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August 6, 2009

This Wonderful Life: Open letter to a friend whose mother is dying


We are so steeped in irony and cynicism, we think things like, “Why would I think a casserole would do anything to ease her suffering?” We don’t understand that the casserole is a sort of tasty Trojan horse that will get a person in the door, where she will get a much better view of how she can be useful.

You may have to help them help you. When you find yourself with a fragment of a moment illuminated by sanity and reflection, write down a list of five or six things that could really make your day easier.

Maybe someone could feed the dogs so you could stay all day with your mother without having to watch the clock. Maybe someone can bring you a CD player and music that you and your mother both like. If you think of something you’d like or need to do, but don’t want to waste any of these moments with your mother, write it down.

The next time someone says, “Is there anything I can do,” give them an assignment from the list.

Your friends will be happy to put their hands to use.

Let them carry you a little way, if you can. There’s something holy that happens when we take care of each other, and it’s important to spend time on both sides of that equation. Equally holy is the sorrow you’re feeling now and will feel for a long time to come.

There was a time when I had no conviction about what happens to us after death. My existentialist attitude was that it didn’t matter, and that it’s our lives that define our existence.

I also used to wear tight black turtlenecks and smoke like a chimney, so it was all part of the package.

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