Why there’s no Website memorial to my mother
April 9, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
Someone asked me why there’s no Website memorial to my mother. The answer is that it’s too soon. Mom and Dad were both diagnosed with cancer on January 16, 2013. Dad’s death was a blitz attack that ended on February 23, 2013. Mom’s death was a siege that lasted six months. For more than five of those months, I knew she’d die by her own hand, which she did on October 13, 2013, at 12:00 p.m.
Dad was a very secretive man. Looking through his medical records today—April 9, 2014—I learned that after his cancer diagnosis, he was prescribed Lorazepam for anxiety and Ambien for sleep. I didn’t know that. On January 21, 2013, Dad was to undergo a double-hernia operation. Before the operation, they would do a biopsy of his cancerous mass to see if they could determine what it was.
The secondary diagnosis was “malignant giant cell tumor of soft tissue.” When Dad and I came home from the hospital, he began wincing and groaning. After we asked him at least five hundred times, he finally admitted to being in pain. We took him to his primary physician—my Taiwanese cardiologist who apparently cured me of total liver failure—and then Dad refused to concede that he was in pain. On a scale of one to ten, he rated his pain as four. So he got Tylenol with codeine.
On January 25, 2013, Dad agreed to undergo tests at City of Hope to see exactly what kind of cancer he had and how far it had advanced. He told us that the pain medication had done nothing and that he was in agony. We took him back to my Taiwanese sorcerer-doctor on January 28 and again Dad denied being in pain. We overruled him and got prescriptions for oxycontin and morphine.
Dad had been taking eighteen medications a day for years. He had a pill box divided into compartments, enough for a week.
Suddenly he couldn’t fill them. He’d sit at the table for hours, blinking, fumbling, and fighting off my mother. Finally he shouted at her, “Call Tom!” So I went over and tried to help him fill the boxes, but he told me he didn’t need the boxes anymore because he’d worked out a system. He showed me a piece of paper with seven words on it.
Tim came over and put one week’s worth of pills into the box. It took him two hours. I went out and bought a second pill box and filled it so we’d have two weeks ready. We never used those pills. Dad died before the boxes were emptied.
February 5, 2013, was Dad’s first round of tests at City of Hope. That night Dad came out of the bathroom and told Mom that he had scratches on his calves from the orange groves, and the orange pickers were all speaking Italian. Mom called us, and Tim took Dad to the emergency room.
“Are we going for cocktails?” Dad asked Tim on the way to the car.
“Yes, that’s where we’re going,” Tim said.
“How’s that little secretary of yours working out?” Dad asked.
“Oh, she’s fine,” Tim said.
At the hospital, Dad asked, “What is this fine establishment?”
“It’s a hospital,” Tim said.
When the doctor saw Dad, he asked him if he knew where he was.
“I’m in this fine establishment,” Dad said.
“Yes, but where is this place?”
“I believe it is on Earth,” Dad said.
He appeared to marshal his resources and recover somewhat, but when we got him home, he refused to eat. On February 7, 2013, he learned the full extent of his cancer: Stage IV osteosarcoma that had metastasized to his kidneys, spine, bowel, and abdominal tissues. He had a bone tumor the size of a grapefruit that was rock hard. Tim said it had peaks, like the mountains surrounding our city.
Here they are, behind the church where Dad worshiped the God he renounced on his deathbed.
“Do you practice any religion?” the admitting doctor at the hospice asked.
“No!” Dad barked, his final, desperate attempt to deny what what happening. The only reason he went to church was because he was afraid of dying. By renouncing religion and God, he could pretend that death didn’t exist, and therefore he couldn’t possibly be terminally ill.
Back to February 7, 2013.
We brought Dad home from the hospital, and he refused to eat. We tried for two days to get him to eat, but he wouldn’t. He kept telling us he wanted to live, and that he knew if he didn’t eat, “It’s a death sentence!” And then he wouldn’t eat. He’d go to his room and rave all day and all night. It came to a head on February 9, 2013, when Tim tried for two hours to get him to eat.
Dad refused but couldn’t explain why. In the end he took a sheet of typing paper and covered his plate, smiling slyly.
He required round-the-clock care after that. Tim and I took turns. Mom also began going through all-day tests at City of Hope. I went and got a hospice order for Dad from my Taiwanese cardiologist. A trim, gray-haired, ambiguous, professional man, he expressed very uncharacteristic sympathy as he signed the order. When he walked me to the door, he kept his arm around my shoulders. It helped.
Dad was evaluated on February 15, 2013, and they scheduled his admittance to hospice on February 21. We had to decide which of his medications to withhold in order for him die faster. On February 20, 2013, this happened.
I called the hospice, and they agreed to take him that day. On February 22, 2013, I participated in a Last Rites for him because he’d told the chaplain before lapsing into a coma that he was terrified of going to hell. He died at 2:00 a.m., February 23, 2013.
That’s a thumbnail sketch. You don’t know—and won’t ever know—the full story. There’s no reason to tell it because it becomes exploitative. But what I just wrote is still perfectly accessible emotionally. It’s as though it happened yesterday. Mom’s six-month suicide was infinitely worse, so I’m not ready to memorialize her.
I will memorialize her sense of humor, though. My mother was very demure and feminine, but she had a butch, raucous sense of humor. Believe me, she would’ve laughed her head off at what I’m about to post.
Yesterday Tim was throwing away empty jewelry boxes that belonged to my Great-Aunt Marian. One had a foam bed carved to hold a necklace. I took it home, scanned it, and made this piece, which I’ve titled August 6, 1962.
Anybody who’s offended can cram it. Mom would’ve laughed, which is all I care about.
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