She spent a week in the hospital while they tried to figure out what was wrong. Just as we prepared to leave for Sasquatch and I got the last minute assignment to interview the Drums the expected bad news was reported: Mom had cancer and it had spread. She was coming home to die.
I considered canceling the Sasquatch trip, but not that seriously. Mom would have felt lousy if she knew I missed something I had looked forward to and worked for due to her illness. Off to Sasquatch I went, with a somewhat heavy heart. The festival was great, Saturday and Sunday both had an amazing pile of awesome bands. Late at night as I recharged my Flip and got ready to do the last bit of taping for the evening, out back of the Vera pavilion on the grass, I would recite a rosary, praying hypnotically for Mom and easing my weary mind which was so tired from not thinking about Mom.
I left as early as I could on Monday night, cleaned up and went to bed late, then got up and headed over to Moms. She was already fading and mostly incoherent. She did recognize me, opening her eyes and smiling at me and saying “hi.” Later when she had sunk further I started playing the guitar and singing and she smiled and opened her eyes just a bit.
I ended up playing Neil Young songs for my Mom as she transitioned into death. “Hey Hey My My,” better to burn out than to fade away, rust never sleeps. Pretty appropriate, I’ve always felt that “Don’t Let it Bring You Down” has some of the most evocative downbeat imagery I've ever heard:
Old man sitting by the side of the road
With the lorries rolling by,
Blue moon sinking from the weight of the load
And the building scrape the sky,
Cold wind ripping down the allay at dawn
And the morning paper flies,
Dead man lying by the side of the road
With the daylight in his eyes.
Red lights flashing through the window in the rain,
Can you hear the sirens moan?
White cane lying in a gutter in the lane,
If you're walking home alone.
Brilliantly written depressive music. I played and sang some, then choked up and had to just play guitar some as Mom transitioned. We moved Mom from one side to the other every couple of hours and you could see the bruising from the tumor and realize how big it was.
"The Loner" - most adolescent males can identify with this, and older males remember being alienated adolescents when they hear it. Wonderful indirect story telling.
“The Needle and the Damage Done” is a brutally beautiful ode to loss.
"Old Man" is a classic, I can always hear the banjo part midway through in my head, even though I'm only faking the guitar and singing. It sounds great inside my head.
"Heart of Gold" is beautiful and poignant.
“Southern Man” is more angry than sad; “Love Is A Rose” is a beautiful cautionary song, I always enjoy singing and playing it.
Finally “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” My heart’s breaking as Mom lies dying, and Neil Young’s songs help the process along. Watching Mom suffer helps me get past the loss, she needs the blessing that only death can provide now: an end of pain and suffering and disability and diminishment.
Aunts come and hold Mom’s hand and stroke her hair. Siblings come and go, grandkids and friends. We're all saying goodbye in our own ways, mostly involving crying one way or another.
We have Yeh Yeh’s Viet Namese sandwiches for lunch and Mom sinks into a deeper coma on Wednesday. She can still react a little to sounds and touch, but most of the time she won’t get her eyes open and when she tries to verbalize you can hear her vocal chords, but she’s unable to form the words with her mouth and larynx.
I’m crying more frequently, pretty much each time I go in to hold her hand or just sit with her. Mostly quite intense crying, sometimes ragged gasping breath crying, no real help for it. It hurts, but it's a necessary hurt in some way.
After calming my breathing a bit I say my goodbye: “Goodbye Mom, say hello to Dad. We love you and we’ll miss you, but it’s time to go. I’m so proud to be your son.” After she passed Thursday evening I repeated it over her cooling body, or tried to, but I couldn't complete it before getting too choked up.
Goodbye Mom, say "Hello" to Dad. We love you and we'll miss you, and I'm proud to say I'm your son.