February 23

A year ago, I was in Cleveland to help my mom celebrate her 88th birthday. She was in great spirits, completely recovered, or so it seemed, from her near-death episode of Thanksgiving. I shook my head in wonder, muttered something about Lazarus, gave her a huge hug and prepared for the birthday festivities. Which were pretty great.

My sister and I took her out to dinner at the restaurant of her choice, a Cleveland downtown hotspot which was the favorite hangout of the Cavs, including that traitor LeBron James. She started dinner off with her traditional gin martini (very dry, two olives, straight up, don’t skimp on the gin, now), and went on to enjoy a huge dinner of lobster and shrimp.  We finished the night off with birthday cake and, to my Mom’s delight, a near-meeting with Shaq (who was hard to miss – do you know how many minks had to die to cover that big body in a sad fur coat??) and LeBron.

You never know when you’re experiencing the last of anything, and this birthday dinner was no exception.

Oh sure, we knew she had terminal cancer, and that we almost lost her the previous fall. I had been in despair for months over it.  But that night, she was so…great.  Her old self.  Happy, energetic, and with a great appetite. In fact, I told my sister that I really saw no reason to keep coming to Cleveland on a monthly basis – Mom seemed fine.

So I stopped.  And the next time I went, she was in her final decline, and a week away from her last breath.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. So stupid. Why did I stop going, when she was in good enough shape for us to appreciate each other? Do you know she didn’t know who I was at the end? She knew my sister but she didn’t know me. She’d point at my sister and say, “Joan.” Then she’d point at herself and say, “Shirley.” And then she’d look at me with a blank look on her face. Sad, sad, sad. So sad.

I’ve been dreading today for months, because I knew how painful a day it would be. And yes, I know next year will be easier, and the one after that even easier.  But today is a tough day for me. A day of sweet memories and bitter regrets.

I loved my Mom, and all I want is to tell her about her new great granddaughter, the recent terrific book I read that she’d love, too, and then hear about her bridge club friends and how miserable the weather is in Cleveland in February.

I can’t do that in person, but I’m thinking about her today, and I miss her.  I miss her a lot.


6 Responses

  1. Oh, I hesitated before reading this now because I knew it would make me teary.
    In the last 3 years, I’ve lost my father, swiftly, to Motor Neurone disease (Lou Gehrig’s Disease, you call it) and my beloved stepmother, dad’s wife and best friend, just months ago, entirely unexpectedly and way too young.
    What I’ve realised is, we never ever know when can be the last time for anything, and the only way we can deal with this is to seize happiness and make bright and enduring memories for all we’re worth. It sounds to me like your mother did this every day of her life.
    The first year is full of painful and important milestones. And now our challenge is to find a way into those memories and once there, to let them comfort us and make us smile and laugh. The path in does get clearer and easier with time.

    • Thank you, Julie. And you’re right – my mom did make those memories and she did seize happiness. She was the happiest, most upbeat and optimistic person I ever knew. I knew this would be a tough year,and I’m slowly working my way through it. I know my mom held me as dearly as I held her. Bless her soul…wherever it lies.

  2. I didn’t read this til the 24th, and I hope today was a better day.

  3. It was a much better day, Ellen, thank you. I knew yesterday was going to be bad, and I’m glad to have it behind me.


  4. Terry
    Such a lovely post, they always are. I am usually glad to say good bye to Feb in New England because it is the depth of winter and spring seems so far away. March has come and although the sun is shining longer and there is some (minimal melting), I did not experience my normal pick up in March. Finally today, on March 4th, I acknowledged what had been bothering me. My sister died on March 24th, 2010 so I too have a hard day coming. Thanks for your post, it helps me more than you know.


    • I can’t imagine losing my sister, Ann. The very thought chills me. You have a very hard day coming up. I’ll be thinking of you. Please take care of yourself.


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