Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mom's good ending--and some good beginnings


I wasn't aware I hadn't written anything in April.  I guess it's because I have been writing so many individual e-mails.

When I last wrote I had just received a job offer that I could hardly believe.  The commute is so short (4.7 miles) that I could walk it if I really needed to.  Or, if I wanted, I could get there via a ferry ride across the Hudson River!  My co-workers (and especially my boss, Charles) are friendly and helpful, and I am so excited to be part of his practice!  If I had dreamed it I could not have asked for a better and easier way to get established as a lawyer in New York, after such a long absence from that workforce.  I'll write more about that next time.

When Charles handed me my first paycheck he apologized and told me he'd try to make things right with me with bonuses later in the year.  I put it in my briefcase and didn't look at it until later. Then I nearly fell over.  I made Robert look at it, and tell me I'm not crazy.   It is MUCH MORE than I ever expected (but, being so very bad at math, I can often be taken unawares). Furthermore, that paycheck is proof of the existence of God, because immediately upon receiving it I broke a tooth ($1,200); our gas clothes dryer quit ($1,000); Mabel required veterinary care for a urinary blockage ($500, plus $18.00-per-5-lb.-bag cat food weekly for the rest of her life); Mom's kitty Twirp has to get his shots ($150); my computer is still useless and may require replacement ($1,200) and my vacuum cleaner expired ($150-200).  IN CASE THAT WAS NOT ENOUGH, I need a new dish drainer!  That's five bucks at K-Mart, and even more if I go for fancy and insist on Martha Stewart.   

When I last wrote, Mom was doing well after her surgery.  I had decided to tell Charles I wanted to take off the Thursday and Friday before Mother's Day to go to see her.  But I had worked at my new job for only two days before Tim called to say that the nurse at TenderCare strongly suggested that the family gather to "make arrangements."  I prepared to take off again. At first I planned to take the trip alone, but Robert insisted on coming with me (part of our pre-marital "mi mama es tu mama" pledge) and I am so glad he was able to do that.  I had no idea how much I would need him.  I appreciate what a strain it was on his bosses to have him be gone that week, and I am so thankful to them and to everybody else for their support through this difficult period.  

This trip was the third time since June 2007 that I have dropped everything to make the thirteen-hour drive to Michigan at Tim's suggestion, never knowing what I would find when I got there.  Robert and I arrived late in the evening and got a room in the hotel where we stayed before--the parking lot adjoins Tendercare.  I left Robert to deal with registration and I ran to see Mom, and found her sitting up, and looking mighty pink and perky for a dying woman.  For a moment (but just a little one) I wanted to strangle my brother.  

Mom said, "Franny!  I'm so glad you're here!" and I instantly thanked God and Tim.  It was so important to see her when she was really aware of my presence.  We had a nice evening together. Chris had spent the whole day with her, and he had a good time with her, too.  Mom asked me to cut her fingernails, and I did that.  I complained that I had gotten little pieces of fingernail all over the floor.  She was in a happy mood, but very very weak.  She could hardly move, but she could still tell stories.  

Each day she became weaker and more uncomfortable.  Her bowel surgery made it hard for her body to absorb water, so she was constantly thirsty and unable to get a drink herself. So I sat next to her all day, because she wanted water about once a minute.  The next day she slept a lot more, and she had pain in her hands and arms in spite of large doses of morphine.  She asked me to scratch her nose and I told her I needed a little guidance as far as where she was itchy, and I was also hampered because I had just cut my nails very short, and didn't have any fingernails to scratch with.  Her last joke: "Pick some up off the floor."  

Wednesday the 16th, she stopped drinking and slept all the time.  I had decided I would go back to New York if a time came when I couldn't be useful to her anymore, and Robert's bosses especially needed him to be there there on Friday.  So we prepared to drive back on the 17th, my birthday, although I had a funny feeling that Mom would die that day (Dad died on Andy's birthday).  But I realized that even though Mom wasn't asking to have her nose itched or her neck rubbed, or for a drink of water, my brothers needed me to be there.  

Chris and Tim and I were at her bedside all day long on the 17th.  At about four 0'clock in the morning on the 18th, Tim tried to get a few winks in his truck out in the parking lot.  We were all worried about going to sleep, lest we be so out of it we couldn't wake up when we needed to.  But I realized it was STUPID to have a perfectly nice hotel room about fifty yards away, so we decided to take shifts at two-hour naps.  Tim and I took advantage of it first, then we took over the vigil at six.  At about eight a.m. on the 18th, Tim noticed Mom's breathing was different.  I went to get Chris, FASTER THAN I HAVE EVER RUN, and about ten minutes later Mom stopped breathing.  She was very calm and relaxed.  It was peaceful, painless passing for her.  We were all with her, touching her.  She held a picture of my Dad in her arms.   

