Sometimes real life intervenes

I am in California, packing up my mom’s house in preparation for her move to be closer to me in Maine. It’s been physically and emotionally exhausting, and I’ve had no time to blog, much less think about books or writing. For the past three days, every lamp, every chair, every dish had to be categorized as “take” or “give away.” Since my mom’s moving from a three-bedroom house into a one-bedroom apartment, there’s a lot of stuff, including sentimental items, that must be winnowed down. And with the moving company people standing around waiting for instructions as to what to carry into the truck, and my mom hemming and hawing and sometimes flaring up in anger that I’m “making” her choose when she doesn’t want to, I’ve really wanted to escape into some fictional world. Even a fictional world involving serial killers.

So for the time being, I’m not thinking about the next story. I’m just trying to get through the day.

It makes me anxious to get back to my desk — because at least, on paper, I can control my universe!

20 replies
  1. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:


    That’s tough.

    Moving is always stressful.

    Moving across country is even more stressful. Even though she will be closer to you once the move is over, the process will be hard on her because she will be leaving all her familiar surroundings behind.

    That’s scary.

    Just try to remember if she snaps at you it is because she knows that there is a strong bond of love between you and her and she is being brutally honest with you.

    Because she doesn’t fear you leaving her.

    It is everything else that she cannot control in her life that is making her feel fearful and filled with anxiety.

    Just mutter to yourself, “this too shall pass” and imagine water rolling off a duck.

    Hopefully that will help.


  2. NewMexicanAnn
    NewMexicanAnn says:

    I’m sure the anger isn’t directed at you. It’s just so tough to lose a loved one and have to go through reminders of one’s lives together.

    It was six years before my dad could clear out Mom’s clothes from the closet and when he asked me if I wanted to sort through and see if there was anything I could use, I couldn’t deal with it. I can hardly deal with seeing a picture of her, and when I had to clean out a drawer and saw something with her handwriting on it, it made me tear up. A quick flash of temper replaces heartrending sadness sometimes, as well as temporarily relieving stress.

    Very big hugs to you and your mom.


  3. Abe
    Abe says:

    Hi Tess,

    I echo Linda and Annie’s feelings. Change can and will be difficult once you set your life’s groundwork. It’s tough to just leave your home after so many years. But with the love that the two of you share and the loving memories of your Dad, the two of you will become even closer. Her anger is not toward you.
    I guess what a friend of mine said a few years back really rings true. He said: “You know, it’s really tough bringing up parents.”
    A safe trip back to the East coast, and we all anticipate the release of The Keepsake. Only 9 days to go.
    God Bless you both.

  4. struggler
    struggler says:

    I only wish I could be in your shoes Tess, but despite being a little younger than your good self, my unforgettable mother passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly some 12 years ago.

    Those physical and emotional exhaustions you speak of – I’m sure you would keep those for eternity if you could defer the emotions of loss that, sooner or later, we all have to endure

  5. Tess
    Tess says:

    thanks all for the kind words. Yes, it’s been hard watching my mom slowly get frailer over the years. She’s a woman who’s used to being on her own (she divorced my dad some years ago) and making her own choices. But failing vision has forced her to finally accept that she can’t live alone any longer, and that’s been such a blow.

    It’s also made me more aware of how many older people are now suffering from macular degeneration.

  6. NewMexicanAnn
    NewMexicanAnn says:

    It’s not just older people, though, Tess. I know a lady who’s barely middle aged and she’s going through macular degeneration, too. She’s doing quite well, however.

  7. kthacker
    kthacker says:

    I’ve never had to deal with anything like what you’re going through now, Dr. G, but it must be very hard on you both. I hope it gets easier for you soon.

  8. Jessie
    Jessie says:

    I know it is difficult right now, but as you like to be in control of your life, your mother is apphrehensive now that she is having to reliquish some of the control she has, due to her vision issues. i’ve worked at a nursing facility for almost 11 years now, and what you are going through, as your mom is going through, is very common. This too shall pass, you are correct, and when the dust settles, your mother will be happy and proud to know her daughter has been there for her every step of the way. Best regards to you both.

  9. Lynn
    Lynn says:

    It’s hard to leave home and moving from California to Maine is just that much harder. I moved from Idaho to St. Louis two years ago after living my other 40+ years in the same 100 mile radius. And I had to leave lots of “memories” behind as well.

    Your mom will adjust, just give her time. In the mean time, make sure you take care of yourself as well. And who knows, there may be a story brewing here…. 🙂

  10. stilwell
    stilwell says:

    I started reading The Bone Garden on Friday and I finished it last night. I have to say I enjoyed this book the most of all you have written. Yes, I have read them all. I am a medical thriller junkie. I could not put it down.. and I am now very interested in getting more information on Oliver Wendell Holmes. I would be interested in knowing which of the characters in the book besides him are non-fiction.

    Great job!
    I would enjoy more books like this.

  11. Mary Duncan
    Mary Duncan says:

    I so agree that writing is a terrific way to leave the world behind. And moving your Mom closer may be trying now, but this too shall pass, and when she settles in, all will be right in the universe once again.

    Deep breaths and long walks. A good stiff drink probably won’t hurt either.

    Looking forward to seeing you at the Fertile Mind on the 12th!


