The Closing of the Eyes

This is what I was doing when Sophia’s mother passed away a few weeks ago.

I was waiting for my yearly exam at the eye doctor on Robertson Blvd.  I was hoping I didn’t need another prescription, because my last pair of “progressive lenses” cost me something like $600 bucks.   My eyesight is THAT bad.  Nearsighted and Farsighted.

I was reading an old Vanity Fair in Doctor Ko’s waiting room when the phone rang.  It was Sophia, hysterical, saying that “something is going wrong” at her mother’s house.  The ambulance was there.  I needed to go there immediately.  I was closer than Sophia, who was still in Redondo Beach.

Just then, the receptionist called me for my appointment.  I told her that I had to leave.  A family emergency.  She grumbled unsympathetically, as if she had heard this excuse a hundred times before.

“I will have to charge you a $35 co-payment because you need to cancel three days before blah blah.”

“Fine,” I said.

The next hurdle was the underground parking garage.  I handed my parking stub to the attendant in her cubicle.

“Eight dollars,” she announced.  A Spanish soap opera was playing on a 13″ TV next to the cash register.

I handed her my Visa.

“Cash only,” she said, unimpressed.  I looked inside my wallet.  I only had three dollars cash.

“Can I come back later?”

“No.  There’s an ATM machine in the lobby.”

“I need to go.   It’s an emergency.”

I was getting desperate.

“Sure.  Sure.  Emergency.  I hear that ALL the time.”

It was like the story of the boy who cried wolf, but I was stuck paying for the sins of others.  I never lie about emergencies.

“It IS an emergency.  My mother-in-law is sick.”

The phone rang.  Sophia was sobbing.  The attendant let me go.

It was surreal when I arrived at the home of Sophia’s parents.  My FIL was sick in the bedroom, unaware of what was going on.   My MIL was in the living room, a white sheet covering her body.  The aide was running back and forth between the two rooms, screaming.  Emergency workers and the police were on walkie-talkies.  Noisy Russian neighbors were pacing in the hallway of the apartment building.

Sophia arrived, lifted the sheet, and broke down.  Her mother’s eyes were still open.

I closed Fanya’s eyes.  There was nothing else for her to see in this world.  She had gone to another place.

I was scared of touching her eyes, of the gaze of someone who had just passed, as if it was dangerous to me in some ancient superstitious manner, even though I was just sitting at the kitchen table with this exact same person the day earlier, eating borscht, and taking the finished bowl from her warm hands.

Today I received the bill for the eye exam that I never had.  But I don’t need an optometrist to tell me that, since that tragic day, I somehow see things differently.

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33 Responses to The Closing of the Eyes

  1. liz elayne says:

    i heart you.
    (thank you for sharing this story. yes. every single word. kind of want to give you [and sophia] a hug now.)

  2. wendy says:

    very real. very brave. very hard.

  3. Wendryn says:

    I don’t know you, but *hugs* – this sounds like a very hard day.

  4. Titanium says:

    I’m so sorry, Neil. My heart goes out to you and Sophia.
    Titanium posted Random thoughts on bike commuting

  5. Shelli says:

    That’s awful. I’m sorry, Neil.
    Shelli posted Happy Birthday- Baby-

  6. AnnieHam says:

    That advertisement isn’t playing when it says,”Life comes at you fast.” So many things we take for granted, or are not really present to…
    There’s a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye that might resonate with you. Here’s the first few lines…
    Before you know what kindness really is
    you must lose things,
    feel the future dissolve in a moment
    like salt in a weakened broth.
    What you held in your hand,
    what you counted and carefully saved,
    all this must go so you know
    how desolate the landscape can be
    between the regions of kindness.

    AnnieHam posted Spy vs Spy

  7. Quadelle says:

    No words, but just wanted to acknowledge that I’d read this. Death of a loved one sure has a way of changing our view.

  8. Kim says:

    No words either, just understanding and hugs through the internet.
    Kim posted Clever girls and guys- drink wine ……

  9. Nodding, beautiful, necessary. xo
    sweetsalty kate posted all jammed up

  10. Death has a funny way of changing our views. I’m sorry you discovered this yourself.
    Redneck Mommy posted Calling God

  11. This was difficult for me to read. Such sadness. I’m sorry, and I hate that you guys had to go through this. I know we all do at different times, but I’m still very sorry.

