Two Weeks In October 2015: A Memoir

A Blogtoberfest Guest Post by Attorney Joe Schneiderman

Author’s Note: My mother passed away in January 2016. She fell ill in October 2015. Details of her illness are impounded and not appropriate for this blog. Suffice it to say that it is cruel and tragic what happened to her. I am trying to remember, memorialize, harness, and hone the joy I experienced while I watched my mother disappear, and indeed, the joy she spurred me to have right up to the end.

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For now, I want to recapture much of last October.

My mother was not herself. One of the most articulate and loving people I knew had lost her ability to speak. It was a bit like the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode, Babel-watching Captain Sisko, Chief O’Brien, and Jadzia Dax succumb to aphasia. I was filling in blanks for her and finishing sentences. She could not sleep. And although my Mom was not a night owl, she was not me. I was scared. I said at 4AM, do you want help? No. My Dad still went with me to play miniature golf. And, I was still going to see my dear friend Nadine Strossen be honored. That was a wonderful day, it was a sunny New York fall day-I had a hero’s welcome to my alma mater, and there was a tremendous party and tribute to her and to be reunited among many friends who had supported me and my career-and where I was going with things. Indeed, I filed a DAR application that week. And, there was a fitting symmetry-I had just filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the ACLU of Massachusetts in the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts-Nadine had bought me a ticket to that dinner some years ago, and I was working with them closely-I had waved the flag to bring the amicus brief their way and they were now supporting one of my cases.

My Dad cagily informed me that he needed me in Hartford at St. Francis Hospital. I pressed him for details. He would not respond. So, I acceded and came to Hartford, rather than my original destination of Springfield, and later Boston. I notified my hosts in Boston.

I reached St. Francis. My world crashed down. My Mom was hospitalized-and had been on the verge of death-and was trying to fight her way back from a hospital bed. But she was there at least-and talking to me and trying to reassure. And nobody could tell me what the odds truly were, not even Dad. And there were many people going back and forth, from physicians to nurses to staffers to friends to others.

But, Mom and Dad wanted me to go on with my week. There were friends. Mom was stable. So I did and I would. Although the rest of the day is largely a blur on the couch-I was exhausted.

Onwards to Boston the next morning.

A cab ride to the Social Law Library-some work, a phone call on a brief due at the end of the month, research, specifics I forget. Well, now I remember, I was published again, in the blogosphere. A brown bag lunch with my colleagues where my knowledge goes on display.

The Red Line to Dorchester. I greet my hosts, drop off my stuff, and back on the Red Line to Harvard-I’m quite late, but, I am so happy to see Nadine Strossen and Jeanne Kempthorne all together at once-two women who have been co-equal supporters of my career and have become dear friends. Nadine invited me to Harvard, it’s my first time there, and its’ a lovely catered dinner, Harvey Slivergate is there, and I am sitting with Jeanne while Nadine speaks-I bring her a riveting applause.

And Nadine graciously takes my question about one of my favorite cases, People v. P.J. Video, 68 New York Second, I believe.

I’m tired. Unusually tired. Run down empty. This is not me. I grab a cab back to Dorchester. I wish I remembered the Cabbie’s name, we had a lot to talk about on the long and expensive but worthwhile ride to Dorchester.

I’m up early the next morning. The guest bed was a good night’s sleep. I still feel strange. What is it? Aggravated allergies? My hosts, a couple, Barry and Bruce, are encouraging of my legal career and serve a delicious breakfast-and Barry is an alum of the law.

The Red Line back to Park Street is uneventful. I get into the Courtroom. I try and duck back. I feel like I’m about to have a coughing fit. I step out at least three times. My head swims. I sniffle a bit.

“SJC-11908, Joshua Charbonneau v. Presiding Justice of the Holyoke District Court.”

The questions are difficult. But I listen intently. However, I officially have a head cold. The argument ends before the usually appointed 30 minutes.

I briefly introduce myself to counsel of record. I know I’m sick. I have a bus at the end of the day. And an otherwise gorgeous fall day is lost to going through tissues, orange juice, and staying safe at the Social Law Library.

I remember leaving for Dorchester to fetch my bag-and being stuck in the Red Line—and sleeping through much of the bus ride home, being driven home, changing, and going to bed-and isolating myself so as to not infect my mother. Curious, I should isolate myself when I feel cold and alone and isolated as the rest of the day drew out in Boston. There is an unusual sense of dirtiness being sick and dressed to the nines.