All of us were with Daddy when he died, in 1988.  That was a much sadder event, because he was leaving Mom, who loved him so much, and he died much too young.  Still, it was a very spiritual experience.  I remember a distinct feeling at the moment he died of a presence entering the room, and I felt compelled to look toward the ceiling.  I felt as if he was looking at me from there.  I didn't have that same feeling with Mom.  I think it's because she was already gone--already with Daddy and Andy--when she finally left.  

I told the nurse that she died, then Chris, Tim, Robert, and I all went together to the funeral home to make arrangements.  We met up with Meg and Lindsey and we all went out for breakfast together.  Chris said what we were all thinking, how strange it was, for once, to not be worried about Mom.  

Back in New York I started working again on the last of the boxes and boxes of papers Mom saved, trying to sort them out and get things ready to mail out to her friends.  I spread everything out on our parlor floor, and worked on it for days, until I wore myself out.  It has been overwhelming, dealing with the thousands of letters and photographs that Mom saved.  It was such a huge responsibility but I kept on, knowing I was doing it for her. 

In these long months of her disability I had been saving things I sorted through--notes and letter fragments and essays--in a file marked "memorial."  When I got home I started reviewing those to put together a gift of herself, for those who love her.  Chris offered to do the actual design and layout of the booklet (about sixteen pages of poetry and prayers and stories, photographs and diary entries) and I am sure he will do a beautiful job.  We will have it ready for her memorial service, and I will send it out to any of you who ask me.

It was especially hard to make it through those last boxes.  I think there were eighty of them, originally. I've often just been unable to face dealing with the task.  I wondered if I have been blocked by the realization that when I finish this last sorting, I will be performing the last good thing I can do on earth to help my Mom.  I wondered, is this the last opportunity I will ever have to show her how much I love her?  Is this the last way I can make her feel more comfortable? When this job is done, is it really the end?  But I think not.  I promised her I would try to get her book completed--"As Ever Yours," about her family.   It seems to make the most sense to wait until I have a computer that is not going to fart out on me before I start that in earnest.  But I will do it. It's a wonderful book. 

Mom's memorial service is May 10th, at St. Kate's.  That's the day before Mother's Day.  Her sisters and some cousins will be there, as well as many friends.  If you can't be there, believe me, she will know you wanted to be, and she will receive your prayers and thoughts.  My brothers and I thank you so much for your cards and e-mails.  Thank you for showing up at the nursing home to sit with me. Thank you for bringing me flowers.  Thanks for giving me a hug in the parking lot of the grocery store.  I appreciate every thought and gesture.

So that's the story of the good ending of my mother's good life.  I look backward with thanks, and forward with eager anticipation.  My new job and my new friendships with the people at work and at the foundry, and my continued excellent relationship with Robert and my wonderful brothers and sisters-in-law, are all wonderful, happy things on the horizon of my life, on my 54th birthday.  I'm sad, but I'm OK.  

In fact, I am ridiculously happy about some things.  When I get my computer to work again (I'm writing this on Robert's new Mac)  I'll show you pictures of my new BACK PORCH SLAB! Now, who could be excited about a new back porch slab?  I am!  We used to have a crumbling, ugly concrete back porch that has been replaced (AT A RIDICULOUSLY LOW PRICE--due to my magical connections) with Vermont bluestone.  I am so excited about it, I go outside often, just to look at it.  I'm also happy about spring.  I tried to figure out what would be the best thing to remind me of my childhood at Hoggwilde, after it becomes someone else's home.  So I dug up buckets of Lily of the Valley and ferns and black raspberries and jonquils, and planted them in our yard here.  I know how much Mom loved them, and I think every spring I will be able to share that thrill with her, even though she's not here, of seeing her little green babies push their way out of the soil to bring forth trumpeting masses of color and scent, and clouds of joy, that allow us all to experience once again that feeling of renewal and life.

Keep in touch, all of you.  Come to see us!  Remember, we are the cheapest hotel in New York you'll ever find, all you Europeans!  Jenny and Rick, please move here immediately! Marguerite, you too!       

Love, F and R