The nurses and the social worker agreed. “Hearing,” they all more or less said, “is the last thing to go.” At 5:30 p.m. today my mother, always a good listener when my sister and I needed her, died at 94 of congestive heart failure in a rest home in Springfield, Virginia.
I don’t know what the final words she heard were, just that we encouraged her to let go when there was no more fighting to do. Dorothy and I, in fact, tried not speaking to her, despite our wishes to the contrary, so she wouldn’t linger on in pain—congestive heart failure isn’t as gentle a death as the medical gobbledygook might suggest to the ignorant—and within an hour my mother was dead. The intervals between the heaves of her chest grew longer, until at last the moaning stopped and she was still.
My mother had us late in life and would have been 95 in November. The Titanic had sunk only a year or so before her birth, and on Publishers Weekly‘s bestseller list in 1913, Pollyanna was number eight in fiction—safe within even today’s abbreviated public domain.
Lessons from my favorite Luddite
However keen I am on e-books for the elderly, I could not win Mom over, but she enjoyed her share of her paper books—from the best-sellers of Herman Wouk, years ago, to, more recently, Nicholas Sparks—along with tunes from Broadway musicals and trips to Nags Head and Fourth of July celebrations at the neighborhood swimming pool and German chocolate icebox, the recipe of which I’ll try to reproduce here in time. Is it really true that chocolate, gooey ladyfingers and whipped cream will prolong life, especially with cherries atop this phenomenon of a dessert? Well, it worked for Mom.
To tell you the truth, except for TV and a fondness for the telephone, almost a flesh-and-blood appendage for her, my mother was a bit of a Luddite. I think she prided herself on avoidance of gadgets and tech as much as—until her old age, when she had no choice—she did on her avoidance of doctors. The phone, moreover, was hardly a replacement for all the bridge games and PTA and garden club meetings and coffees klatches with temple friends. She believed strongly in community and continuity in the old-fashioned senses and was also a regular at community potluck suppers in her younger days; what’s more, she and her food were always available to comfort the sick or those in mourning. Now her friends can return the favors.
Vandalizing our memories: Net connections as human connections
What my sister and I noticed today, in planning ahead for the remembrance, is that she accumulated so many friends that we’ll have a healthy number to notify despite her age. I’d like to think that the online world, although no substitute for the real one, can be in some ways be what my mother wanted in the real world, which is why the TeleRead blog, while encouraging civil debate, takes a strong stand these days against trolling and other threats to a sense of community. It is also why I feel so strongly about durable linking and data portability, and why I believe that corporations, whether Publishers Weekly or Yahoo, vandalize our memories when they delete blog links, or otherwise disrupt online connections, which so often are also human connections. We link to friends; we link to those we agree or disagree with; we link to information, personal, not just technical, not just for business, that we want to turn into memories. To vandalize links, especially for entire blogs, which is what Publishers Weekly did, not just those of my E-Book Report but also of two others, including a former publisher’s, is to vandalize memories.
Perhaps if Yahoo had listened as well as my mother did, it would not so close to vanishing down the maw of Microsoft; and I worry, too, about the eventual fate of PW if the managers of Reed Business Information, the real corporate owners, do not try to understand the Internet better, especially the importance of community. May PW survive as a smarter, more Net-savvy publication, so that in time I won’t have to mourn the death of the magazine that carried a review of the newly published Pollyana, and that I started reading in high school.
Gooey—not GUI—at the remembrance?
Influenced by Hortense Rothman, whether she knew it or not, and, no, she never saw anything from TeleRead.org except for a home page printout and maybe an essay or two, both just glanced at, the TeleBlog itself will go on. My mother’s decline was gradual, so I’ve already mourned her in advance, especially when her powers of speech were fading; I’ll feel fine doing an abbreviated version of the blog tomorrow, and maybe more. If I vanish, temporarily, it will be because I’m helping my sister with the arrangements, including those for the remembrance party we’ll reserve for close friends and family, in line with her preferences. Of course, I know just what the dessert will be, assuming Dorothy’s up to it. We’ll miss you, Mom.
Detail: I lack time to look, but as my sister recalls, our mother used The Settlement Cook Book recipe for German chocolate icebox, and perhaps the recipe is in this edition, a PDF from Michigan State University Libaries’ Feeding America Project.