In 1998, thirteen years after her first diagnosis, Mary Ann “maxed out” on radiation and chemotherapy. She had received what her doctors deemed the lifetime limit of each treatment, and she began to deteriorate more quickly. At the end of the summer and through the fall, every day seemed to present a new challenge. I have friends whose parents have had Alzheimer’s and others whose parents have had cancer. They speak in the one case of a drifting mind in a strong body and in the other, of an acute mind in a failing body. Brain cancer attacks both the mind and the body. The Mary Ann I had fallen in love with and married, my partner in parenting and making art, the woman with whom I had endured hard years and good, just peeled away.

—Rock In A Landslide


I started tearing my photos apart, particularly the ones of my mother and father. I found it therapeutic to deconstruct them psychologically and physically. They were my essential role models; they had combined to make me.


On the evening of December 27, 1998, we had a small party to lift our spirits. My friend Clinton, another administrator from school, came over and cooked pizza, and he and Sylvia and Eve and I ate and listened to music and danced a little. We wandered in and out of the bedroom in an effort to include the inert Mary Ann in the festivities. The party ended, everyone left, and I changed Mary Ann’s diaper, turned her body, and went to my mattress just outside her room. I was up twice in the night to turn her again, and a little before seven in the morning, I heard her breathing shift a little. I was torn between going to check on her and staying under the covers for the few more minutes until the alarm went off. When I got up and went in, Mary Ann was dead. No holding hands, no last words, just a corpse, already getting cold and pale.

I called Eve to come home, and I waited, alternately sitting next to the bed, then squeezing in next to the body, then getting up and walking around. I think I was looking for something that wasn’t there, a send off of some kind, not just lights out after twenty-three years. A lot had happened in that room. Mary Ann and I made love there, and we had terrible arguments too. We welcomed our child to our bed when she had nightmares, and for few years, the three of us snuggled together every Thursday night to watch “The Simpsons.” That’s where I took care of Mary Ann when the room and the hospital bed were the entirety of her world. That’s where some sense of ritual commanded me and Eve to stand with the body after Eve came home that morning.

We stood still; the body was still; but we could walk away, which we did after just a few moments when Eve said, “That’s enough of that.” We tried to find words to console each other; they didn’t come. We’d known that Mary Ann was dying, but the finality was weird and horrible. We were intensely uncomfortable. After an hour, Eve went off to meet a friend.

—Rock In A Landslide

Kelly Nowels