Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A Mother's Conscience

 (from a novel by Tami Hoag)

To Dr. Hannah Garrison, the day had seemed to last forever and night too soon.  The contradiction, she  thought  was just a reflection of her own inner turmoil.  She had been away from the hospital longer than 2 weeks.  (Josh, her young son, had been kidnapped ~ fortunately, returned a few days later, had been physically and emotionally abused...but would speak nothing about his ordeal).  She couldn't even imagine leaving Josh and Lily to return to the hospital ward...and yet, she missed her work and research  terribly...she missed the place and the people, her patients, her co-workers, her friends, the normalcy of routine, the drudgery of paper work.  Most of all...she missed who she was at work!  The strength of mind and will she wore in that role seemed to have come off with the white lab coat and the fake name brass tag.  Just, who was she?

She would never have said that she defined herself by her job.  It wasn't who she was...it was what she did.  But, without the frame of reference it provided, she felt at a loss.  And with the feeling of loss, came guilt.  She wasn't only a doctor...she was a mother.  Her children needed her!  Why could she not define herself in those terms?  The 'curse of the 90's woman', she thought, struggling for a sense of humour.  A futile struggle!  The day had held little to laugh about and was only going to get worse...snowy weather in Minnesota...changes to the hospital staff (due to her absence)...medical appointments for her son who was mute and unable to talk. Josh and Lily ~ her importance now!

Professor Wright ~ A Sociopath?  There was nothing to make  himself stand out in a crowd as a suspect in Josh's kidnapping:  no glaring eyes, no sign of the devil branded into his forehead.  That was what frightened and fascinated people most ~ that monsters moved among them, unknowing, unsuspected.  People stood behind them in line at the bank, bumped carts with them at the groceteria.  Too many times, there was nothing there to see. 

Costello, defending Dr. Hannah Garrison, called her forward to testify.  Jay Butler, a writer assembling facts for a crime novel, was in attendance.  He considered this strategy. If Wright was the 'sociopath' Ellen North (the prosecuting lawyer) was painting him to be, then he was a consummate liar...an actor with a role he relished ~ the mild-mannered professor, well deserving of public sympathy.  Jay had to admit, he'd seen it before:  a mind as cold as arctic ice, capable of charm, just as capable of murder. He'd once sat opposite just such a man in a visitation booth in Angola Penitentiary...a man who was pleasant, articulate on all political issues of the day. Well-read, bright with a sharp sardonic wit. A man who had 3 truck-stop-waitresses hostage as sex slaves...tortured them to death...then took up taxidermy  and mounted their heads and breasts for his own trophy room.  D. Rodman Madsen, a sales rep for an irrigation company...twice voted 'salesman of the year'...and treasurer of the local Elks Lodge.  He was a killer behind the socially acceptable facade.  No one who knew him...had never suspected.

Dr. Hannah Garrison wondered...is Professor Wright a Sociopath?
As a Mother...her duty was to protect her children at whatever the cost!

When a Mother Dies
(written by Paul Benedetti...Professor of Journalism at Western University)

Two weeks ago, I woke up, walked downstairs into the kitchen and said, “It's my Mom's birthday today.”  It was October 23.  My mother died May 4. “What are you going to do?” asked my wife. I had no idea.  We had always celebrated my mother's birthday.  Each year, one of the kids would step up and host a dinner...or sometimes just cake and Prosecco and coffee. My mom loved a celebration.  “I don't know,” I said.  “Maybe I'll go to the cemetery.  My wife gave me a look.  I never go to cemeteries...never thought much of visiting 'dead relatives'; believe I got that from my father who scoffed at the idea. “It's better to go see them when they're alive,” he'd say.  But for some reason, I had a strong urge to go.  “What do I do?  Should I bring some flowers or something?” I asked. 

“Sure.  Your mother liked mums.  Why don't you pick up some?” suggested my wife, who always has the answers to these things. So, I did. I bought a pot of  bright yellow mums and drove out to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.  I walked through the rows of headstones clutching my potted flowers.  I came to the grave and looked down at the foot stone and I read my father's name and the dates of his birth and death...and then my mother's name and her date of birth, October 23, 1927...and then a dash and an empty space.  I thought to myself, “We'll have to get that engraved,”...and then suddenly, I wept. I stood there, tears running down my face...and finally I sat down on the ledge of a gravestone nearby and wept some more. I wept not for her ~ she had lived a long and healthy and rich life.  No, I wept for myself. 

Grief is a strange emotion.  After she died, people would ask me, “How are you?” and I would answer, “I don't know...I've never really felt like this before.”  My father's death six years ago had been hard, and though I think of him in some way every single day, I am OK.  But when my mother died, I tried to be OK...but I was not.  And the people around me ~ my wife and my kids, knew I wasn't. I was flat and disconnected and sad.  It was as though the world had somehow changed...all the juice of life squeezed out and only the dry pulp and bitter rind remained. 

“I'm not really OK,” I told my wife in the summer.  “I know,” she said, a small sad smile on her face.  “Your mother filled a big place in your life. You talked to her...and saw her...and thought about her every day.  And that's gone now.”

I reached out to my siblings and told them how I felt.  My sister, Roseanne sent me an email that read in part, “I too have been feeling at a loss, and yes, disconnected...I know mom would be disappointed to know I am such a mess and would want me to focus on the good as she always did.  However, I am not as positive and energetic as she was.  I actually think we are all struggling...”

I thought of my mother and the way she soldiered through the deaths of all her siblings and her husband...and each time she refused to let grief overwhelm her.  She would often talk about them...tear up...and then fanning herself with her hand, she would straighten up and say, “OK, Mary, that's enough. That's enough!”  And she would smile and go forward to knitting classes or dance classes or home to make a pot of tomato sauce.  She would live!

I thought of all that when I stood up and wiped my face with my hand and said 'Good Bye' and slowly made my way to the car.  It was a perfect autumn day and the clear cobalt blue sky made the brilliant crimson, gold and russet of the fall leaves vibrate with intensity.  I walked back through the rows of gravestones...the sunshine warm on my face.  And it felt good!

Merle Baird-Kerr...scripted November 20, 2014
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  1. JEANNE WRITES: "Your blog today, "A Mother's Conscience" is a wonderful piece and to me, a revelation I've been in search of for many months. Thanks to your article, with a little plagiarism, I can finally express below how I've felt since the day my daughter died.
    I've tried to be OK...but I'm not.
    I am flat, disconnected and sad, full not of joy but of tears.
    My world has drastically changed...
    all juice of life squeezed out of me
    and I remain only dry pulp and very bitter rind.
    Thank you Merle for helping me to bring this to light for me. I have to believe that He had a reason for taking her."

  2. Dear Jeanne: Thank you for sharing your grieving thoughts. I can't imagine how tremendously sad this has been for you. That my writing has enlightened your soul with new insight, I am pleased that you have been encouraged to 'move on' with yourself and with a better projection on life.