For Mother’s Day, a Healing Meditation on Mortality

This episode is the emotional anchor of the series, which otherwise feels like an impersonal thought experiment, or a drug-induced daydream. But here the universal meets the personal. Trussell’s mother first takes on the role of teacher, speaking about life and death in the abstract, as a means toward guiding and comforting her son through the process of her own dying.

“If you look at the world, what you see is things appearing and disappearing, and humans are a part of the whole of that,” Fendig says. “That just happens. You know, our egos personalize it, and we consider ourselves special cases. But we’re really not.”

“You’re a special case,” Trussell replies feebly.

I understood that moment, thinking of my mother, who has taken to more morbid discussions in the last year or so, for understandable reasons. For one, we’ve endured a pandemic that has killed millions. She is also fostering an incipient grief for her own mother, who has late-stage Alzheimer’s, and her father, who is not expected to survive the aggressive prostate cancer that returned this year. Her husband, my father, died seven years ago, at the young age of 51. And this last Christmas, after the holiday movies and gifts, she shared that she was suffering from a mysterious spreading numbness in her body that, months later, aside from a vague yet unnerving diagnosis, remains unresolved.

So it’s no surprise that my mother — whose birthday often falls on Mother’s Day — occasionally drops a dark joke about when her last day will come. She speaks of inheritance and the family mausoleum, and insists that she wants to have a beautiful burial.

For me, the losses of the pandemic have thrown a spotlight on the reality that when my mother does pass, whenever that will be, it will be the worst day of my life. Every once in a while, when she, usually responsive, doesn’t answer my calls and texts for some totally banal reason, my anxiety leads me to imagine the worst outcome. Is this it, I wonder, is this finally the worst day of my life?

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