SHORT STORY
Defending Dignity
by Gavin Chapman

There has to be situations in life where it’s ok to kill your mother.  Right?  I mean, we’ve all thought it, it would be a lie to say that we haven’t.  Right?  I mean, give me something here, just a touch of empathy, that’s all I ask.  I’m here now, on the mercy of whoever gets the power, so let’s get it all out in the open, shall we?

    My mother had been put in Oak Tree Living Facility about three months ago.  She’d been slipping long before that.  Going for walks and getting lost (and shitting herself once or twice), mixing up the birthdays of her kids (there’s six of us, I don’t remember any of them either), and getting lost in conversations that were so basic, a child could get through them.  My father didn’t make this any easier.  He’s old school.  A tough love Irishman who doesn’t understand mental weakness.  He’s still healthy, and he expects his wife to be the same.  The deterioration was killing him.  He gets angry at what he doesn’t understand, you know what I mean?  It frustrates him to be so helpless, so he’d be almost cruel.

    I can remember being over at their place over the holidays.  We were going through the gifts, getting everything organized, when I noticed something was wrong.

    “Dad, this looks like the drill Ma got Glen (my brother), why is it addressed to Ricky (his son)?”  My mother was meticulous with presents.  She always got something for each of us, and any of the grandkids.  I don’t have kids, was never interested in the burden, or the burden of a woman to provide them.  Fly by night, that’s my philosophy.  But anyways, I noticed this and my dad came over and took a look.

    “Jesus yeah, she musta screwed up,” he said.  We inspected some more, trying to be as careful as we could with the wrapping paper, and found more mistakes.  We ended up unwrapping more than half of the gifts.

    “Shit, good thing we checked.  I’m sure little Katie didn’t want a new flange plunger,” I said.  I didn’t find any of it funny.  It concerned me.  This wasn’t like my Ma.  

    “I dunno what the hell her problem is, lemme go get her,” he said.  He stood up, and to my horror, started charging to the bedroom where my mom was fast asleep.

    “Rita!  Rita get up, what the hell is wrong with you?”

    I sat stunned, listening while my dad forced my mother out of bed.

    Now I don’t want you to think my dad is a bad guy, he really isn’t.  He’s funny.  Mean funny, sure, but funny.  He just doesn’t understand this shit.  He didn’t get it then and he doesn’t get it now.  It really isn’t his fault, he’s a victim of his Goddamn times.  A time where no one knew about mental breakdowns and that gay marriage was something that should be shunned worldwide.

    Anyways, he drags my Ma out into the living room, her nightie was disheveled and I saw a bit of her wrinkly tit hanging out.  Her poodle hair cut is a bloody mess.  She looked as confused as I’d ever seen her.  This was a strong woman, a woman who raised six fairly bad boys.  We weren’t the Brady Bunch.  This woman had to be tough and she was.  It broke my heart to see her this way.

    “Dad, Jesus, she’s sleeping man, let her be.  We’ll fix it,” I said to him.  He just waved me off and shook his head.

    “No no no, Rita’ll fix it.  All the gifts are screwed up Rita, what the hell happened?” he asked her.  She looked at me, her eyes pleading for an answer that I just couldn’t seem to muster.

    “I-well-I don’t know, Randy.  I don’t know?  What’s the problem?”

    “It’s alright Ma, there’s no problem,” I said.  She looked at me and something clicked in her head.  Not the right switch, but a switch.

    “Billy!  Hi Billy, can I get ya some coffee?” she asked me.  I just shook my head.  I was sad, sad and confused.  I wasn’t too many lengths in front of my dad in understanding.  I knew something was going on, but I wasn’t sure what.

    “No Ma, I’m fine.  We’re just, well, just looking over the presents.  Wanted to ma-“

    “Everything is mixed up, Rita.  Poor little Cindy was going to get a nail gun for Christmas.  Imagine that!  Micky would’ve have killed us!” my dad said.  

    “Oh dear.  Well, we better have a look then,” she said.

    We got it all figured out in the end.  My mother cleared up the longer she was awake.  We ended up having coffee and saving Christmas.

    It wasn’t long after that she started slipping into a permanent day dream.  Dad just couldn’t handle it anymore, and as much as it killed him, we convinced him to check her into Oak Tree.  By the time she got her room, she had stopped speaking all together.  Just looked blankly at whoever was speaking to her.  It was really quite awful.  We were all broken up about it, some of us sobbing and some of us trying to hold it in.  My dad wept like a baby and it was extremely uncomfortable.  I don’t think any of us boys had ever seen him cry.

    We fell into routine.  Visiting as much as we could.  Some of the boys lived further away and could only come once ever few weeks.  I tried to stop by every couple of days.  The only constant was my dad, and my brother Dean.

    Dean’s a pain in the ass.  He was great, being there all the time, but it was the way he went about it.  He had to tell everyone, you know?  I mean, if you do something that’s good, keep it to yourself.  You don’t need to tell the whole town that you’ve been so diligent with your ailing mother.  

    He also had the tendency to give life to someone who wasn’t there.  I’d show up to see her, and he’d have a whole tale.

