My Mother, R.I.P.
That's a photo of my mother taking a picture of me taking a picture of her. I shot it outside the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas, the last time I took her there…the last time she was able to travel. It was about twelve years ago.
That's about how long various doctors have been telling me to prepare because I wouldn't have her much longer. Her primary care physician, a wonderful man named Bruce Wasserman, didn't tell me that until a few weeks ago and that's when I started to believe it. But other doctors told me that for around a decade…including one who not only predeceased her but died two rooms down from her during one of her many hospitalizations. When I told her about him, she muttered something about outliving all of them.
There were moments when I thought she might do just that. Several times when she was hospitalized, I got a call at 4 AM or thereabout to hurry my heinie down to the hospital. Officially, I was there to perhaps make the Do Not Resuscitate decision as per her wishes…but I always assumed there was another reason I was called. Each time, a team of doctors and nurses were working feverishly to save her and I think they wanted me to see that so I'd be less likely to sue the hospital for not doing more. Once, the doctor who called me at 4 AM admitted as much. That was right after he came up to me at 9 AM and said, "When I called you, I was sure she wouldn't make it. I'm happy to say I was wrong."
I'm telling you all this as a way to tell you what an extraordinary woman my mother was. That's the best adjective I can apply to her: Extraordinary.
Dorothea Evanier was born in East Hartford, Connecticut on April 8, 1922…so she was 90 today when I lost her. She had an unremarkable childhood, though some folks reading this will be fascinated by the following. When I started getting interested in comic books, she remembered that a boy back in her high school had set his sights on working in that industry. She dug out her yearbook and there, by God, was a little sketch of Superman done in 1940 by a then-young man named Kurt Schaffenberger. He would go on to become one of the great artists for the Man of Steel's comics.
Soon after graduation, she went to work as a secretary for the Hartford Courant, which is where she met a man named Bernard Evanier who briefly had a temp job there. They started dating but he was Jewish and she was not and neither family approved of that kind of thing. One of the reasons she supported the issue of Gay Marriage once it became an issue of note is that, as she put it, "I heard all the same arguments about how it would end society as we know it if your father and I got married."
They stopped dating. They started again. They stopped again. She married someone else. That marriage was annulled after a few weeks. She eventually got back with Bernie and they decided that if they did get married, they'd have to get as far away from Hartford as they could. They also decided that they would pretend her first marriage had never happened…and indeed, it was not until after my father died in 1991 that she told me about it.
They relocated to Los Angeles and were married on March 3, 1951 at the Desert Inn Motel (later, Hotel) in Las Vegas. I was born one year later on March 2, 1952. As a kid, whenever anyone asked me what my birthday was, I'd say, "I was born on March 2nd and my parents were married on March 3rd!" People found that hilarious and I didn't know why…but since it got a laugh, I kept it in.
As a mother, she was absolutely ideal. She was smart about most things. She was compassionate about all things. She lost her temper with me on the rarest of occasions…I would say about once a year on average. My father did her even better in that department. He yelled about as often as we hold presidential elections in this country…and he would usually apologize to me for yelling.
But this is about my mother, the woman who could heal any injury with a box of Q-Tips, a few Band-Aids and a bottle of Bactine. It's about my mother who learned to make brisket and latkes better than any other shiksa in America. It's about my mother who was such a good package gift-wrapper that if someone gave you a present wrapped by Dorothy Evanier, you'd consider not ever opening it because what was inside probably wasn't as good as what it came in. Over the next week or so here, I'll tell you some stories about her…like the time she made her T.V. debut on an episode of L.A. Law. Or how she once helped a famous TV detective find out that his servants were stealing from him. Or how people would always say to her, "You're so funny, it's clear Mark got his sense of humor from you." And she would always tell them, because it was true, "No, I got mine from him."
For now, I guess I should tell you what she died from. She died from Marlboros.
At least, if they'd let me fill out the Death Certificate, that's what I'd put on there. I haven't seen it yet but I assume it'll say something about arrhythmias and Congestive Heart Failure. Ah, but what caused the arrhythmias and Congestive Heart Failure? Marlboros.
My mother smoked for 75 years. She only stopped lighting up a few months ago after she had been hospitalized for just shy of thirty days. The day before she went home, I started talking to her about not smoking once she got there. She said to me, "I can't give it up." I told her, "You have. You haven't had a cigarette the entire time you've been in here. You've quit. The only question is whether you're going to be dumb enough to start again."
She thought for a second and said, "No, I don't think I'm that dumb." And she didn't start again.
She did not extend her quitting because she thought it would help her live longer. She did it because she thought it might reduce the number of times she had to be carted off by paramedics to the Emergency Room during what remained of her life.
Someone reading this might think, "Hey, smoking can't be that bad if Mark's mother smoked 75 years and made it to age 90." Yeah, but for about the last fifteen, she could barely walk and barely see. In the above photo, she's in a wheelchair and after that Vegas trip, she became too sick to ever travel again even with me pushing her around. She couldn't do anything she enjoyed.
That was the tragic part of my mother's last years. She couldn't see well enough to read. I got her a huge flat-screen TV and even when she sat up close, she could only get about 10% of what was on it. She couldn't get around at all without a walker and could barely manage with one. I could take her places in the wheelchair but it was an ordeal to get her in and out of the house and she'd become abruptly exhausted. It got so I couldn't take her anywhere unless it was close enough for her to be back home in her own bed within about twenty minutes. She couldn't eat most of the foods she loved. Basically, her life became a series of intermittent home stays between hospital residencies. She had six ambulance rides in 2011 and I took her in at least that many times.
She had this little button around her neck she could push to summon aid and she needed it often. But if she'd had a button she could have pushed and immediately ended her life without discomfort, she would have pushed it at least ten years ago. She told me exactly that many times and she was clear of mind and thought when she said it. "I'm so sick of myself," was something she exclaimed on way too many occasions…and what she meant was that her whole life had become about her body inconveniencing her and causing her pain. There was zero chance that her health would ever improve enough to do one thing on her "I wish I could still do that" list.
I'm writing this because, first of all, I'm thinking about her tonight. And I'm also writing this because I know she'd want to be cited not as a reason you could smoke and live 'til 90 but as an example of why that's not a good idea. Asked how she was, she'd say, "I'm still breathing but that's about it."
And I guess I'm writing it to tell my friends that she's gone and that sympathy and condolences are not necessary. I'm sure someone reading this will misunderstand but most of you will get this: I'm not grieving. I'm kinda relieved…for her and, yes, for myself. It's been so sad just watching her die over a long arc. She's been in a nursing home the last few weeks with the pretense that she might someday return to her own house. That was probably not going to happen…and if it did, it would have been a week or two (tops) before she was back in the emergency room.
Tomorrow evening, she and I were going to have a discussion about her going to an Assisted Living Facility…or as she called such establishments, "…those places you go to die." Knowing my mother, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if she had the heart failure today because she didn't want to have that discussion tomorrow.
Could someone actually do that? Could they figure out the right time to go and then go? If you think that's impossible then you didn't know my parents, especially my mother. So don't you feel sorry for me. I feel sorry for you. You would have loved her. I sure did.