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I was only three hours away, but I was absent for most of my mom’s sickness. I had class. I had work. I had excuses. I came home for deer hunting and holidays and spring break. Otherwise, I called. I emailed. I stayed away.

When I did come home, my job was distraction. I’d grab her walker and pretend I was a World War II ball-turret gunner. I’d intentionally eat too much supper, then announce to my slightly unnerved family: “I didn’t come to paint!” I tried to make everyone feel better, divert them from their sadness. Really, though, I was distracting myself. I turned away rather than confront reality. Guilt is the absence of courage, and cowardice metastasizes. So my mom and I would play cribbage. We’d watch the Food Network. I’d talk.

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