It felt light in my hands, forgiving, soft… too soft to be capable of the task I had in mind. I took a deep, shaky breath and glanced down at the hand dyed and sewn pillow resting in my lap. A wash of cerulean, emerald, lavender, deep purple, and pewter meet my eyes. Her favorite colors. Of course they are her favorite, she made it for herself. I witness my hand pass over the surface but I don’t remember moving my arm.
Another deep, shaky breath. And another. My body shudders like those brought on by a fever chill. I place my hand on my belly and try to breathe for real.
When I was a girl my mother was so strong, so determined, so bullish, she seemed invincible to me. I watched in awe as she reinvented herself time and again to fit the ebb and flow of her life. Often, in her desperation for survival, she ran down those of us nearest to her. So ingrained was her fight or flight reaction, she failed to realize the ripple effect she created in her efforts to survive and enveloped my brother and I in her tumult. It often felt like chaos was a way of life.
My mother… a complicated and horribly broken woman. Her life was not easy, or happy and though she did her best with the tools at hand, I think she often felt she’d been dealt an unnecessarily shitty hand this time around. And now this. She’s only fifty one. How is this her life? How is this her death?
I gazed at her jagged left arm as it lay inert beside her hollow body. I straightened the pillows and cleverly folded washcloths so that it appeared in alignment. The muscles and tendons slack, the bone within was closer to the consistency of sandstone than bone. It had broken clean in half one night while she slept.
That next morning I casually asked her if her arm hurt.
No, why? She asked.
She followed my eyes to the humerus at a right angle in her left arm.
Well. She said with eerie calm. Seems like that should hurt, doesn’t it?
Looking up at me she asked, Honey, come straighten it out for me.
What. The. Fuck.
What reality is this we’re living? How does a body endure this much decomposition and keep going? This bullish woman was alive by sheer force of will. Mind over matter in the bed right in front of me. Hospice had taken to apologizing to us that she was still with us. They’d never experienced anyone living through any illness, let alone bone cancer, the way mom was.
I scoffed. Silly nurses. Clearly they didn’t know mom.
Standing over her now, I listen to her stilted, shallow breaths and watch her chest almost hiccup in its effort to inhale. She was unconscious, not asleep. The painkillers and her dying body took her to the edge every single night. \
This will be simple, quick, humane. This is the right thing to do. She’s been begging for the end, begging me, my brother, my husband incessantly. She says she’s ready and she needs to die. She needs help. Like her mother did for her father. Like she did for her mother.
What a legacy.
We did try once. I gave her an enema slurry with enough pureed morphine, valium, oxy, and whatever other narcotics I had. It should have been enough to kill a small elephant. Or at the very least a shriveled, cancer ridden human but no. The bitch woke up three days later pissed as hell AT ME and then didn’t look at or speak to me for a week. I was devastated. This wasn’t my fault. Was it?
She wasn’t dead and it was clearly my fault. Hospice whispered to be careful, pretended they didn’t know what was up, refilled her meds, and we all went on with life, such as it was.
Lately I have often laid my head on the pillow I now hold. Seems I nap twice, sometimes three times a day only I never wake feeling refreshed. Doing palliative care for mom and growing a human at the same time is exhausting. Not the kind of exhaustion you can quench by sleeping. It’s different. Insatiable. Terrifying.
I glance around the room and see the other pillows she made… soft cotton, lovingly hand dyed, cut, and sewn into throw pillows that she loves. All like the one I’m sitting with. Will I have to throw them all out? Or just this one? I guess if I can’t stand the sight of them I’ll throw them all out.
My body feels achingly heavy, not my own. I stand and lower the bed rail. I look out the living room windows at the towering redwoods she loves so dearly. My hands and arms move on their own, swept up in an invisible tide.
I love you mom. I love you so much.
I settle the pillow over her face.
I have to press the pillow against her face much harder than I thought I would. I straighten my arms, lean in, and press with my body weight. Her head sinks into the bedding behind her but it finally stops. My tears stream silently, falling on the pillow, they catch in my hair, and I lean in.
She did this to my brother once too. She begged him to end her. In his martial arts training he’d learned the sleeper hold. She knew he could choke her out. She begged. He agreed.
Manipulative to the end. Man did she fuck us up with this ‘help me die’ bullshit.
My fingers are dug mercilessly into the sides of the soft beautiful pillow. Am I pressing hard enough? Am I breathing? I inhale halting breaths between sobs. I feel my big baby belly press against the bed.
I’m startled out of my skin when her right hand flies up and starts frantically clawing at my arms. She has no strength but she frantically fights me. Even her broken left arm is flapping around. My meager resolve instantly evaporates and I sail the pillow across the room. My knees give and I sit hard back in the chair.
I’m sobbing uncontrollably. I tell her how sorry I am… I’m so so sorry. She is still unconscious. Resting again, struggling to breathe. She seems calm. Still.
I may never sleep again.
I am sorry but I am not sorry that I tried… I’m sorry that I couldn’t finish.
Killing someone is a lot fucking harder than it looks. Even when you promise.
I wrap my arms desperately around myself and rock. This was too much, way too much. Oh baby baby… I am so sorry. What did I do to us? What did I try to do to her?
I stayed on the couch that night, in the living room, next to her.. I don’t recall sleeping. I do remember thinking…
Oh my god she is going to be so fucking pissed tomorrow.
I was 24 years old.
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