She gave to me everything she had and more, but nothing as powerful as unconditional love.
I picked The Dudes up at school yesterday. They climbed into the back of the car, the Tall Dude pulling out his book and the Little Dude saying, Hey, Mama…I love you. His shaggy blond bangs partly concealed his beautiful robin’s egg blue eyes. Eyes just like my Dad’s. Clear, gentle but spirited, playful. He started to change into his soccer cleats. I sorted through our schedule out loud – early dinner at Whole Foods, off to soccer, then drive over the hill to home. We’ll get there late but school’s almost over so let’s suck it up. Then I remembered about the video.
I spoke with my oldest brother earlier in the day. My Mom was spending most of the day sleeping. She couldn’t speak above a whisper, only a couple words would make their way out. The last few days had been much of the same. Except for Friday. My Mom is a stickler for keeping commitments – shocker, right? Well, she had promised M that she would celebrate his 75th birthday with a lobster dinner. Because that’s what people do when their bodies are literally flooded with cancer. Order up lobster and champagne. On the heals of throwing a 90th birthday party.
(Note to those bringing birthday cakes with lit candles to people on oxygen: Have someone else blow out the candles. My Mom was almost the lead story on CNN on the night of her birthday. Good to know that one of eight kids paid attention in science class. I don’t even know if it’s chemistry or alchemy…but I do know oxygen and flames don’t mix. I just didn’t have the reflexes that day. Hey. Give me props. I knew it wasn’t geology.)
She bought M 75 roses. A beautiful round cake covered in more roses was brought into her room. My brother Facetimed me from her iPad. I watched her sip down a glass of champagne through a straw. My other brother (it’s as if I have a never ending supply, right?) said, Do you hear that? She’s at the bottom but going for more! That sound she always told us not to make with a straw was barely perceptible. I knew she was looking at me, but I couldn’t hear her say, I love you.
I felt it.
That was the last time I saw her alive. The most perfect way to have my visual goodbye.
After champagne and blowing out the candles (safely this time) she fell into a deep sleep. Those that gathered for the party left her room and eventually decided to postpone the lobster for another time. M left to have dinner out with his family. My sibs remained at her side. A while later she opened her eyes. Another brother offered her some soup.
I want lobster, she said.
The brothers sprung into action like Swedish Jackie Chans. (I’m sure the sisters did, too, but with less of a roundhouse kick.) Phone calls went out: She’s up and wants lobster! Get back here!
M had just been served at a restaurant. He took a few bites, had the rest packed up and off he went, back to Mom’s. U-turns all over New Jersey. Back to Mom-mecca. Or Mecca Mom.
Honestly, she could have said, Tear down this house and rebuild it with only your toes! and everyone would have launched into the task with total confidence and commitment to deliver on her request. Why? Because that’s what she did for us every day of her life. Without ever complaining or being selfish or overwhelmed or dramatic. She was super reliable Mom.
She got her lobster dinner. And M got a birthday that he will never, ever forget. None of us will.
The next day she slept. I didn’t want to wake her with my voice. When she opened her eyes the sibs would tell her that I love her. And that I’m laying there with her even though I am here.
She was starting to get uncomfortable. A little agitated, restless. My brother called me on Monday and gave me the update. She was sleeping at the time. I told him I would pick The Dudes up from school and shoot a video for her to see when she woke up.
We squeezed our three heads into the frame and told her how much we love her. And then the Little Dude said with absolute certainty, Poppy’s waiting for you, Nana B. I sent the video off to her email address where my brother retrieved it. I don’t know if she ever got to see it.
Later that night (June 2nd) my brother called. He asked if I wanted to say something to her. She was having a hard time breathing. I hadn’t wanted to disturb her because she would be uncomfortable when awake, but I could tell from his voice that I needed to take advantage of the opportunity now. This is what I said:
I love you, Mom. We are with you. The Little Dude told me today that Poppy is waiting for you. It’s okay to go. He’s going to take your hand. Thank you so much for being my Mom. I love you so much.
Fifteen minutes later she died.
I sat outside in the midst of early season fog. A ship’s horn blew. Then quiet. Then again. No tears fell. Today they do. But not last night. Not when I heard the words. Or looked at the picture of her hanging on my wall. That’s because today’s tears are for me. And last night’s peaceful feeling was for her. She’s being rewarded for a life of hard work, selfless commitment, honesty, loyalty, integrity. She’s being rewarded for being an optimist, for realizing that in spite of the challenges of life we are SO blessed to be alive. She never wasted a moment here. She never led with her Ego. She loved fully. She was authentic. Present. Real.
My rock. My love. My Mom. I will miss her.
I cannot express in words how grateful I am that she was with me from the Pocket Call till now. She read every word that I wrote and every word that you wrote. Many times over. I moved away from her three years ago but got closer to her in every other way. She supported me in a way I may never experience again. Just absolute unconditional love and support. ALWAYS there for me. She made me feel so safe. And now I have these comments, and others, to reflect back on forever. Thank you, kittens, for making her feel that I will always be in good hands. She loved you all.
As I repeatedly say, “Life is not complicated until we complicate it ourselves”!! So, there! I think on that note I will go take a nap. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t still be trying to keep your path back to your Creator safe and happy. Happy people are those who look within themselves and feel a great deal of respect and love for themselves. If we can’t honestly do that then being truly happy is not happening.
“It’s easy to lie. Or so our minds would like us to believe. But it’s not without consequence, even if it’s never discovered, ESPECIALLY if the lie is never discovered”!!! CLEO, WE JUST DETERMINED THAT THE TRUTH WILL
A L W A Y S OUT!!! I loved the post but remember the lesson; THE TRUTH WILL A L W A Y S OUT !!! The lie WILL be discovered! It never fails!! THAT is why we might just as well tell the truth!! If we should find that a lie has escaped our lips , grab it, right as it comes out of our mouth and push it back in by saying, “I’m sorry. I am afraid I didn’t respond honestly. What I mean to say is …”.
Love you, Cleo – AND THAT IS THE TRUTH!!!
Thanks, Cleo, for another fabulous chapter on your progress – not just for you but for all who heed your gentle suggestions. Some go through life as teachers – others as perpetual students – and I do believe most of us do both. I am not a “young” adult – I am probably forty-two years your senior – but I, too, am learning so much from your writings. You have me teary one minute and giggly the next.
Thanks for taking so much time to share what is, without question, the biggest disappointment in life – betrayal by someone – husband – we truly looked up to (Thus the pedestal feeling) as our lover, protector, father of our children and someone with whom we were vowed to share for the rest of our lives!!
With love and a super abundance of respect for you.
What an amazing group of Kittens have joined your invitation to comment. I was going to single out Stephanie – and I do think she has a mind that works like a fine Swiss watch -and the more I read the more I discovered how gifted they all are. I feel like a soul looking from the outside in because I have never experienced such hurt. I sincerely believe my generation was a kinder more gentle group. We thought before we spoke. Most of us had a very active conscience because we listened to it always.
Anyway, you are an amazing support for each other, keeping the focus on helping each other cope and heal. Nothing can top that.
Cleo, be a good listener, think positive thoughts and go to that therapy session knowing you have given your best and whatever comes of it, find some good. Stick to your boundaries. Your boys happiness is a priority. Their father couldn’t see anything but himself and his ego back when he was leading that double life – before discovery. Now whether he has matured or not, it is still the boys who deserve to be happy, healthy and joyful. The father can fend for himself.
Keep up your beautiful work. Cherish every day and thank God for His gifts every night.