When I was very young, some time before I can remember clearly, my mother began telling us the story of her inevitable death. Both of her parents died during their thirty-ninth years, and, convinced as she was that this was an omen of a sort, she saw fit to warn us that we most likely would lose her before we were out of elementary school. She went over her various and increasingly strange funeral arrangement ideas over brunches, told us where she wanted her ashes scattered during shopping trips, and spent a great deal of our quality time explaining to me what happens as a body shuts down. The day she reached forty was as great a shock to my outlook of the way the universe worked as it was a happy surprise. It was also the day my parents finally woke to divorce papers after years under the threat of it, as if the universe was signally a new chapter was in order.
She was also a dedicated alcoholic, and so I spent my formative years being woven in and out of car crashes. I learned to hold on to familiar songs on the radio, that if it was late enough and you slept, you'd eventually end up home.
When my siblings and I were a little older, our mother began to spend major holidays and the occasional Pro-D day telling us how she was going to take matters into her own hands. Every Christmas dinner, there was a set script we followed: she would attempt to pick a fight with my sister, tell us how she had some form of terminal illness, usually a cancer, and then calmly explain how she was either going to jump off a bridge, take pills so she would sleep forever, or run off to the beach in the middle of the night and drown. It got to the point that I thought her invincible through the sheer number of possible deaths she had survived. Absolutely ridiculous, but invincible nonetheless.
All of which is to say, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a few weeks ago, and has now died. Her body was weakened by the chemo and, although she appeared to be getting better, she was actually getting worse. The doctor is puzzled, but they think it had something to do with her white blood cell count. It went very quickly and she died knowing she was extremely well-loved. I kind of like that she ended with a mystery that is never going to be solved, it lends itself well to the insanity of it all.
I don't like the idea of pretending someone who has died did only good. The terrible things, when you love and remember someone, are just as important in shaping who that person was. My mother was a wonderful, exhausting, extremely deranged person who helped to build my sense of humour, my yearning for adventure, and my sense that every day I live out a terrible/wonderful story.
Liza Jean Turner