Moments on the Way to a Funeral (OS Archives 2014)

The phone call gave no clue of its importance in heralding the beginning of the end - only in hindsight did her one remark seem so significant:  "You are going to bring that boy by in his Easter suit, aren't you?"

"It's not Easter, it's Halloween, Mom, and of course we'll come by." I replied.

Within a week she had a second stroke and only then did we learn there had been a first. Mom's sentences were now garbled, if she spoke at all.

Glances were passed among family members while standing in a 'U' around her hospital bed - the ground had been removed from under our feet - our faces were plastered as if we were all in one of those round whirling drums in an amusement park gone wrong, on the kind of spinning ride that suctions your body to the wall as the floor drops. 

Mom would look back at us sometimes, at one of the many assortments of siblings, offspring, friends that stood there around her bed for those five weeks, the same bewildered, plastered looks on everyone's face, including hers. 

No one could quite believe the current state. This woman, this force of nature, down? Surely...she'll get better? 

I wondered if Mom's mind was garbled or just her speech, if she'd ever stand up again, if hospital beds were the norm now - questions, stretching on to an unforeseeable point.

 

Mom's new preacher arrived for lunch on one of those days of our standing around in a 'U.' 

The lunch tray was brought in by the nurse, Mom was plumped and arranged. The new preacher asked if we would all like to hold hands and say a blessing over Mom's typical hospital fare.

Suddenly, clear as a bell, Mom retorted from where she was propped up in bed, "Would your prayers improve this food?"

 

A week later, Mom was ensconced in a lovely, old hospice with butter-yellow walls, creaky-wood floors, high ceilings, rooms with bay windows looking over soft piney woods. Her future was more clear to us all, now.

 

Another week. The phone rang, it was close to midnight - it was Lisa, part of the family for decades, my beloved sister-in-law, a Jewish born-again Christian. She had left her church, "but took Jesus with me," as she once said, a twinkle in her eyes.

"Your mother, she's in a coma now, I'm here with her. This is it, she's.....on her way. I'm going to stay here all night and sit vigil. She won't be alone.....  What? ......   Honey, the nurse says it's a semi-coma. Anyway, I'm here, let me be with her tonight, you come down in the morning. 

"I'm going to do the Jewish Bathing Rites for the dying. I'll wash your mother's feet."

I hang up the phone.

'Okay...this is it. She's on her way.'

The thought of the Jewish bathing rites as done by my decidedly artistic and freelance sister, the Jewish rites for the Episcopalian lady in a coma ....for the dying....  I began giggling while crying in some reckless, despairing way. It was all so strange and surreal and terrible. Mom was dying.

The phone rang again in the morning, early, early - barely dawn. My husband and I looked at each other.  He picked up the phone.

He listened for a minute, then slowly handed me the receiver, "Umm, it's your...mother.....?"

"Mom?"

"Where a-r-re you?" my mother said in a plaintive tone, quite unlike normal mom's voice, but these weeks had been nothing like normal. 

"What is taking you so long to get here? Hurry now, won't you? Aren't you late already? Why aren't you here yet?   ...Lisa kept me up all night. She kept washing my feet."

I laughed out loud with relief. "Good to hear your voice, Mom."

"Well, no need to go on, you were just here yesterday," she replied.

 

The week after that, the steady stream of visitors stepping their tunes across the creaking pine floors of the hospice had one nurse remark, "You know, this is really unusual, so many people coming to visit. By the time somebody's in hospice, they're often alone in there, but even in the middle of the night your mother has company (my brother came by after closing the restaurant most nights, often reading aloud to Mom's now-still form).

"She must've been a special lady." 

I smiled and looked away. It's never so simple... but it was true.  

"She was. is." I replied. 

I returned to Mom's room, suddenly overwhelmed at the thought of not ever seeing her again. "I love you so much, Mom," I said with an impulsive hug, voicing the rarely-used phrase between us. 

Again, as clear as a bell.  "Oh, let's not get maudlin, dear."

 

On the 25th of November, 2002, my visit with Mom was brief. My three year-old son was with me, Mom's hands, wrists, and forearms were now cold, I was tired from work, young son was restless.  An inspired thought brought forth nursery songs. All the classics:  Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star; Mary Had a Little Lamb. On and on.

My son and I sang. Mom might have been listening, I didn't know.

Then, I remembered the song she had always told me was her favorite nursery song, the one her father sang to her when she was a very young girl. I began.

"Hush Little Baby, don't say a word. Papa's gonna' buy you a mockingbird..."

...and Mom came awake. She looked straight into my eyes.

Time stopped.  Just for a moment, it hung in the air, a musical, dotted whole note. We met in the center.

I wanted to stay.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

Oh, thank you for this! Happy Thanksgiving to your interesting family and they are very lucky to have you as the mom now.
Thank you for this story. So personal and yet it transcends.
I have tears in my eyes. This was so beautiful and funny and I also found myself relating to it in unexpected ways. Your mom had such spark, even at the end - good for her. Thank you for sharing this, and I hope that, though you look back on that time, you are in a better, healed place. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, as well.
Sorry, I meant to add "moving" to funny of course - I guess I felt that went without saying. Thank you again for this beautiful piece and best wishes to you and your family as you look back.
Mornin' - and thanks for your comments, especially for being willing to read of such things the day before Thanksgiving.

