My Mother’s Quiet Burden Was My Father’s Fading Mind

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As originally published on Slate.com.

By Jay Newton-Small

“Jenny, I really need you to be there for that furniture delivery,” my mother said.

If there was an extra strain in my mother’s voice, I didn’t hear it over my irritation at being called “Jenny.” Everyone on the planet had called me Jay since my father had given me the nickname at birth. My mother alone insisted her own short version of my given name, Jennifer.

The last thing I had time to do was spend half a workday waiting for a furniture delivery. I was a Washington correspondent for Time magazine. It was the spring of 2011, and I was sure that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were meeting in secret to negotiate a grand bargain—I just had to find the sourcing to prove it.

My parents, meanwhile, had just bought an apartment in Washington to be closer to me, so I could help with my father’s care. My mother claimed he was getting too hard for her to handle on her own, though I never saw it. Whenever I visited them in Florida, he was always setting the table, doing the laundry. He seemed fine, despite the fact that he was 10 years into an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

I grudgingly agreed to take the furniture delivery and hung up. It was the last time I’d speak to her. Two days later, she dropped dead of a brain aneurysm, in the middle of hosting a dinner party for 14 at their home. It was the way she would have wanted to have gone: the consummate hostess, making her guests comfortable. And the surgeons said it was the death any of them would choose if they could: painless and too quick for fear.

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