Covert Mom: I’ll Fly Away

By Mariah Mottley

Mariah Mottley

Now that the drama of diagnosis is over and my father is safely ensconced at Hospice, I’ve had a chance to take stock of what changes the last month has brought to my life. Grief, or preparing to grieve always brings up other losses.
My jaunts down memory lane in this area have had an almost hallucinatory violence.

I woke one night convinced that I was in my bedroom in my old apartment in the city, sure that if I put my foot out of bed, I would step down onto a parquet floor, that the faint outline of the door in the distance would lead to a bathroom with subway tile.

Another night, I felt my dog, Juno, who has been dead five years, curled against the back of my neck, her head above mine on the pillow. It was so real. There is only so much emotional disorientation one can take, until it collapses into a kind of shapeless fear. I call it the dread.

We are only as good as our coping skills, I have decided. Beyond waterproof mascara and Haribo gummy coca-cola bottles, mine are limited. Luckily I am a motivated student; pain makes you pay attention.

Here’s what I’ve noticed: $7 mascara is worth it. Social workers, speech therapists, nurses and hospice volunteers have really big hearts. Going to bed early helps. The most beautiful time of day this time of year is right before the sun rises and just after it has set. I try to watch both. The best way to forget the dread is to make someone laugh, hard. Finally, I have some good people around me. The following is an incomplete list of some of the ones who have helped, even in a brief way, to keep me oriented.

Jennifer, who rescheduled her Thanksgiving to spend the week here. Melody, who after two hours at the Verizon store, got me some protein to eat, after correctly guessing that I had only ingested gummy colas and coffee thus far. Then in a nod to how my children must be suffering if I was doing such a poor job feeding myself, she set up a meal train for us.

A second Jennifer who offered to drive me to the hospice residence. Molly who met me there, and Justin who made my father laugh. Stephanie, who took me for a long walk with her dog. Bob, who hugged me on the Commons; Christina, who did it in the school auditorium; the hospital nurse who did it in the recovery bay.

All the people who have been cooking for my family. Ben, who does not startle when I cry. Hilary, who made spanakopita in quantity for my father’s birthday party and who gives good pep talks. Bobby and Kirk Young, who came a long way in poor swimming weather to bring my father chicken vindaloo from his favorite restaurant. Stephen, who spoke so kindly to me over the phone; Alan and Marilyn, who always ask me how I am.

Barbara and Jim Ramsey, who took turns patting my back as if I was their daughter on Thanksgiving, repeatedly telling me I wasn’t alone and who insisted on visiting my dad in the hospital that night. The exquisitely tall Gifford girls, who drove up from Maryland with their photo albums and wry humor to bring the past into the present for a little while. A third Jennifer, who brought rum and enjoyed our out-of-control cat situation. Lena and Zephyr, who joshed around with my dad as if they hang out at Cayuga Medical Center every weekend.

The best lesson I’ve gotten about how to quickly get emotionally oriented came from my friend Lisa at Winterfest in Trumansburg, where the Fall Creek Brass Band was performing. She had offered me a pair of Frye boots that didn’t fit. I warned her I didn’t think they would work for my leg shape. She didn’t believe me. When I tried them on, they looked so ridiculous that she completely lost her composure. When I used the word ‘pegleg’ to characterize the problem, she laughed even harder and put her hands over her face. I felt almost normal, then, the dread far away.

Coping skills: Improving.
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Originally from Manhattan, Mariah was educated in Massachusetts, Montana and Texas, often by failure. She lives with her husband and three children in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Mariah can be reached at