An Empty Life

An Empty Life


pill bottle


What do I have left over from my mother’s life?  Today it is a plastic drug bottle that I found in a drawer- no top, and a label that read:” Gabapentin take 1 to 2 tablets every evening for sedation.” The date on the bottle is 3/16/2011. A yellow sticker reminds her to not drive.  The drug has had numerous lawsuits.  It’s rarely used for its original intention and is used more for old age complaints like muscle pains than it is for “epilepsy.”  I don’t know why I saved the bottle.

My mother died Jan 6, 2013 from a heart attack.  I think it was a broken heart. Two days ago she could have celebrated her eighty sixth birthday- not that she ever celebrated birthdays.  She died alone sitting in a chair in her living room.  I heard the story of the ambulance and the ride to the emergency room at the graveside ceremony by a minister who had little to say about her: “She bought me a cup of coffee at the diner in Cross Plains.”

Nobody called me when she left to go the hospital.  It took fourteen hours and a phone call from my daughter that was in another state to let me know she had died.  Nobody called to tell me to go to the “family viewing before her funeral.”  Her funeral lasted one day.  There was no viewing or family creating neighbors.  It was all over quickly.  Her obituary was two lines.  She lived. She died.

The last time I sat beside her she tried to slap me. We were sitting on the sofa. In her right hand she clutched a pill bottle. She was waiting for my father to take her to the doctor.   It was the same doctor that had written the Neurontin (Gabapentin) she clutched in her hand.  For the last few weeks she had all the symptoms: insomnia, dizziness, no appetite and the worst: a look of fear and terror in her eyes.

“Mother, let me take you to another doctor.  The reason you feel this way is because Dr. Jordan did not renew this medication.  I looked it up and the warning clearly states, ‘Do not stop without slowly reducing dosage.’”   She turned away and looked out the window.  Seeing my father and Tammy, my sister-in-law, in the driveway.

“I have to go.” Her voice sounded like a sickly child.

Her hands were trembling. She clenched her teeth and made a feeble attempt to slap me-not with her right arm because her shoulder was dislocated and had been for six years.   After an accident on a tractor where she fell off a platform rigged by my father to spray Round-out, weed killer on weeds growing in fence rows.  He was driving.  It was a rocky unbalanced terrain.  She tipped over from the plastic chair that was not secured to the tractor.  She landed on the hard Tennessee clay. The first surgery didn’t work and after that she said, “I’m not doing this again because it might hurt.” She started eating with her left hand, writing with her left hand and eating in paper plates.   The injured shoulder remained dislocated and useless.  Her shoulder drooped. Her right arm was now longer than her left.

Tammy opened the front door in time to witness the scene.  In her giggly voice said, “Let’s go, Beamama.  Granddaddy is waiting!”

“Do you think you know more than the doctor, she growled?”

Tammy held the front door ajar.

“No, mother, but I do care more.”

That was the last time I had a conversation with her.

Months passed.   Food I took to her was laid out on the front porch, uneaten and untouched. No one returned my phone calls.  At first I went to visit her by sneaking in the house while my father was outside.  He spent his life outside: as a construction worker and after retirement he bought a riding lawnmower. He didn’t have respect for people who “worked in the house.”  He either mowed the grass till it refused to grow or went to his barn “to visit my real friends.”  They weren’t people.  They were horses.  He was over eighty years old and had fallen off of three of them.  He’d been in ICU in Vanderbilt and the last time he’d had to stay in rehab for a broken femur.  He had the horse shot. It wasn’t the horses fault.

Opening the front door I noticed the rugs laid on the beige carpet. It isn’t normal that people have rugs on carpets. My mother was deathly afraid of being called dirty.   On the rugs were fringe-the fringe were arranged and spaced in a uniform way- laid out like soldiers in a row. There was so much silence in the house. I felt-empty and almost like a burglar. One can make no sounds when you walk on carpet.

I called out to her. She didn’t answer.   She wasn’t in her bedroom. The room was immaculate. Pillows laid in rows across the head of the bed.  It all looked like a “Better Homes and Gardens” display- everything matched. The room smelled like “old people.” – a sort of moldy heavy odor. I ran out.

On the other side of the living room, down the hall was my father’s bedroom.  My mother discovered that his bedroom was the farthest away from a blasting TV. When she moved in his space he slept on the sofa or in a recliner complaining that she was taking over again.

Upon entering his bedroom I saw her- a small body, a lump of sorts, under the white sheet only her gray hair was showing.

I remembered my father in one of his rants said, “Your mother has been trying to die for six years. She’s given up eating food months ago.  She dared not drink water because she said, ‘I’m tired of peeing all over myself.’”

I knew what he was talking about.  Since they’d moved into this house everything that was her life was left in the old house: flowers planted in crooked rows when she was pregnant, stories and conversations with friends, visiting on the porch and watching the birds come to their feeding places her children growing up. My mother was my friend.  We raised cows, mowed yards, took care of grandparents, and went to skating rinks and swimming pools.  At that house she was in control.

Upon seeing her lifeless frailness I didn’t know what to do.   I left her house.  She died five months later.

She has been dead more years than the date on her tombstone.

Today is Christmas Eve.  Trying to organize my desk I find her memory: an empty pill bottle of sedatives to remind me of the last Christmas with her.


pill bottle


One thought on “An Empty Life

  1. What a moving and sad reflection on your mother. I remember finding out that my mother took Valium. So many doctors prescribed dangerous drugs to our mothers for their “nerves”. So sad that your mother had such a sad life and couldn’t understand your love and concern for her. My relationship with my mother was strained at times and I understand your hurt. Your words are moving.


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