparently decided last week that they needed to bring all of their classes to visit my library THIS week.  I’m assuming this was based on a directive by their higher ups, but since they have visited me before (usually in April), I wonder what the rush is all about.  I mean, I work here all year round, and they could have contacted me MONTHS ago.  Why do they all need to come NOW?  Anyway, what that means is that I’m trying to wrangle all of their 9th, 10th, and 11th grade classes into the available spaces when our community room isn’t being used for something else.  Oh, and did I mention that they’ll be bringing about 45 students per visit?  And did I also mention that I have less than a week to start cramming high school booktalks into my head?

Ugh.  I mean, hooray for my productivity and statistics, but ugh for my head!

Plus, these days are going to be extra hectic because I have a bunch of branch managers who want their staff to observe class visits in a library setting, so I’m probably going to be observed by a bunch of staff members from other branches while I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  So, you know, no pressure …

Now I’m finishing listening to an episode of the Nerdist podcast, then I’m going to do some reading, then I need to start cramming those booktalks in my head, then … well, then it will be time for dinner and the season premiere of Game of Thrones!

My mother called me tonight to say that her sister’s son had just called to say that she had died.  And my first reaction was, “… of WHAT?” because I had no idea that she had been dying of anything.  So it turns out that she had leukemia, and that she didn’t want to go through chemotherapy because of her age (she was almost a decade older than my mother).  So she was in a hospice for several weeks, and then she died there.

I may have mentioned before that several of my family members had spent a lot of time talking about and planning for their deaths.  This included my mother belonging to the Hemlock Society when I was too young to understand what hemlock was but old enough to read the word on the envelopes she got in the mail.  This included my paternal grandfather giving my mother revised lists of which people she should and shouldn’t allow at his funeral (like it would be a standing-room-only event and my mother would be standing at the door with a list and a velvet rope).  This also included my father telling me on numerous occasions about the suicide pact he had with my mother, which — surprise! — never really existed.

My mother was usually the one to break the news to me about a death in the family.  She’s always been sort of pragmatic about death, and the messages she would leave on my answering machine would usually include phrases like “… and it was for the best.”  There have been times she’s turned to the subject of death too quickly, like when I told her years ago that we had just adopted an FIV-positive cat and her first response was, “Why don’t you just have him put to sleep?”

So yes, sometimes it’s a touchy subject.

But this time it was different, because she was discussing someone who was close to her own age, and someone she cared about.  She was talking to me about how her sister was the last person who had known her as a child, and I totally understood and empathized with that.  And then she said that her family was all gone now, and she was completely alone.  And I’ll admit that I was taken aback.

I had several responses that came bubbling up from my brain, but each one sounded more defensive and passive-aggressive than the last, so I kept my mouth shut and didn’t say any of them.  Which is probably for the best, because, “What are we, chopped liver?” is probably not the way to go in that conversation.

After I got off the phone I started trying to explain to my boyfriend how and why I was feeling stunned, because my brain is still trying to analyze and compartmentalize my reactions.

I’m stunned because my aunt is dead, and I didn’t even know that she was dying.  We weren’t close, and in fact I only met her a handful of times in my life, since she lived on the other side of the country and rarely visited New York.  But still, my family tree has very few branches, and she was one of them.

I’m stunned that my mother said that her family was gone and she was completely alone when my brother lives with her and I see her every week.  And yes, I DO understand (as my boyfriend points out, because he is a much kinder and more forgiving person than I am) that SHE DIDN’T MEAN IT THAT WAY.  And yet when she said those words to me I had an immediate flashback to the time she told me that she would have made a great surrogate mother because she didn’t feel an emotional attachment to her children after they were born.

And I’m also stunned because of the larger implications of what this might mean to my mother’s life.  That she has less reason to live now that her sister is gone, and that my brother and I can’t make up the difference.  And that is the saddest part of all.

We’re watching the Total Riff Off program right now, and it’s a lot of fun.  We’ve been listening to the Rifftrax guys goofing on bears, bats, honey badgers, and more!  It’s on the National Geographic Channel now, and it’s going to be re-airing later on tonight.  Good times!




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