My mother made that suggestion on Sunday, as I sat on the bed in her hospital room. A long-awaited doctor visit on Friday morning took an unexpected turn when a severe infection was discovered. We were sent to the ER across the street and she was admitted to the hospital for treatment.
Mom has read all my books. “You were always the smartest one in the family,” she insisted, though I did not agree. My parents always believed I could do anything, even when I didn’t believe it myself. She even knows some of the people in my books, including my friend, Delle Chatman, who inspired me to write in the first place.
It’s been almost 13 years since my father died from cancer and honestly, Mom’s been a little lost that whole time. As the oldest, the decisions about her health fall to me. A lifetime of life-threatening food allergies, along with the great example of my fellow ACT UP members, armed me with the knowledge and tools I need to advocate for her with the medical establishment.
On Monday I butted heads with a doctor who expected me to agree to a complicated, potentially dangerous surgical intervention. I said no. The look on his face was, well, priceless. I’m the first to admit I have a hard time dealing with authority figures: politicians, priests, doctors. I wasn’t rude. I just said, “That’s not going to happen.” He was momentarily speechless, certainly not used to anyone – much less a woman of a certain age – disagreeing with him. So I repeated myself. That pretty much ended the conversation. Today, her 89th birthday, I get a second opinion; maybe a third.
The book I’ve been working on for over two years was delayed last year, after I broke my writing hand and lost almost five months to rehabilitation. My revised publication date was the end of March, this year. That’s not going to happen now. Mom comes first, so I will continue to drive up and down I-55 between Chicago and St. Louis as long as necessary to help her.
I have a lot of friends who are memoir writers. I admire them – Kathy Pooler, Madeline Sharples, and others – for the courage they embody by sharing the most painful and powerful aspects of their lives. They are some of the bravest people I know. But, back to my mom’s statement.
I’ve always assumed my next book (Fag Hags, Divas and Moms: The Legacy of Straight Women in the AIDS Community) would be my last. I will be doing a lot of presentations, public speaking and freelance writing related to the book once it’s released. That will keep me busy for quite some time, along with continued presentations related to the Friend Grief series. I also believe I have one more career left in me, one that’s a hybrid of previous careers (more on that another time).
I may very well write more about this journey with my mother. I don’t know. I’m in the eye of the hurricane right now, so it’s hard to predict the direction. I will do it if – and only if – I believe there’s benefit in sharing any of this experience.
But for now, writing is not at the top of my priority list. As my mother always says, “every day is different”. I hope she’s right.