Comes the Exterminator


It took a year for my sister’s to divvy up my mom’s personal effects and send some things on to me.  Included were the “Memoirs of Elizabeth Hope Copeland Woodlen,” which are two volumes of essays my mother wrote and I edited and published.  This morning I pulled out the first volume and began to read, and then it hit me:

            There is some irritating noise in my right ear.  Groggily, I identify it as the telephone and pick up the receiver by my bed.

            “Hello?”

            “Hello, Anne.  It’s Jean.”  It’s my sister and she’s crying.  And I know my mom is dead.  We talk a few minutes.  The sun is just edging over the horizon; the day is predicted for clear and sunny.  Then I have to hang up to go to the bathroom—morning biological functions do not pause for the passing of a life.

            Mom died about an hour ago, and now she knows.  She maintained that she had no soul, there was no life after death, and there is no God.  Now, as I face this beautiful early autumn morning and prepare to go to the New York State Fair, Mom knows.

            Is she, like the world traveler that she had been, busy signing into her new trip, getting her baggage seen to, and meeting new people?  Is she, like the traveler returning home, busy greeting the family that awaits her—Dad, her brothers, her parents?  Has she been called into the presence of the Holy One?  Is there welcoming or is there judgment?  Is she somewhere in transit, looking back on me?

            She is, at last, free of the clay vessel that held her for 93 years but that had become so corrupted that it could no longer contain life.

            Good by, Mom.   Thanks for the life.  See you soon.

Mom died a year ago today.  I burst into sobs.  My mom and I loved each other a whole lot, and I miss her enormously.

            Today is in the middle of a heat wave and I am again preparing to go to the New York State Fair, but this year with much trepidation.  I am only planning to stay two hours, but is even that too much?  Am I able?  Is it foolishness?  What price will I pay?

            It is already bad enough.  I don’t ever want to get out of bed, even though I do it anyway.  The payback is frightening.  I awake in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and have a terrible feeling of weakness and falling-down-ness.  Will I make it?  Will I fall?  Then what?  Lay on the floor until I can crawl to the emergency cord?  Will I pull it? 

            Returning to bed, I lie awake, feeling terrible and wondering how bad it will get before I die.  Will I let an ambulance take me to the hated Emergency Room?  Will I have to go into an institution?  Will Hospice take me?

            When I queried them two years ago, I learned that Hospice isn’t for the care of the dying; it’s for the care of the living.  If you are dying alone, they won’t get involved.  If you are dying with family caring for you, they will come in to relieve your family.

            And, of course, there is the fact that you’re supposed to be within six months of death to get referred for Hospice care.  The doctors haven’t been able to diagnosis my illness for the past ten years!  How the hell are they going to know when the end is within six months?

            I will be dead and six-months buried before the foolish doctors even acknowledge there’s something wrong. 

            Tombstone of the hypochondriac:  I told you I was sick.

            My friendly local chiropractor told me that he had two patients in care who got kicked out of Hospice because they failed to die in a timely manner.  Physicians and pharmaceuticals ensure your death; chiropractic care, with ayurvedic medicine (i.e., herbs, just like Mom put in the spaghetti sauce), causes you to live longer.  Treat yourself right and you don’t qualify for death care.

            I have to make way for the exterminator now.  My apartment building (though not my apartment) has bedbugs and Chris, the bug man, is inspecting every apartment, top to bottom.

            I have always thought that there should be a baby at every burial.  There you are, gathered in the cemetery around the casket containing the remains of the person you loved, who is about to be sealed forever under the dirt.  You are crying, regretful, frightened, angry, sad, hurt, alone—feeling all these things—and then the baby starts to cry.  It needs feeding or a clean diaper or to be put down for a nap, so you draw back from the open grave.

            The demands of life pull you away from the presence of death.  So it is with the pest man.  Life goes on.

            For awhile.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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1 Response to Comes the Exterminator

  1. Jean says:

    Anne,

    Thank you always for the creativity you are blessed with.
    It is a day to remember with love. It is a day I also remember you with love. Jean

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