The Day My Mother Died by Leanne Grabel

Absolutely everything has been said about the death of the mother. It’s enormous. It’s bigger than a brontosaurus. It’s like its own planet.

How in the end, the mother curls up like a fingernail or an apple stem on the coffee table. And how desperately sad that is. It’s almost unbearable. Those bastard details of the body going down.

And yet, in the end, the body’s brilliant. How its juices finally take control of the mind. When the throat no longer swallows. When the food and water stop. The organs spray out their personal opioids. And keep the dying stoned. It’s sweet. The body as perfect host.

December 17. 2015. That’s the day my mother died. Four days after her 97th birthday. (For which she was comatose. I’m not sure it counts.)

Rumi died on December 17. Though my mother wasn’t a poet. The 13th Dalai Lama died on December 17. Although I don’t think she was exalted. Cesaria Evora died on December 17. Although my mother wasn’t a “barefoot diva.” Kaspar Hauser, the German feral child, died on December 17. My mother wasn’t feral.

I could smell Death when Death came into her room on December 17. Death didn’t have a rotting animal odor. Not fleshy. Or fishy. More a rusty smell. Cold. Metallic. A fainter scent than I’d expected. Yet more nauseating. A ghost odor of something putrid.

My mother lay comatose for six days. Her little body a little cockeyed. Legs crossed. Toes pointed inward. Her hands were burning up. Holding the fever. Holding her hands. Holding the fever. In life her hands had been cold as cement. Like mine.

No one had clipped her toenails for weeks. They were curled under like Flo Jo’s fingernails. My mother would have died if she saw them.

And her puffy hair was slicked back showing all of her ears. They were enormous. I had no idea. She had always hidden them. They looked like plump dried peaches, saggy and soft.

My mother’s nurses were from Guatemala, Colombia and Haiti. They kept telling me how funny my mother was. They all said she was so funny. I couldn’t think of one joke. I couldn’t think of one time when she was funny. I called my sister and my sister said Well, she wasn’t funny to us. She just wasn’t that funny.

My mother had an eye infection for months. (Should I be telling you this?) The rim of her left eye was swollen and crimson. Like a young mouth. But on an old eye it looked bloody awful.

But the instant my mother died the redness disappeared. And one clear tear fell from the corner of her bad eye. Crystalline. Glimmering. Shimmering.

She closed her mouth. And made a funny face. A comedian’s face. Like Red Skelton or Jonathan Winters. Her lips curled under as if she were toothless. Which she wasn’t. She had more teeth than I do. It wasn’t a smile, exactly. But a contented look. Okay. I’m done. She seemed to say. I’m out of here.

Death looked like Richard Boone. Paladdin. Pleated face. Black suit. Black hat. Little white teeth. He came at noon. On the dot. I offered him some caesar salad but he said he had to go. He was riding the stupidest wooden pony.

Illustrated by Leanne Grabel. Find more from her here.

7 thoughts on “The Day My Mother Died by Leanne Grabel

  1. Thanks for my dose! I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Grabel recite this poem recently in Portland, Oregon, where our friendship began some forty plus years ago. She continues to evolve. Her fine mind for detail becomes her written word that has a base within our minds, reminding us of our commonality and humanity. She is an artist extraordinar, multi talented. Her words are alive!

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