I woke this morning at six, quite suddenly. Something about the night of my mother’s death, something I’ve only mentioned once, in passing, hooked into my bloodstream, churning out adrenalin and pushing me out of bed.
My mother and her partner were together for nearly 20 years, following my parent’s divorce. Lee and my mother stuck together through times I thought would surely tear them away from each other; they raised four children from elementary school through college, they traveled the world together and ran marathons and volunteered and created a home that’s still the envy of us kids. They stuck it through when my mother began to exhibit signs of a serious neurological problem, stuck it through when such symptoms were not yet classifiable, when my mother was fired because her work had deteriorated (keep writing, Michael) and when for several months they thought it might be Parkinson’s. They stuck it through when the diagnosis was conclusively ALS, a much more serious and cruel disease. And they stuck it through as my mom’s body began to shut down, as the muscles that controlled her swallowing and speaking failed, taking away her voice and her ability to eat. They stuck it through as my mom had two surgeries; one for a stomach tube and the other for a tracheostomy. They stuck it through as her legs gave out, necessitating a walker then a manual wheelchair and then an electric wheelchair. They stuck it through as all her muscles gradually stopped working and my mother was confined most days to the bed they had moved downstairs from their bedroom. They stuck it through until the very last second, when my mother’s lungs could no longer sustain her, and she died, surrounded by friends.
Enter the Hennepin County (MN) coroner, who came to the house, filled out his paperwork, and then refused to release my mother’s body to her partner of nearly 20 years because she was not considered “next of kin”. He left only because I was on my way from the airport, and only after posting a cop car outside the house.
I know the coroner was not to blame. I know there are laws, and he was following the law. I know there are many hurdles facing any opponent to these laws. I woke this morning wanting, somehow, to fight. I don’t know how to do this, but I will find out. If you have some advice, let me know.