It's been 12 years now. 
Things are pretty peaceful.

Happiest of Thanksgivings to you all ~
As I began to read this I got an update by text from little sister.
Mom admitted to room 4229. The diagnosis is acute myelogenous leukemia. Don't know treatment yet, probably chemo .. she says.
So, thanks for the beautiful piece, I think. Wow
I'm at a loss for words. Except for beautiful.
Lots of tears here, beautifully rendered.
Nicely done, JT. That maudlin line took me by surprise and made me laugh. Quite a lady your mom. R
@tr ig, sorry about your mom and hope she recovers soon.
touching. it's so hard to see them go.

rated
Beautifully told. It's hard to consider and then live through the passing of a loved one. Remembering the good times and the touching times helps. R.
dont even have words. truly lovely, and very vivid. those moments.

love and hugs, jt.
this is so fitting, so beautiful and wracked with love, I am sitting here blubbering for your magnificent mother, and for you.

hugs to you anna, I know you're missing her now.
Theodora, thank you, I appreciate you continue to come by even as I've gone awol so much lately.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours : )

zanelle, I wasn't thinking of writing this until I left my comment on your post. Things bubbled up from there.
I *love* that now I am one of the elders - now that I'm used to it. And now a second granddaughter is due, a week before Christmas!
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours : )

Hi PoetTESS - it was also our chat yesterday that got me thinking of this time - it's just starting to feel like it's long ago...
So much of this is a universal experience.
Time spirals on.
A beautiful...what?...cascade, succession of stages of the primal experience of becoming an Orphan. How well I remember it from when Mom passed, swiftly, down
first to revisit her girlish childhood
(in the hospice room, she implored us in a 7 yr old's voice to ''let me go to school, please'') then
to near-insentiency punctuated by fatalistic acceptance
("I don't care, I don't care") then coma, then

the funeral. She looked so lovely in her coffin.
Hi Alysa, I realize you and yours are in this state of transition right now, aren't you? My heart goes out to you - my best to you and yours.
I would swear that our cells stand at attention with a loved ones' birth or death - that we do know cellularly when a loved one goes from life to....what? heaven? spirit world? dust? I am one who believes we are spirits here learning lessons on Earth, although it's part of the Great Mystery, what's what, I realize, not to be known while here....but I do trust in the immortality of our being, even if it's purely fundamental particles morphing. 
Happy Thanksgiving to you! way over there : )

Thanks, jmac, Happy Thanksgiving!

tr ig!!!
Oh, my friend - so sorry to read this! 
Best to you in this beyond-words place.
Great writing

Thanks for sharing her
tr ig, that's what my Dad had in 1996, 18 years later he's still here to be annoying. It's a rough road but it is traversable. Best to you and your family.

Hey, JT, this story is lovely. I am so glad that you got to connect with her.
I needed to center myself a little after reading this. I had a really remarkable experience with my dad on his death bed, he sat straight up and began to thank me and told me he loved me after years of him just saying thank you when I said it. 
Your mom catching your eye when you sang a well known and loved lullaby is a wonderful moment. We never forget the lullabies do we? My mom sang Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra an Irish song. It's my granddaughter's favorite.
I hope Anni hears the Mockingbird song, I sang that to Katy too. This is a wonderful TG post, it's always a woman's night, the night before Thanksgiving isn't it? All the women tonight cooking, cleaning, setting the old china out ... sometimes it's good to feel tradition. Love to all of you tomorrow.
I've read that one of the last things that Alzheimer's patients recognize and respond to is music of their youth. Maybe it's a general truth for anyone nearing the end. I really liked the writing here JT but of course not what occasioned it.
Beautiful and sad.

A lot of that going around on OS it seems.

(Best to tr ig's mom - she needs to hang in there and write another book.)
Thank you for the wonderful comments, I appreciate it so much - had a little trouble with my keyboard: don't swat a fly with a flyswatter on a computer keyboard! no matter how light a touch you think you have....letters might pop off and refuse to settle back in. 
ahem.
Will be back to reply individually later today.
Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving !

I have been practicing *not*being Alpha Female so much now that there are other females in the family that nothing I like about the holiday happened at all, not even my dishes tasted right.
Next year I am doing it my way, and I'll just hope I have company.
My family was together, all that matters. 
I will convince myself of this by this afternoon.
Hi jl, thank you! I think of you down in Mexico, quite a bit. Hope all's well with you and yours : )

Rw, thanks for coming by - I appreciate anyone being willing to read sad stories of loss, especially when there's a recent loss in one's own heart to deal with.
There were some funny moments on the way to this funeral - and for me, it's been awhile now. 
On another note, Mom was 45 when I was born and had pewter to white hair my entire childhood - she felt like a grandma. She was born in 1916. !!
Hi Rita - thanks : )
Hope you had a peaceful Thanksgiving - ours was a mix of wonderful and off-balance, for me. Family got together, that part was just right.

