Sad Contemporary Drama

[Content Warning: assisted suicide]

Good morning, Mother.

I catch myself almost whispering the greeting in my mind, furtively, like children holding their breath during hide and seek, mentally entreating the others kids not to find them. It’s as though I’m afraid she could hear what I’m thinking.

She sits in her wheelchair by the open french window looking out on the lawn and oak woodlands beyond with leaves already yellowing and crisping. I close the window to keep out the early autumn draught. Her head is slumped sideways, chin aimed at the dimple of her thin collarbone; she’s nodded off with her mouth ajar The long flight and jetlag have exhausted her for sure, but it’s more the chronic pain she needs respite from. She described it once as pangs of agony that never let up, besieging her from within and making life unbearable.

Her family is in the admin room down the hallway with my colleagues, making sure all the documents are in order. We’ve been helping her and her loved ones along a complex and emotional process culminating today in her assisted suicide.

Her wispy grey hair glints in the morning light. Careful not to make a sound, I draw the lace curtains and reduce the glare. I don’t want it to wake her just yet; she needs the rest. When asleep she’s so peaceful you forget why she’s even here.

You probably did the same for me when I slept in a crib by you.

Today’s my last chance to ask her all the whys. I’d want nothing more than to reach out and embrace her, showing her who the infant she abandoned almost sixty years ago has become. But I’m not going to. I’m not telling her that in a strange turn of events, life has brought us together again, and that the person assisting her in taking her own life happens to be her son.

I mean, who am I to come in at the very last hour and confuse matters for her? She and her family have more than enough to struggle with now. The last thing they need is a forgotten ghost from the past throwing in an emotional wrench in the whole thing. It would be pure self-indulgence on my part. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Her torso twitches and she wakes up, looking befuddled. But her features soon constrict again, occasionally contorting with pain.

“Sorry if I woke you, Ms. Trindle. I hope the flight wasn’t too much of a burden.”

She grimaces before answering. Resisting the instinct to embrace her right then and there, I slide in a soft cushion behind her back for support and sit in a chair next to her. “We need to go over the procedure with you and the members of your family once again, alright?”

She sighs out loud and glowers at the ceiling. “I feel like we’ve been through it a thousand times already.” Her bluntness agrees with me. She’s a woman of mettle.

Her son strides into the sitting room—a stalwart figure in a finely cut brown suit with grey hair festooning the sides of his otherwise bald head. His wife sails in after him in an elegant burgundy skirt suit. She’s as tall as her husband and wears her auburn hair in a tight bun. Their pallid faces are wooden. Though they’ve prepared for this day, they look as though they can’t believe this is actually happening. They nod at me and take seats, flanking their—our—mother. After a short while the teenaged grandson in jeans and a blue sweater comes in with a heavy gait—his bespectacled eyes red from crying. He slumps down on a chair next to his mother. The bizarreness of the situation strikes me. They haven’t the faintest inkling I’m related to all of them.

We all sit in silence for a short while, each second pregnant with our thoughts and feelings. I tighten the strings that rein in the frenzy of emotions storming in me.

My mother looks around at us and breaks the lull. “Well we haven’t come all this way to sit around and stare at each other.” She fixes her gaze at me. “The doctors have given their blessings and prescribed me the dose already, so if it’s all the same, I’d like to get on with it and end the miserable pain.” Her son stares at the floor and lays his hand on her shoulder. His convulsing shoulders betray the tears he hides.


No, not like this. Please, not like this!

The words kept ringing in my head the first time I saw her. It was her first visit to the center and I recognized my mother the second her son helped her out of the taxi and carefully put her in a wheelchair. After all those decades, there she was, right in front of me.

She had remarried and changed her name, so I couldn’t have known she was my birth mother when she submitted her application and began corresponding with us, mainly through her son. Her date of birth was no clue either. How could it have been? I never knew her birthday.

Having completed the thorough vetting process, we had provisionally accepted her application; she had flown in for our first face-to-face interview and the requisite consultations with two independent doctors.

The years of fighting cancer had taken its toll on her body. Her grey hair had thinned and her skin was wrinkled and sallow. She was a stark contrast to the three pictures I had of the confident young woman posing comically for the camera with her friends, but it was unmistakably the same person.

My father had been pretty darn thorough about disposing anything that reminded him of her, but the color photos slipped through and survived the purge. I found them in our attic after he died. So in a strange way I have my father to thank for the current situation. Were it not for the pictures, I would not have recognized her. Was this his weird way of atonement? Not likely.

She left us when I was barely four months old. My father always said she had mental health issues and left because she couldn’t handle the burden of raising a child. I used to believe him at first, but I later came to realize his substance abuse problem was the cause.

