As soon as they learned of Mom’s illness, Tucker and Lisa booked a flight to Philadelphia for Martin Luther King weekend. After her own stay, however, Casey worried that Mom might not last that long and urged her brother to squeeze in an earlier visit.
While Mom knew Tucker was there, she slept most of the time. We felt badly since he’d flown in for the night, would head back to Boston on Wednesday, then return Friday with Paul and Lisa. But Tucker had steeled himself to see Mom in misery and was relieved when she seemed peaceful and comfortable.
We all looked forward to Tucker’s return with his wife and Paul. Mom was eager to see her great-grandson, but didn’t want whatever hazy memories a two-year-old might retain of her to be that of sick-Greemie.
Who could have foreseen a child’s perspective of Muirfield?
For a toddler, the facility offered long carpeted hallways perfect for racing. It was furnished with comfy chairs ideal for climbing and forts. It contained mammoth desks tailor-made for hide and seek. And there were innumerable, kind grown-ups who, delighted by the diversion of an adorable, happy child, provided markers and paper, balloons and pipe-cleaners. For Mom, it was joy enough when Paul stood at her bedside to show her his dump truck or the drawing he’d made.
And while the rest of us remained ignorant of the news for several months more, Tucker and Lisa quietly told Mom they were expecting another child in October.
* * *
Amazingly, Mom continues to look great. Her head rests on her favorite baby pillow, and occasionally she forgets to put on her headband; I love it when she does. Her silver hair falls softly around her face and her expression is relaxed and pleasant. She says she feels totally with it, just weak, but she acts like she’s high. When she speaks, sometimes she takes off on rambling, nonsensical tangents. We listen intently for insights into her frame of mind or meaningful memories. Often she’ll catch herself, pause, and grin, saying, “I don’t think that makes sense, so I’ll stop there.”
Several times, she has realized her hands are clasped on her stomach. Immediately, she drops them to her sides and says, “I better not do that; it looks like I’m praying,” and we burst out laughing. My mother is not a religious person. At all. When in the past she yearned for heavenly intervention, she called on her parents for help… and so far, they have been successful in their vigilance.
One afternoon, Rita asked Mom what she would like covered in her obituary. As she thought it over, Mom caught herself “praying” again, and we launched into a mock write-up. “Mimi, known for her knowledge of scripture and given to quoting it.” Or, “Mimi tried to squeeze in the occasional bridge game between the Bible studies she held regularly at her lovely home.” Oh, the relief in that gasping laughter!
Recently, after the girls and my brother-in-law, Matt, headed home for the evening, I turned off the lights and leaned over to give Mom a kiss. “This is exactly what I didn’t want, “ she said, her voice distressed and fretful in the dark. “… To linger on and be a burden…”
I laid my head on the pillow next to hers and stretched my arm across her chest. In tears, I said, “Oh Mom. We’re so grateful you’re still here! We don’t want you to suffer, but this time is a gift to us and your friends. It has given everyone a chance to check in and let you know what you mean to them.”
“It has been good,” she said. “All the cards and flowers and calls. Friends coming in even if it was inconvenient.”
An inconvenience. That is so Mom. The outpouring of love and admiration has been a revelation to her. Dad was a big presence, and while Mom is stronger than he was in some ways – he acknowledged this in her nickname, The High Command – she always felt she played a supporting role. She’d hoped for a quick exit, but these weeks in Muirfield have allowed lifelong friends to fly in from Florida and drive from New Jersey, cousins to fly from St. Louis, as well as nieces from California, D.C., and Massachusetts. Her sisters-in-law have visited regularly, as have friends who live in the area. If anything, we three girls act as gate-keepers to make sure Mom doesn’t get overtired.
Almost every day, new deliveries arrive to take the place of the forlorn wilted flowers sitting on the floor by the door awaiting removal. Flamingos, blossoms, bear hugs, and yellow chicks in sunglasses cavort on the cards that line the windowsill.
Many are hopeful get-well cards; others know better and cloak their good-byes with funny reminiscences or loving words about the role Mom played in their lives. Her friend Kingie wrote, “I will miss you so terribly much… until I see you again.” My godmother, Aunt Patty, recalled their time together in Germany in 1951 as young brides of soldiers stationed overseas, and closed her note with, “Fun! Fun! Fun! And when we are together again, it will be fun forever!”