My mother’s first attempt at dying, the first I knew of anyway, occurred on February 5, 2011, nine days after her eighty-ninth birthday. I was working at my sister’s design firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan, making extra cash to keep my struggling Los Angeles snack food business afloat. My bachelor life made the journey back and forth between the Pacific and the Lake Michigan coasts easy, even for weeks at a time. I had no children and few responsibilities outside of work, but that all changed when the call came.
“The senior center said, ‘She just shut down. We don’t know what to do. Come get her.’”
I held my breath.
My brother Michael’s voice trembled as he continued. “I carried Mom’s limp body into the house and put her to bed. The doctor cut off all food, drink, and medications. Hospice is on the way.”
My pulse spiked.
Hospice comes only when the end is inevitable. I went through this scenario fourteen years earlier with my father. Two days later, he died.
I packed some clothes, my phone, my computer, and a dark suit, just in case. The next morning, I arrived at my childhood home in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Six of us grew up here, two grew old, one died, and now maybe another. Except for a six-month sojourn after a fire in 1969, 247 Emmett Place had been the Porro home for over sixty years. Not only did it provide a roof over our heads but also our vast array of furry pets: cats, dogs, mice, rats—yes, rats, but cute ones, mostly—and there were hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, and a stray squirrel or two. And on one occasion, a possum. Quite the method actor was he. But on that day, he took it too far and made his latest performance his last. As an asthmatic with all that dander floating around, it’s remarkable I, too, didn’t die. However, my fond memories in that ivy-hugging house outnumbered all those creatures combined. Even though I left thirty-six years ago, I always considered it home. And on any other day, I’d sprint up those steps and burst through the front door without hesitation, but that day was different. That day, I stopped, gathered myself, and took a deep breath before reaching for that tarnished brass handle.