In late December 2009, on a sunny Florida afternoon, my 81-year-old mother stepped across my sister’s kitchen, caught her foot on the hem of her pink bathrobe and fell onto the ceramic tile floor. She landed with sufficient force to break her right hip instantly, the hip opposite the one she had broken 10 years earlier and that had been successfully repaired.
This second break was much worse than the first. The intervening decade had weakened my mother’s body and, truth be told, her mind. A lifelong habit of smoking had led to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a similarly long habit of excessive drinking had rendered her major organs vulnerable. (My mother was a functioning alcoholic for 40 years.) This accident, as well as the surgery that might have saved a healthier person, would prove catastrophic in her weak condition. So began the steady, inexorable disintegration of my mother’s living body that would conclude with her death exactly 48 days later on Feb. 1, 2010.