Gerald, yeah, she was good at the phrases/zingers, that's for sure. 
I will be forever grateful I did uproot my family to go live back in Georgia with her for the last two years of her life. We grew quite close and saw each other with appreciation - a nice full circle.
Hope you had a good Thanksgiving!
I loved all the old houses in your area, thought of you in one of them, somewhere...sadly for you, lots of 'For Sale' signs, everywhere we went, from Pa. to Md. to Ct. and back. That surprised us.
Thanks for coming by ~

Thank you, Ben Sen - and you are right, it is hard. 
Part of the mix, in Life, though..

Thank you, Lyle, and I appreciate your insightfulness, as usual. 
It is tough to re-visit, and clearly there is much unsaid here in this piece.
May be the Puritan roots: I was trained well not to express (physically shaken, actually) vulnerable, deep emotions. That is one thing I notice in my writing practice, the looming wall beyond which 'those things/feelings must be left unsaid/unfelt.' 
Coping mechanism left over from childhood, as most of all of ours are. I do well one on one, person to person - but that childhood training also still puts up off-putting walls to those I might feel some closeness to/vulnerability with...
Yet - my family was/is also blunt and straight forward.
Very much mind-oriented rather than heart-centered family even though we love each other.

I'm working on tearing that wall down now that I am writing fiction so my characters, and I, have enriched lives.
Thanks for coming by - that was a nice therapy session ; )
(Ha!)
[r] oh, JT. this is awesome. thanks for sharing!!! best, libby
Hi super jane : )
Thank you!

Hi Foolish Monkey, I do miss her, yet it finally feels right in the world that she has gone and life has moved on. 
It took awhile to get to this point, a long while.
Thanks for coming by ~
Beautiful. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
Hi James - yes, there is a path to follow it seems, isn't there? 
Thanks for the high compliment, appreciated : )
I did feel like an orphan for years, too. 
Then got over it and see it all as the better path, outliving parents, rather than having your children go before you. 

I admit, I wouldn't have minded some parents who were effusive...but hey, Mom had some qualities : )
So many of us are at this poignant stage of life with our parents, here or departed. A long goodbye, beautifully recounted.
Truly moving. Congratulations on a well-done and heartfelt tribute.
seems everything's a mix of wonderful and off - balance lately, 'cluding this, so sweet, such a punch i flinch, waiting for mine, b. '15.

you say it so well, jt.
Beautiful and poignant. The pain of the passing is always there, isn't it? But so are the sweet and funny moments, too. Thank you for sharing this.
I missed a few comments! 
Sorry, not getting email notices of comments, lately (thanks, Kim, for letting me know you were here).
Back soon to reply ~

....today I have covered the dining table in fabric....cutting, cutting....
This is really beautiful writing, funny in parts and also sad like life is. I never got a chance to say goodbye to my mother, who died while I was in school. Glad you and your son got to see her something that brought her much comfort close to the end. 

Lucy
Hi Kosh - thank you : )

Phyllis, thank you, as well : )

Rita, what a wonderful moment to have with your Dad, we'll never forget those moments, eh?
My mom also sang Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra! That's a lovely parallel to have between us : ) She didn't know all the words, but knew some, so would sing and hum and sing and hum...
Thanks for the memory, I'd forgotten. I like thinking of how it is being carried on through the generations over your way.
Glad you came back.

Abra, yes, I have heard things. It only makes sense, to me, we'd respond to music so primally, melodies resonating in our deepest places. I wonder if the medical community is taking advantage of that, somewhere in patient care.

Myriad, thank you - and yes, this time of year does seem a natural season of closure/departure in the cycle of life.

And to you, tr ig, the best to your Mom! Not time for closure for her....she'll rally and be around a lot longer. I can feel it : )
littlewillie, thank you thank you thank you : )

...and thank you, as well, Libby : )

and Zuma! Wow, nice to see you around here - and thanks : )

Daniel, Dorien, thank you - it's very much appreciated, both your kind words and just having you come by : )
Kim, thank you. It has been a bit surreal over the years to know your Mom is months older than mine yet she's still around, to 99 this year!? (You're the only person I know with a similar aged mom.) 
Sturdy gene pool threading through Hazel's line.
Hope the visit with your mom needs no revisiting of this piece...

Seen the elusive Weedy one yet?

Thank you, Rosi, I think we were lucky to have some funny moments on the way to the funeral. and that she was ill for only 5 weeks. Long enough to grasp the reality and be able to say goodbye. None of us got that with Dad, so the time was good to have with Mom.
She couldn't resist a grand farewell, with everyone coming by. 

Hi Lucy - thank you! 
'as life is'
yes.
I didn't get time to say goodbye with my father so I know how lucky we all were with Mom, that way. It's tough when a parent goes suddenly, or without a good bye...
I appreciate your coming by!

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