It was March of 1980 and I had already delivered the pills, 120 red sleeping pills, seconol, not easy to obtain. I did so from an ex brother- in- law who was a cancer researcher at Harvard. He got them from some room full of bottles. Brave guy.
My mom had been a total trooper for over 2 years. Now she was dying, the ovarian cancer spread everywhere, she turning green, unable to keep down anything, through her feeding tube, smelling horrible and wanting to die at home. We had discussed the pill option and I knew that before she would be dead, she would already be dead. Fair enough.
I had the bottle in my bag one Saturday weeks before she chose to go. I was at a conference on psychology in Midtown Manhattan. Late, after 5 PM, we all got into a fully crowded elevator that not only got stuck, but one that was dangling as if from one cord, a sharp incline down to the left. The service phone did not work.
Everyone from the seminar reacted in his or her primal way. That was the real psychology lesson. One woman stood very still and calm and seemed not to have much imagination for disaster. The professor was pretending to be smarter about the situation than he was. His phony certainty was grating. Myself and two other women immediately fell and stayed on the floor. We were terrified and more, I wanted to keep my bag on the tiles so that if I died, the pills might get to my mother.
We hung there for four hours. Everyone's true self was revealed. Finally a guy who was not academically smart but was brilliant with hand/eye coordination, hiked himself to the upper floor, then ran down and finally opened the doors to the lower floor. We each, one carefully at a time, made a short leap. And finally, we were all out of there.
I went immediately to my mom, who was at Mt. Sinai Hospital on 102nd and Fifth. She was wondering what took me so long. I slipped her the bottle. We said nothing about it, but we did go over the elevator scare.
On March 18, 1980 my mother, who had moved to my sister's unused bedroom, put on her wig and mixed the insides of the 120 pills and as she had practiced, with a little water and a a tiny turkey baster getting the pills into her feeding tube. I was in Boston and I knew she had just died, because lying on my boyfried's bed, listening to his Dvorjak music, images came streaming through me, of EXITING the Holland Tunnel.
Within half an hour my sister, also in Boston called and we took the last shuttle to JFK, near to where our parents lived. We walked in and heard her comatose breathing. It was loud, very loud. She was not dead.
Mary, the subservient nurse who adored my mother, was hoping to get her to the hospital. My dad, who knew nothing, was praying she'd come out of it. Meanwhile my sister, my dad's best friend Dr. Lenny, and my mom's best friend, a nurse, Libby, all were horrified that her wishes had not worked. "Uncle Lenny" as we called him, lived about a mile away and my sister and I went there and he gave us 200 additional seconals. We got a dish, emptied each one's white powder in a bit of water and used the same tiny baster and got it all into my mom--through her tube.
Nothing. Her breathing, close to moaning, still filled the entire house, giving Mary and my Dad hope, horrifying me, my sister the doctor and the nurse. The next night, a Thursday, we went back to the doctor's. He gave us 200 more pills and said, "If this doesn't do it, I won't give more."
Next, the same routine, nervously laughing, yelling at our mom to do what she promised, to die as she had wished.
Nothing. Now it is Friday and we are desperate. She distinctly had asked us for means to end her life. What we put into her would have ended an elephants' life, three or horse lives, 20 dog lives. Still the heavy breathing. Again, the Laurel and Hardyquasi-comic routine. Mary & Dad hopeful. Me and the others, horrified.
Finally Uncle Lenny told us how to smother her. He said we had to count to 60 while holding the pillow tight on her face. Libby stood at the door in case Mary came along. My sister and I were laughing hysterically and arguing over how hard to push. I am the older sister and I counted down. At 59 we both freaked out and ran from the room. Libby joined us down in the dining room. My father was passing around the turkey, (baster, turkey.)
My sister and I had read each other all our lives, both decided without a word to pretend nothing had happened. In fact it was all too possible that nothing had. I remember the taste of the cranberry sauce. I remember the others at the table. I missed the moment when Libby left.
Three minutes later she stood at the table and announced, "Marge is gone." We all started crying hysterically. Neither my sister nor I fully realized what we had done. Only in weeks to come did I panic that I had murdered my own mother. It took a lot of help from others to assure me I had (and my sister had) been brave. That we had done what she wanted.
It was not matricide but it took me many months to feel good about this.