  12. Sharon McKeegan
    Sharon McKeegan says:

    Just finished: Call After Midnight & Under the Knife. Still have tears in my eyes. Since you are one of my favorite authors, I was concerned by your dedication to Jacob, who was always there. Did something happen to him? You look so happy in the photo in the back of the book, but in my copy of the Surgeon, you look very sad.

    Like your Mom, I live in California and have been trying to winnow down 22 years of sentimental, business, and just “stuff”, so my daughter won’t have to do that if and when I have to move. She tries to force me to get rid of stuff now and I try, but more “stuff” just seems to take the place of the disposed “stuff”. Also, all of the things I’ve accumulated represent phases of my life. To discard them feels like discarding the traces left by my life, like it wasn’t significant or worthwhile. Since my life is significant, I hang on to the “stuff” until I am ready to dispose of it. It’s hard to distill a life down to a box or so of papers and other mementos. Boy, I am sure rambling on here.

    I am not sure what the protocol is in a blog. Guess I’ll check back later this week.
    I hope the rest of your week goes well. Take care. Sharon

  13. ec
    ec says:

    Ouch. Sending much empathy and many supportive thoughts your way.

    My mother is in the early stages of Altzheimers, and a little over a year ago my older sister and I helped her empty the bedroom and bookshelves of the apartment she had in my younger sister’s house. (She was moving into the main house, as she couldn’t manage even an attached apartment alone.) Every tiny thing was a major decision–or more to the point, an exercise in avoidance. She didn’t WANT to decide anything, even the most obvious choices. Personal day books from 1984 and 1085, never written in? A plastic recipe file box filled with coupons that expired in the 1970s? “I’ll go through those later.” It’s difficult to say (or hear) over and over, “Mom, we’re here to help NOW. This really needs to be addressed today.”

    A couple of months ago, older sis and I flew down to Florida to clean out Mom’s house there in preparation for putting it on the market. It took us the better part of a week and filled a fourteen-foot dumpster. There is no possible way we could have done this if Mom were present and participating. So, thanks to recent personal experience, I have some understanding of the task you’re facing.

    Pragmatism does not preclude sentimentality. Taking action does not decrease our awareness of the layers and layers of emotion issues involved in such a move. These life passages would be easier if it did.

    But on balance, I don’t think we’d want that.

  14. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    Hey Tess,
    Whilst the moving and sorting is always difficult look to the end goal, the fact that you and your Mum will be closer together so its going to be great to get together during family holidays. What might be an idea is to see which of your Mum’s bits and bobs you could take and look after for her so she know’s that its something thats being kept in the family.

    To be honest it was hard having to clean my Gran’s home out when she passed, heartbreaking as we were trying to keep as much as possible so that we all had stuff to remember her by. Funnily enough one of the things that had the biggest memory for me was the Tea Pot, something that was used numerous times a day 7 days a week. It was a firm reminder of 4PM (Cup of Tea time with either biscuits or homemade cake.)

    Whilst its hard picking the things that you really want to keep, its finding the things that mean so much to keep the memories, the sofa’s, the wardrobes etc mean nothing, its the little things like my Gran’s Teapot that mean a lot more.

  15. myimmortal
    myimmortal says:

    Hello Tess. I’m just a bass player who likes horror novels. I just finished reading The Bone Garden. I enjoyed it more than Stephen King and Anne Rice. I’m a big fan of gothic literature. You’re so brilliant. I am in total awe of your work. It’s probably because of your professional training. Unlike most other authors in this genre, you actually know that you’re talking about. I hope to read many more of your books. Please keep them coming. I live in Canada, so I will most likely have to order the rest of your novels on-line. You’re my new favorite author. Thank you and take care.

  16. lwidmer
    lwidmer says:

    Peace to you and your mom, Tess. How this affects our parents and grandparents to get old and to be reducing their memories and their lifestyles is so tough.

    It’s probably doubly hard for her as she knows this is a permanent lifestyle change for her. She’s leaving friends she’ll not see again, a life she’ll not live again, and stuff that she’s taken such care to collect. It’s heartbreaking for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a time of new discoveries and a new relationship for you both.

    Hugs and prayers to you, dear.

  17. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    The only obstacle in dealing with real life, and the people you care about, is allowing emotion to interrupt what must be done. The golden rule of intervention with loved ones is: if you want my help, we do it my way. It’s harsh, but if all participants understand it at the beginning, it eases all the hard feelings.

  18. putney1968
    putney1968 says:

    My mother relocated to New Hampshire from Washington State three years ago after my dad passed away. My younger sister and her husband had most of the wieght on their shoulders because they live just over the border in Mass. The year before she agreed to move was scary because she was slipping into dementia, and even though she had lots of services available that were close to her, she wasn’t able to think for herself to use them. It fell to me and my sister to tag team flying out there to help every few weeks until Mom realized the futility of living by herself. We all breathed a sigh of relief that nothing of a catastrophic nature happened. As my kids would say: You are so doing the right thing!

  19. Tess
    Tess says:

    I thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments. To hear from so many of you that you’ve faced the same stresses has meant a lot to me. I’ve been home in Maine for two days, and haven’t had the time (or the energy) to even check the comments here until today, and I’m immensely moved by everything you’ve all said. Thank you, thank you!

  20. trinaallen
    trinaallen says:

    Thanks for this post. I’ve gone through an equally stressful time helping my daughter and grandson apartment hunt. It helped me to read what went through. Good luck with your mom.

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