Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Encore and Special Sunday Memory #1: "Tonight I can write the saddest lines." - Neruda

Last year, on September 30th and the first day of Rosh Hoshonah, my mother, Florence died. She was the inspiration and core spirit of this blog series and its sister video.

However, each year the date of Rosh Hoshonah changes as the Hebrew calendar is lunar. So, as was her life, Florence's death is equally complicated and multi-layered. This year, for Rosh Hoshonah, I've re-posted the three 2008 entries that my sister and I wrote for Florence. On September 30, I'll re-post the freezing cold day our community came out to celebrate her life.

Perhaps such writing is unusual to do in response to the death of a parent, but Florence lived art before she lived anything else. Writing these posts when she died was the most appropriate way we could honor her.

C.O. Moed, 2009

In The Still Of The Night

The call from Penny at 2:13 am. Something is more wrong than the usual wrong.

I scramble for clothes….no, not that tee-shirt! I like that one.  I’ll always remember I wore it this night.

I throw on a shirt I hate.

The cab driver doesn’t realize Columbia stops going two-ways at Delancey. He tries to speed on the East River Drive service road but hits all the red lights on Grand.

Does running fast through an empty courtyard in the middle of the night - past the fountain I sat by, down the same stone walkway I played on as a child - does running fast slow down bad things?

Two years of opening Florence’s front door to a constantly changing, always different "normal" - from a woman who could walk to the supermarket on her own - to this moment, a fragile sparrow held together by ancient skin struggling to breathe, her only seeing eye already traveling to other places.

When I ask her “can I take you to the doctor” the sound "no" shoot out, not from parched lips unable to close for fear of suffocation, but from a gut clinging to home.

So I sing the sutras.  She sips some water.

There is still too much distress, I tell Penny.  Penny is silent.  She knows she can’t say anything.  It’s not her job, it never was.

I pull out the the wishes made ten years ago. What decision can I live with, what decision can I not, old papers, words scratched out, other neatly typed….I read them again….what decision can I live with, what decision can I not? 

Penny listens, tilts her head, raises her eyebrows, nods, listens, tilts her head, raises her eyebrows, nods...

It is near 3am. Doctor Russia calls back immediately. He assures me if it is another flare-up then the hospital can treat it. He assures me if it is the end I can get her home.  He assures me I can refuse intubations. He assures me.

It's win-win I say to Penny. I’m calling 911.

I turn back and murmur to Florence “you are in so much distress I want to take you to the doctor I promise you I'll bring you home I promise you I'll bring you back home I promise you I promise…

“O.K.” whispered back - her trust in me, her trust she raised me not to lie.

EMT appear suddenly.  HE is tall huge like a redwood. SHE is officious. They both stomp around with many big FDNY emergency bags. Two more show up. Such heavy boots. The neighbors below must know something is happening. SHE orders everyone around.

Suddenly Florence, my mother, my mother is suddenly no longer mine. She is THEIRS and I cannot stop THEM or the massive amount of medical equipments flying out of boxes and bags or the law that says the form we didn't fill out means THEY get to do everything.

When I hear my mother cry out I snap "no more" or "stop that" or something that attempts to get back my mother back to me.  One of THEM steps in front of me and keeps me from stopping THEM.

The stretcher doesn't fit in the elevator so THEY tip her up. If THEY went a bit higher she'd be on her own two feet for the first time in months.

SHE tries to put me in the second ambulance.

"No! I'm riding with my mother."

HE points to the front seat - I can only ride shotgun, not in the back holding my mother’s hand.

SHE says, "Stop taking pictures please."

"I'm not taking any of you, just my mother."

SHE says, ”It's breaking HIPAA patient confidentiality."

"She's my mother. I am her HIPAA person."

SHE says, “Ma'am, it's breaking confidentiality."

I mutter under my breath, "I'll take a picture of my mother if I want to." But I'm too tired, too tired, too tired. "I'll take a picture of the coffee cups instead."

HE grins. My camera malfunctions.

I hear a siren from a distance and then realize it is ours.

The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

In March, when Florence and I spent 10 hours in the ER (The ER Visit-Part Two: The Walls of Jericho) there was a doctor there some addict was screaming at. I remembered him. Tonight he became Florence's ER doctor.

"Do you understand what that means if we do that?"


"Ok honey, ok sweetheart, I'm sorry, we're almost done, it's a bit uncomfortable, we're almost done..."

"Your mother was biting the tubes.”


"Yes. She didn't want them."

"I'm glad she was biting them."

"Let's make her as comfortable as possible now."

"I want her home."

"This is Dr. Palliative Care."

"What seems to be happening is..."

"Should I call my sister or can we wait..."

"Call your sister, now. Tell her to get here as soon as she can."

"The lab result just came back. It looks like she had had a heart attack and that's why..."