During our first interview, she related in detail her reasons for wanting to undergo the procedure. I also asked her about her life, as I often do with clients, wanting to break the ice and catch a glimpse of her past.

“Been through a lot but I can’t complain. I’ve lived in quite a lot of countries over the years too,” she said and named a few. “I’m glad I got to see so much of the world.”

Do you remember the house we used to live in? Did you ever think of coming back and taking me with you?

“You’ve a nice family,” I said.

She snorted. “They put up with me, even though I’ve become ornery in my old age. They’re too good for me, to be honest. . .they’re the ones I’m closest to now. At my age old friends and loved ones are usually pushing up daisies.” She shrugged and lifted the papers from her lap. “Are we done yet?”

I couldn’t avoid the selfish thoughts popping in my mind, but outwardly I acted completely normally, which amazed me. I’d come to terms with the fact of never meeting her in my life, but life thrust her in front of me in the form of a terminally ill woman in chronic pain applying for assisted suicide, and there I was, relying on my routine to get a grip on myself and tide me over to the end of the consultation. It never even occurred to me to tell her I was her son. It seemed completely out of place.


After she left us, my dad raised me alone for a while. My grandparents lived close by and helped out. Eventually my dad met my stepmom and though she moved in with us, they never got married. Maybe he was worried he’d screw up another marriage—my biological mother was already his second wife. The first marriage lasted six months I hear, but I’m not sure. He only talked about it when he was drunk.

When I was nine he died of chronic liver disease. By then my grandparents were already dead too. I didn’t have any relatives to speak of. I’m sure a few existed, but my dad being an only son and the way he was, we had no ties with anyone. My stepmom raised and eventually adopted me. I took on her last name.

Leaving behind an infant must be one of the most harrowing things anybody can experience. I never faulted my birth mother for it and I certainly don’t want to remind her now of the awful choice she had to make that day. I’m from her past. If she wishes to die, she should do so with peace and dignity, surrounded by the family she knows now.

But why did the myriad paths of our separate lives bring the two of us together again? I’ve never been religious and always viewed coincidences to be just that, coincidences. Taken individually, many of our decisions and actions lack any overarching purpose. Yet now that they’re culminating in this single moment of her death, does that imbue all that happened with a plan and purpose? Is this how we’re supposed to retroactively carve out meaning in our lives?

Or is it simply confirmation bias that attributes meaning to random occurrences and interprets them according to my preconceptions and wants?

Or are coincidences tied together by deeper meanings rooted in a collective subconscious? If so, then the universe is one cynical bastard.


The final round of verifications concluded, she now lies on the cherrywood bed, sitting up against a large pillow. The room for the procedure is simply appointed—in Arts and Crafts style, with ample space for family members to stand or sit around the bed. She appears calmer and that comforts me. While talking with her family, she traces her thin fingers along the dapples of light shining onto her duvet through the chestnut tree outside the window.

I leave the room to give them privacy for farewells and sit on a chair in the hallway. I flip through her file for the hundredth time. Everything is in order, I tell myself. But is everything in order with me? Did I have the right not to tell her? Had I told her, would she have chosen to go ahead with the procedure? And will I regret not telling her?

I have no answers but find solace in the fact that this is the path she chose and I will play my part in it. Even if it means helping extinguish her own flame—the flame I experienced as the warm glow enveloping me while I was in her womb, as the powerful blaze with which she bore me, and as the light of love she passed on when she nursed me.

The family members have said their farewells and I re-enter the room. I hand her the paper cup with the prescribed dosage dissolved in water.

“The water will taste somewhat bitter I’m afraid.” I hand her a piece of chocolate. “If you like, this can help mask the bitterness after you drink it.”

I sit down on a stool next to the bed. “Take as much time as you need,” I reassure her. “And remember, it’s perfectly okay to change your mind. Just say the word and we can call it off or postpone.”

She nods and faces me. “Sorry if I was impatient at times.” Her voice is hoarse but strong. “You’ve been kind throughout the brief time I knew you. Thank you.” She clenches my tremoring hand. “You’re a good egg.”

I feel her warmth for the last time. “Thank you, I’m glad I could help.”

You’re a brave person, Mother.

She pauses for a moment and says one last goodbye to her family members surrounding the bed. They no longer hold back their tears. Eyes wincing, she empties the cup and nibbles the chocolate. She gives me the emptied cup and lowers her head on the pillow. I step away, allowing her family to spend the last moments in an intimate space.

From where I stand against the wall, I see her face as she slowly closes her eyes. Eyes that will never open again.

Goodbye, Mother.

July 23, 2021 12:25

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.