‘Hearing is the last thing to go': On life, death and permanent links

image 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 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, imagetemporarily, 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.

Image of sunset: CC licensed photo from TheAlieness GiselaGiardino.

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17 Comments on ‘Hearing is the last thing to go': On life, death and permanent links

  1. John Brewster // March 31, 2008 at 10:13 pm //

    Deepest condolences. It is tough to lose a parent. My wife & I have lost both of our parents.

    Enjoy your site. Read it daily.

    Sincerely,
    John Brewster

  2. David, I’m sorry to hear about the passing of your mother. Even though you knew for a while her time on earth was soon to end, it was still difficult when the moment came and she crossed over. I know she is now at peace.

    Again, my condolences for your loss.

  3. Thanks, Jon. Dorothy and I will miss Mom a lot. Now to see if I can’t track down that chocolate icebox recipe and share it, as I know she’d have liked! – David

  4. Dear David, my condolences too go to you. Sincerely,
    Joscha

  5. what a beautiful writeup, david. i am very sorry for your loss. i am amazed you were able to keep up daily postings here, now that i have a bit of insight into what was going on for you on a personal level. thank you for all you do.

  6. Joscha and Franko: Thanks, both of you. The TeleBlog is, as it should be, just one part of my life, and I’ve always valued family over business and tried for the most part to separate the two. That said, I really can’t do the the blog without thinking of both my parents. My father was an artist, I’m definitely not, but maybe some of his influences show up here. Likewise, as I’ve written, my mother was a community person in an old-fashioned sense, a stellar role model even if online is no replacement for real life. Meanwhile I’m going to do some more work today, then meet my sister at the funeral home where we’ll be making arrangements for Mom’s cremation. My father served in the U.S. Army in the Second World War, and her ashes will be with his at Arlington, the military cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Thanks. David

  7. So sorry to hear this, David. All best wishes as you and your family get through such trying times.

    Paul

  8. Arlington cemetery is actually a lovely place. Best regards and my sincere sympathy.

    Paul

  9. My sympathies as well, David. Losing a parent is losing a part of yourself.

    I hope you’ll write down your memories of her–she lived through some of the most exciting and horrible years of our history.

    Rob Preece

  10. Garson O'Toole // April 1, 2008 at 6:06 pm //

    Your description shows that your mother was a wonderful woman with a fine son. From personal experience I know that losing a parent is a very sad event. I offer my condolences to you.

  11. A good mother is a blessing forever.

    Condolences on your loss.

  12. Continued thanks to all for their condolences.

    As for writing in great detail about my mother, that would be tough; I learned yesterday that she didn’t even want a newspaper obituary, just a little paid death notice. Even so, I don’t regret sharing what I did about her life and death. It will be something to show her almost-born great-granddaughter when the time is right—without the risk of any pulped wood having been misplaced. Of course, I’ve always had mixed feelings about writing up personal lives of nonVIPs who aren’t in the news, not unless they want or will tolerate it. Anyway, isn’t that part of what fiction is for?

    While I’m remembering my mother, however, let me mention she herself worked in her 20s as a social worker, so, ahead of time, she perhaps knew the drill.

    Just as relevantly, she also wrote for a stretch for a business news reporting service. Oh, these writer genes. It’s not the same as having had Toni Morrison as Mom or Kingsley Amis as Dad, but I’ll do a little brag anyway. No copy editor was ever as demanding as my mother was with my Hanukkah thank-you notes. All the teachers and the digital libraries in the world can’t replicate that. It is one reason why I can’t think “literacy” without also thinking “family,” and why I see TeleRead as a library for all, not just K-12, given the importance of parents as role models.

    A few final details here. Ever the planner, my mother wrote a simple but eloquent obit for family and friends—which my sister read aloud yesterday but which I’ll not reproduce here. Unfortunately Mom was too shy to develop her talents. She grew up, in an age much different from our MySpace era, among people who thought it was uncouth even to make the daily papers for noncriminal activities except for birth notices and the like. In declining an obit, she went even beyond her peers. Who knows if she got a byline on her business reports, or how far they circulated? I suspect she didn’t get any public credit and may well have wanted it that way.

    Thanks,
    David

  13. unique_visitor // April 3, 2008 at 2:54 pm //

    dear david;

    i’m always with you and rooting for you, as ever… as you well know.

    Loss and grief are always hard, no matter what, who or when, but you have many, many people who care and want to help get you through and you will. Anything else I could write would just sound trite so I will stop on this subject here.

    Regarding Internet links, etc. – yes, I agree with you. Removing them is not so different from when the Soviets would alter images to remove a person, as if they never had been, or had ceased to exist, and this is what some of the larger conglomerates are doing – it sounds like PW has had a hand in this, i know because i went searching for some of your articles and was unable to find even the permalinks, which I found quite disturbing.

    When you can do this on the Web, it gets worrisome to me. Since when did become rewriting history become part of publishing and not something we publish *about*?

    I always thought that the Fourth Estate held us to a higher standard than that… It grieves me to think that my fellow members of the Estate do not feel bound by the same code of honor or conduct.

    Alas, so be it. But tant pis for everyone who will miss that work and the work that went into those pieces. In the final account, one feels it reflects poorly on the company who removes the links, but certainly not on you at all… if anything, you are missed and they are noticed but for all of the wrong reasons.

    I’ve said my peace.

    Be well,

  14. Oh wow, this is late, but as a longtime lurker, my deepest condolences to you and yours.

    And I would like to quietly vote interest in a biography, however brief, of your mom.

    In fact, it’d be nice, in a possibly Teleread + automatic blogging future, if there were a way to collect the work of loved ones for this purpose. Not for publishing, but for remembering and preserving personal and family histories.

  15. Unique Visitor and J. McNair: Thanks, both of you.

    JM: Thanks for your ideas. I may mention my mother from time to time, but I still hesitate to do even a brief bio, given her wishes.

    As for something longer, that’s out of the question for a second reason, too: “Happy families are all alike.” Unhappy families? More fun—in fiction.

    David

  16. You’ve written a moving remembrance. May your mom live on in her influence on you and Dorothy, even as you miss her. My thoughts are with you both.

  17. Thanks for your kind words, Beth. The worst time of day is when I’d call my mother—that’s when I especially miss her. Meanwhile you should feel good about the help you’ve provided your own mother. You won’t regret the time you’ve spent with her. David

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