    “Oh yeah, took Ma out to watch the birds this morning.  She just loved it, she thought it was great.  Then we watched that show she likes.  That soap opera.  Yeah, we watched it and just had a good time, didn’t we Ma?”

    I would look at my mother and she would be staring at the ceiling, lost in the plain white paint job.  It drove me nuts, every day I grew more and more frustrated.  I don’t know why?  It’s a brother thing maybe, we all have a sibling that drives us bonkers, right?

    Anyways, it grew tiresome.  My dad’s exhaustion, Dean’s fucking stories, and the nurses knowing looks.  We knew the inevitable was coming, but my mother just wouldn’t let it happen.  A few of us, the kids I mean, we started talking about death.  What would dad do?  What would happen to the house?  Would he stay?  Speculation grew as we waited for her to pass.  But she wouldn’t.  She just wouldn’t.

    She stayed alive.  Shitting herself and being fed through a tube and withering away into a tiny a mess.  All of us grew tired and dad started losing weight.  Three months and it looked like he had just gotten back from the war.  

    Thoughts started to swim around my head, I’ll be honest with you.  Between Dean and my dad, I just didn’t think anything good could come out of her being alive.  I loved her, I still do, but an end had to come.

    She’s my mother.  She raised us kids and taught us right from wrong.  She loved us and hugged us and told us everything was going to be alright when we were scared.  She got mad, she got sad and she never, ever, gave up on us.  This woman deserved to die with dignity, right?  I mean, the dignity ship had all but sailed, but I could stop it before it got any worse, couldn’t I?  I know assisted suicide is a big fat no no in this country.  But fuck that, she’s my mother.

    I showed up to Oak Tree yesterday and listened to Dean ramble on about how much Ma enjoyed the walk they had.  My dad was at home, had to catch a shower.  I told Dean to go get some coffee.  Once he left I looked at my mom.  Her eyes were closed and her hair was flat and un-poodle like.  I didn’t like it.  It wasn’t her, she was gone.  This was a shell.  Nothing but an old coat she used to wear.

    I grabbed the pillow Dad had brought and used for his back when he sat in the chair.  It was a thick one.  Ma wouldn’t have liked it, she liked small, thin pillows.  Said it felt better on her neck.

    So I took the one from beneath her head, lifting her head gently with my hand and setting it back down just as softly.  Her breath was so short, it would be so easy.  So easy.

    She wasn’t hooked up to any machines.  No alarms would go off, no crazy flat line to make the nurses rush in.  Just me and my Ma.  The lady that pushed me into this world while I screamed for help.  She deserved to go in peace, she deserved not to suffer any more.

    So yeah, I pushed the pillow on her face and took her last breath away.  I cried and told her I love her.  She didn’t struggle, it wasn’t like the movies.  She just choked slightly, and drifted away.  That’s all it took.  She was gone.  My mother was gone and we were all free.  All of us, including her.

    When Dean came back I broke down in sobs.  I told him I thought she was gone, that her chest wasn’t moving anymore.  He bought it, there was no suspicion.  The nurses came in and soothed us.  My dad came back and was heartbroken he’d missed it.  I did my best to console him, to tell him that she chose to go then to spare him.  It seemed to help.  I felt bad, but I felt righteous too.

    After a couple of days, today, all the brother’s convened at my dad’s house.  We were making preparations, getting things organized.  Ma had a lot of friends, too many ladies from the church.  Too many bingo players.  Everyone wanted to offer their condolences.

    My brother Micky is a God-freak, and today he keeps rambling on about how my mother was in a better place.  Worse than Dean, with all the fantasy bull crap.  

    Well, Dean gets in front of us all, calls Glen in from the roast that was turning on the barbeque outside, and says he has a surprise.

    “Well, you all know I spent almost every waking minute with Ma, almost as much as dad.”  Even in her death he couldn’t stop.

    “You were truly a blessing,” Micky says.

    “Well guys, I have a surprise.  I knew the end was coming soon, I just knew it.  And I set up a video camera in her room.  The one I got dad last year for his birthday.  You know, the one he doesn’t use,” Dean says.  All of the boys chuckled except me.  My stomach was flip-flopping.  A fucking camera?

    “So, well, I think we should watch her final moments together.  What do ya say, guys?”  Everybody except me agrees.  I don’t disagree though either.  I’m speechless, my mouth is very dry.

    So now, right now, I’m watching Donny set-up the cords so we can watch it on dad’s TV.  I wonder what the fuck I’m going to say to these guys?  I can’t run.  Where will I go?

    Jesus fuck, the video is starting.  I don’t feel what I did was wrong, but I can already hear Micky screaming in my ear about how I went against God’s will.

    Here we go.  Was I right?  Right or wrong, Ma, she’s gone.      “Anyone need another drink?” I say.

    Micky tells me to can it.  I gulp my whiskey and try to remember a prayer.  It’s all I can think to do.  Micky would be proud.  Everyone is looking at the screen.  I sink into my chair and look around and wait for the reaction. 


Gavin Chapman lives in Caledonia, Ont.