14 May 2016

Holidaze (Excerpt From A Short Story About the Death of My Mother)

I am sharing an excerpt from a short story about the affect of my mother's death on my life (Sarah Bernice Turner Oliver Hoskins, March 2, 1933 - September 12, 1979).

A book of short stories is a component of my memoir project that's been in storage for a while. This one is from Holidaze in the chapter titled, "The Anniversary." The short story isn't finished yet, nor has it been edited (I've no guilt about imperfections as per this guest post at The Healing Artist Studio Project blog), but I'm happy that my Creator has guided me to share it with you just the same. Remember to hug your mother and tell her you love her. Love, serenity and joy to you and your loved ones.

by Valerie Michele Oliver

I write. We buried her. Anger, sadness, and numbness competed inside me for priority. When I last saw my mom, she was not the person I wanted her to be: the face with the perpetual smile. She tried to be though, attempting smiles through urine-soaked eyes, and dry, wrinkled skin. She vacillated between being skeletal thin or bloated, expanding with intravenous fluids. Eyes full of sorrow and desperation, she asked me to take her home, far from the intensive care unit.
“I want to go home,” she stated. Her eyes looked into mine. I imagined tiny striped and solid pool balls in her mouth. Yeah. I smoked some extremely potent weed on the ride down from Athens, GA to Savannah. I shook the hallucination off.

I held her bony, frail hand, returned her look, and responded, “I can’t, Ma. This is the best place for you.”

That was not the answer she wanted to hear. Perhaps, she thought I hadn’t heard her the first time. Perhaps, she was expecting me to be the strong one, and take charge as I had many times in the past when she had been able to rely on me.


“I want to go home. Please. Take me home.” It was more urgent this time. A few of the balls fell out of her mouth and shattered on the floor. Tiny, white, thin skeletons laid among the remains.

“Ma, I wish I could, but I can’t. They can take better care of you here. Now eat something. Please ma, you’ve got to keep up your strength, so you can fight this thing and get better. Drink this juice. It will help you get stronger.” I placed the juice up close to her lips. She forced herself to take a few sips. I knew that it was not for her benefit, but for mine.

“Please. Please, take me home.” She had tears in her eyes now, and pleaded through them. My hand was in hers, and I knew that if she had more strength, she would have pulled me closer to her by them. It wasn’t happening, but I felt that pull anyway. I knew I couldn’t take her away. I had no power in this situation. My stepfather had all the control, and was calling the shots (which in my mind were bad ones). At that time, I loathed myself for being weak. I told myself, “You’re weak.” And after she died, I blamed myself. I was weak. 

That evening, when to hospital rooms were dark, and most of them quiet, I laid on a cot next to my mother's bed listening to her breathing. I don't remember sleeping, but do listening. Her breathing became low moans like the kind you have when you dream someone is chasing you, and about to catch you, and you're trying to scream but it comes out like muffled moans. I climbed into her bed, put my arms around her, stroked and rocked her, and said "I love you." This was what she needed. What she didn't get from her husband. It was the exact opposite of what he offered her as she slipped away, everyday . . . a little . . . death. It was what she needed, and I gave it to her. 

That morning, I left town. I returned to my home about four hours away from the hospital. She told me she wanted to leave. I believed her, but could not face that she was dying, and that I couldn’t even grant her last urgent wish. I felt that I deserted her. She deserted me a few hours after I left. I got the call only minutes after I returned home. She checked out on her own.

Less than an hour after I returned home, the phone rang with news of her death. Three voices on the telephone, my sisters and my brother, spoke to me. “She’s dead,” said a voice. Was anyone crying? “She died not too long after you left,” said another.

I dialed my best friend. It was time for her to take charge, and she was definitive: “I’ll be right over.” Company and comfort were on the way. I rolled a joint and smoked it—a familiar, unconscious pattern to help distance reality. I shed my clothing—anesthetized—and stepped into the bathtub. I stood washed away by tears underneath the shower head. They kept flowing. They soaked my body. They went down the drain.

copyright © 2016 Valerie Michele Oliver


Check out Elizabeth Levine's "The Writer's Rant" online publication. She describes it as . . . For all aspiring writers, follow the journey of memoir writing and the therapeutic process of writing to heal. Elizabeth Levine, M.F.A. Candidate in Creative Writing documents her process of writing What Remains, a memoir addressing issues of bereavement, loss, PTSD, AIDS and substance abuse and the redemptive process of documenting both her own story and that of the AIDS community.  

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