Where do I go from here? .

Saturday and Sunday were mainly spent in bed. Mom, somehow not missing a step, marvels in my recovery-and how I pick apart the Good Wife like a Thanksgiving Turkey carcass. My brain works again.

Monday is Columbus Day. Nothing sticks out in my mind.

Tuesday. I know the odds are against me and the situation is grim for a client. But, like Captain Kirk, it sounds like fun. So I’ve done the lawyerly version of shining the Bat Signal to land a powerful friend of the Court. And, somehow, in between my recovery, I arrange things with the amicus, on and off the phone and by e-mail. And, I do the business side of things-finalizing expenses for the last forty days. Mom is encouraging. How was she on the verge on death eight short days ago?

Wednesday. I’m almost 100% recovered after two long days in bed. I’m up for going out again, and Mom is encouraging it-CLE in New Britain Anything and everything to prepare for my big debut in the SJC in December. Somewhat fitting, I was born in December, I’ll make my debut there. I’m waiting for follow-up on the brie due at the end of the month.

I’m tardy, but the CLE is worth my time. Never hurts that faculty are two good friends from New Haven-and I explain why I came.

Life will go on. The friends are supportive and staying tuned for my work in the SJC. I interact. I learn a lot. Our guest Superior Court Judge is a personable, thoughtful, wonderful teacher and mentor for this course.

Thursday is a sunny fall day. I’m almost 100%. Billing needs to be made orderly and a few little things need to be done here and there. I am getting back to work. I tend to them-and sit with Mom as she recovers-she’s in her spot on the couch, I’m at the dining room table.

I miss that. Mom accommodated my work schedule and I worked alongside her while she carried on her day. I fear that died with her-I’m supposed to work from home, but lately, my home has become dreadfully unwelcome with a palor of resentment. But I am trying to remember the joy I had with Mom in the month-And I received an extremely joyous e-mail.

SENDER: “SJC Full Court Clerk.

SUBJECT: DAR-23804 – Notice: DAR allowed.”

NOTICE OF ALLOWANCE OF APPLICATION FOR DIRECT APPELLATE REVIEW.

Notice is hereby given that on October 15, 2015, the above-captioned Application for Direct Appellate Review was allowed.”

Francis V. Kenneally, Clerk.

Oh My God! I’m going back to the SJC! AGAIN! I asked the SJC to take the case directly and they did! All that hard work, trips to and from Northampton, the Berkshires, everything paid off! My client has a fighting shot! Cue the Classic Concentration win cues! Hooray Angus! Hooray! I am living my dream! I am going to argue another one-this time a civil appeal, in the SJC, the Court that inspired me to be a lawyer! AWESOME!

And so proceeded a long chain of e-mails and phone calls of gratitude to spread this good news! And Angus celebrated, Mom did, albeit requesting me to quiet down just a bit, but it was a huge deal. And she was there for it.

The next day, the celebration continued to the Western Mass. Criminal Law Conference, and I was reunited with my friend John Bosse, who came in from Salem, and we had another wonderful conference, with brainstorming, interaction, everything that can make CLE unique and great, and to say nothing of positively bringing defenders and prosecutors together. We are lucky. And, I am lucky-the chair of the conference is a friend, supporter, and we discuss my recent work in Charbonneau. Was that really only eight days ago that that was argued?

With Mom’s blessing, I then go see a client.

And I supported Mom with a wonderful trip to the Fresh Market (I inherited her gift for gift-giving and for food shopping) the next Friday-also sunny and bright at her request. Mom suspended herself from driving-so I stepped up and in. Mom’s friends, my friends, Bob and Helga brought treats from Arthur Avenue to see her, concerned. Mom was diminished, but, fought to maintain some routine, knowing she was ill. And Mom later supported my trip to Boston the next week to hear the new Chief Justice of the Appeals Court speak and how I arranged to have briefs printed there, my unsuccessful trip to Mount Sugarloaf, and one last visit to Donut Dip that she could enjoy. And so ended the month of October-and daylight savings time with it-bringing shortened days.

November came cold and dark. And, things devolved-interrupted by an interlude to Rhode Island Comic Con to bring Mom Minion and SciFi goodies-and the last photo I have of her smiling. She held on to life as long as she possibly could and tried to savor it. I hope to keep living that-and to embrace those who share that.

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