  12. That was beautiful friend.

  13. schmutzie says:

    You and Sophia have been through so much over the past while, and this piece made me tear up for you. Poor Fanya.
    schmutzie posted Five Star Fridays 111th Edition Is Brought to You By Barbara Kingsolver

  14. So very sorry about what happened.

  15. Juli Ryan says:

    My grandmother came of age during the Depression. She used to keep an extra $50 in a secret pocket in her wallet. For an “emergency”.
    Juli Ryan posted Metablog Week 2010

  16. sage says:

    i can only glad you have the courage and authenticity to write about it. your words give life even after death to those you dont even know. that’s the wonder of the internet. sending positive vibes.

  17. sizzle says:

    Death always makes us see life differently. I wish it didn’t take death to do that.

    I like how you tied everything together in this post. Very poetic.

    Love to you both.
    sizzle posted The Process of Letting Go

  18. claire says:

    Oh, Neil, how awful. I’m so sorry for your loss. Please give Sophia my best.

    You wrote of your experience well. It moves me because I can see myself in your shoes some day (hopefully many years) ahead.
    claire posted Sketchbook- page 37

  19. Emily says:

    Crap. I’m sorry.
    Emily posted Anniversary

  20. alejna says:

    Oh, Neil. I’m sorry.
    alejna posted The June 2010 Just Posts

  21. gorillabuns says:

    beautifully written.

    i have sat with three people while dying and I have been the one who always closes their eyes. Not for them but for me.

    again, please share with Sophia my condolences.

  22. sarah says:

    so sorry, Neil. *hugs*
    sarah posted Read Any Good Books Lately

  23. Neil,
    I’m so sorry. And I’m sorry we’ve become a society so concerned about money and so unconcerned about people.
    followthatdog posted Plausible Deniability

  24. TorontoPearl says:

    Neil, that was a very special and beautifully written post. That closing line delivers the entire message.

    Life, as you learned it, can be gone in the blink of an eye.
    TorontoPearl posted Poetry in Photos

  25. Blaiser says:

    It was good that you were there, brother. One of your strongest, simplest posts.
    Blaiser posted An Elegy for Lance

  26. amanda says:

    It is always stunning how the mundane and otherworldly collide in the most staggering ways. I am so sorry.
    amanda posted Delicate

  27. Rebecca says:

    Beautiful, sad post.
    On another note, when you send the 35$ send a little note explaining why you left, and why you will never go back to their office again, so you hope they enjoy their hard earned money.

    Ouch, watch out for my hormones honey, they’re a-coming to getcha!

  28. edpilolla says:

    profound moment. time just vanishes and is replaced by something so real and awful, somewhere in the middle of our ordinary day.

    girlvaughn suggested i check you out. i’m the local editor of and i’d really like to have a good local blogger write a guest piece for the site. i can only pay you $50. i’d love it if you were interested, especially if you’d write about redondo beach and what made you start blogging and what you like about it and anything else you’d like to say. we can put a link either in your piece or in a short bio back to your blog.
    thanks for your time, neil. you’re very good writer and have a terrific blog. nice to meecha.
    edpilolla posted Tuesday

  29. Tracy says:

    I have no words. Thank you for sharing with us. I think after reading that I see things a little differently, too.
    Tracy posted Taking it easy

  30. I had a similar experience with that final gaze on July 3, not nearly so suddenly. It does change everything. For me, it did in a gentler way than I had anticipated. My 5 yo decided he wanted to witness it too, and I hope it’s something he can carry well – not as a burden – throughout his life.

    What happened to your mother-in-law was the fear I had for my mother, the caregiver, realized. The job of caring for someone else can be so much harder than we know. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope you and Sophia and your father-in-law are finding peace and comfort.
    Tracy (Tiny Mantras) posted Applesauce

  31. Pingback: 2010 – My Year in Blogging | Citizen of the Month

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