"I'm on the train platform. I couldn't find any cash for a car service."

"Mom, she’s is on the train platform. You have to hang in there until she gets here. You have to. I know you can do it. Hang in there."

"You're looking at the machine to tell you how your mother is doing. I'm going to turn off the machines so that you can just be with her."

"I can't remember the Cole Porter song, You're the Top. I didn't bring her cassette player to play her old songs..."

"Do you know when your sister might get here?"

"My mother will wait. She's going to wait until my sister gets here."

"Here. I just downloaded Pandora on my I-Phone. It's not all Cole Porter but similar. Here, put it by her ear..."

"Mom! She’s is here!"

"Hi Mom."

thank you thank you I love you thank you so much for giving me I'm so grateful for I love you music is the most important thing in my life I got so much from thank you for my passion I'm so sorry so grateful for this I love you thank you so much I love you I'm so sorry I love you thank you

Then softer than, a piper man - one day it called to you
And I lost you, to the summer wind

Near 6:25am, on the first day of Rosh Hoshanna, while my sister and I were taking turns holding her hand, the two of us talking to each other in that allegro molto staccato of words that we've always done, Fred Astaire, Ela and Sinatra playing into her ear from of the I-Phone of Dr. ER, in some brief second of some brief exhale, Florence (Frances) Deutsch Moed died.

My sister and I offer profound gratitude to Pearline Edwards, Ghislaine Carrington, Dr. Portnoi, Nurse Peters, Dr. Pool, Dr. DeSandre and the incredible staff of Beth Israel on both the 5th Floor and in the ER, the many FDNY EMT we rode with, and our incredible friends and her students and neighbors and beloved family who loved, supported, and travel this road with Florence and with us these past two years.

An Encore and Special Sunday Memory #2: In Lieu of Flowers...

Tell the truth.

Tell yourself the truth.

Don't let your bullshit compromise either of the above.

Don't lie. Unless you're drunk. Then really don't lie.

Don't steal.

Accept hand-me-downs.

Look fabulous in your own clothes. They may have started out as hand-me-downs but they're yours now. Proudly recount their lineage. Never feel ashamed about that.

Never take a taxi.

Walk everywhere.

Don't wear a coat in winter.

Carry your own weight to the point of pathology. Better to err on independence than not.

Refuse to lose at the hands of cowardliness, mediocrity, stupidity, and the need to blend in.

Suffer aloneness at the risk of fitting in with any of the above.

Refuse to feel fear. If you do, ignore it and keep going. Just like Florence did that night during a World War II blackout under the Manhattan Bridge by the movie theater (now a Chinese market).

Always put your work first.
Always do your work.
Always put your work first.
Always do your work.

Rage against the Machine. Even when it looks like it's related to you.

Risk being laughed at by morons when you do something no one else is doing. Just like when Florence put on those roller skates in 1972 and skated up and down Grand Street and all those people laughed at her and then a couple of years every one had disco skates.

Start your entire life over at 60 like you were a 14 year old. Because on some level, you still are.

Fight back just like Florence did all the times someone mugged her or tried to mug her during the 1970's.

Don't EVER quit.

Know that that beer, that sandwich, those shoes, that jacket, those pants, that avenue, that movie house, that proper grammar, that street, that bar, that woman, that dance, that etude, that sonata, that scale, that subway, that bus, that hotdog, that boardwalk, that beach, that ocean is Your New York.

It Was Hers.

An Encore and Special Sunday Memory #3: "Louise is the Smart and Good One." - Florence's description of my sister. (I was "the Nice One)

From Louise:

"My mother, Florence Moed, died on Tuesday, September 30, at age 84. She had dementia and had been failing for a while. The immediate cause of death was a silent heart attack and her death was quick. My sister and I are relieved. She was quite uncomfortable and no longer herself.

My mother had a difficult and often unhappy life. She had little love or support growing up from her extremely dysfunctional parents. She dealt with that, in large measure, by focusing intensely on being a serious pianist and piano teacher. Parallel to her devotion to Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms was her love of the popular music of her era, sometimes referred to as the Great American Songbook. It drove her nuts that she was so emotionally attached to these songs whose lyrics she sometimes found insufferably sexist. She was a lifelong progressive and a contrarian, especially regarding anything she viewed as bourgeois, such as marriage, sleepaway camp, taxis, and boasting about the accomplishments of one's children or grandchildren. She was very hard-working, honest, both very thrifty and extremely generous, and humble to a fault. She could be extremely irrational and volatile about personal emotional issues that she couldn't handle. Childhood with her and my father was not easy. Nonetheless, despite her quirky and difficult characteristics, she was a great mother. My sister and I were very devoted to her and tried as hard as we could to make her feel better about the life she had lived."

Louise Moed