In the business of mothers dying, fate dealt me a better hand than it did Saul Bellow. My mother lived to a ripe age and was vigorous to the end. When she had her first stroke my children were already adults, and had given me two grandchildren besides. I was well into the cycle of the generations. This prepared me in a way that the young Bellow could not have been for the cold hand of mortality that a parent’s death lays on your heart. When the time arrived for my mother to go, it seemed almost natural that her life should draw to a conclusion. Even though her death was sudden and unannounced, I had time enough to prepare for it, to see the vortex coming.
On the other hand, the months before she died were not unlike the day remembered in Bellow’s story. I, too, let myself go round like a turntable, running about the business of my life while the clock on hers ticked mercilessly away. What else I could have done? Can one focus on death like a watched pot, waiting for it to boil? If we concentrated on our dying with an intensity that never let up, everything in our lives would come to a stop, until our days would seem like the grave itself. So, instead, we don’t pay attention to where we are headed but go round on the turntable and pretend we are standing still.
Here’s a tip. As you go spinning round, turn one eye to the side every now and then. Look over the edge and focus on a fixed object. Find a way to calculate your progress. Otherwise, life will pass you by before you wake up.
My father — may his memory be blessed — was right: Never forget the cells that are dying. Life is not a turntable, and one day the music will stop.
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