May 11, 1997 – It is Mother’s Day, and I am exhausted, spent – emotionally drained. Mom has taken a sudden turn for the worse, and sunk into some kind of child-like state that I can’t quite identify. She acts and speaks like a three-year-old child. This panics me, but all I can think of this morning is that I have to get her to drink her orange juice. She hasn’t eaten in days. She won’t. Or more likely, she can’t. The chemo is ravaging her far worse than the cancer on her liver. Happy Mother’s Day mom.
Dad, dad is somewhere else. New York City. He’s taking care of mom the best way he knows which is by being on the road where he makes people laugh so that he can keep the house that she loves so much. You see my dad is George Carlin. And even though he’s been successful in comedy, he’s not always been successful at picking out ethical business managers, and so for the last 15 years he has been paying off endless taxes and penalties to the IRS. And so, every few months they threaten to take the house. He truly believes he is out there for their future. But there is no more future for Mom. There is only this moment – me sitting on the end of her bed begging her to just take a sip of the orange juice. Her blood sugar is dangerously low, and she needs it. But, like a bratty child she shakes her head and refuses. I can’t blame her. She probably can’t taste anything anyway, or keep it down.
But I beg anyway, “Please Mom, please just a sip.”
“No!” she cries and clamps her mouth shut.
I act strong. “Well, I’m going to have to call the paramedics then, and take you to St. John’s. Is that okay?”
After a moment she shakes her head yes.
This is the last thing I say to my mother: “Drink your orange juice or I’m calling the paramedics.” Not quite what I had in mind. But that’s the thing with being in the middle of a crisis – there is no grand moment or time to reflect. It’s just do. Do now what needs to be done this second. And in this second I truly believe that getting her to drink some orange juice will make it all okay. Who sounds like a mother now?
Have you ever been to an emergency room on Mother’s Day? I personally don’t recommend it. There are children, many, many screaming children. And they have all been making mommy breakfast, and they have all burned, or cut or scalded themselves in the process. So, by the time the tired, overworked ER resident got to my mom, he was in way over his head because she was going down and going down fast.
One minute we’re all here, Bob, my husband, our dear friend Theresa, me with Mom and she’s alive, and the next minute her blood pressure is dropping, heart rate racing, pulse thready…taking her into room to get an x-ray…doctors shouting…code blue…nurses rushing into her room. I watch all this, and yes, it is in slow motion…nurses racing in with carts…more shouting…words, motions…I turn around, walk through the doors outside, and scream, “No, no, no.” This is not happening. This is happening to someone else. My mother is not dead. She is not dying. This is not how it is supposed to happen. This happens much differently – it’s quiet, serene, we’re all holding hands, I’ve got Enya playing on the CD player, there’s candles, peace, love…No. Not this. Not now. Not today.
A nurse rushes out. They’ve revived her. She’s on life support. She’s alive, kind of, not really. It’s that place where their bodies take on air and blood flows around the arteries, but the person’s gone. She’s gone.
I must call dad, but I can’t. He already knows what’s going on because I’d talked to him a few times in the last two hours. He knows things are going terribly wrong. He’s getting a flight out. He’s already on it. I talk with the intensive care doctor and tell him, “you must keep her alive for 6 more hours. You must. My dad has to say good-bye to her. It can’t end like this. It just can’t. He has to be with her. They’ve been together for so long, apart for so much. They can’t be for this.” The doctor reassures me that he will do every thing in his power.
It is like a dream. I’m not real; mom’s not real. This hospital is a figment of my imagination. And yet deep, deep down, something is shifting, and washing through me. Feelings I have avoided my whole life. Terror. Rage. Sorrow. It is all very real. And I can feel this place within myself that is very real too.
They finally move mom into ICU. And there is now a crowd of friends at the hospital. No one can ignore the reality. Most of the people here believe that they would not be alive today without my mother. She has been the rock of stability for so many struggling with their lives. What are they going to do now? What am I going to do now?
At five o’clock Bob and I take a limo to the airport to get dad. When we get there, there are paparazzi waiting at the gate to manufacture distractions for the American public. We get a security guy from the airline to help us and he tells us that Diana Ross, thank God, is on the flight and he will usher her toward the cameras so that we can make a clean get away with my dad. In the limo, it is very quiet. Dad tells me that while on the plane he watched the moon and Venus rise together, and he knew that it was over. That this was good-bye.
The ICU is not pleasant. Mom is hooked up to every possible device and her eyes are open in a very disturbing way. She is not looking at anything. She is not conscious. But her eyes are open. How the fuck is that possible? Dad has not seen her in over ten days, and she is very yellow, very bloated, and bald. He tenderly cradles her face in his hand, kisses her and says, “Oh, Brenny, oh, Brenny.” And then wipes her eyes with a tissue. Two years later I will find this tissue in a box of mementos with a note in my father’s handwriting identifying it as the tissue he wiped her tears with on that last day. His love is huge. My love for him is too. At 10:38 PM we say our good-byes. They turn off the machine. And Brenda Carlin is released.