Remembering the dead


I had lunch with my friend Moira the other day. Her mother, who suffered from severe Alzheimer’s over the past couple of years, passed away about a month ago. Over a turkey wrap, Moira told me the story of her mother’s last few months: they’d finally found an assisted-living place for her, and then she fell, and broke both her hip and shoulder. The choices at that point were all bad. Operation: dangerous. Put her in traction for six weeks: she’d never walk again. Do nothing but medicate her: she’d die of infection.


They operated, and Mother made it through. But then she went to rehab, and she grew tired, and she stopped eating. And a few weeks later, she passed away.





Moira and her mother had always been close. But the Alzheimer’s had made Mother petty and mean and insulting and confused.  A few years ago, over yogurt at Ben & Jerry’s, Moira told me somberly: “She’s dead. I lost her. She’s another person now.”


We talked about the conflicting emotions that come after a parent’s death. Grief, naturally. Then guilt: you could have been a better son/daughter! You should have visited more! You shouldn’t have put them in assisted living! Then relief: someone you love isn’t suffering anymore, and you aren’t suffering anymore. Then (worst and most penetrating of all): guilt about feeling relieved!


“I’m not guilty at all,” Moira said as we left the restaurant. “I know what I did, and why. I think my brother feels guilty. I don’t.”


“I still feel guilty about my mother, even after sixteen years,” I said. “I know it’s silly, but I still do.”


Moira looked at me. “I’m gonna tell you what I told my brother,” she said. “Snap out of it.  You know better than that.”



And that made me feel better.


My sister Darlene passed away a few years ago, of the ferocious ovarian cancer that runs in my family. Darlene and I didn’t get along. She thought I was a spoiled smartass; I thought she was a stupid stick-in-the-mud.


When the news came that she’d passed away, I sighed and put it aside. I didn’t go to the funeral. We weren’t friends, I told myself, just siblings.


But the morning after I received the news, I had a sudden recollection: I was – what? Maybe five years old. And I was running out of the house, and my two sisters were walking home from the bus after school. And I was so glad to see them.


I was so glad my unconscious had unearthed that memory: one simple quiet happy image, for me to file away.


Now everybody can (maybe) rest in peace.




About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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