The anniversary of my dad's death is coming up - April 15, 1997.
Our family has a history of symmetry. On my parent's wedding anniversary, September 20, 1962, my Grandmother passed away. Their wedding photo came crashing down from the wall. They never put it up again. Francis reminded me that my grandfather died on December 3, 1971. Five years later, my dad had a heart attack on December 3.
Sunday, April 8.
Arthur and I drive up to see mom. It's only been a few days but I want to see her again, hoping she still recognizes me.
I am eager to get to her room. She is resting. I sit on her bed as I did last Tuesday. “Hi Mom.” She opens her eyes. A small smile. She's a little surprised. “Hi. What are you doing here?” She sees Arthur, “There he is!” The normal things she would say.
Today, she can barely keep her eyes open. “I don’t know why I’m so tired,” she says, drifting off, her voice weak. She’s on morphine now. “What’s the matter with me?” You’re just tired, Mom. You’re just tired. Rest.
My son, his wife and their daughter visited her this morning. It’s the first time Mom’s met her one year old granddaughter. Mom has 8 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren. She enjoyed reading to the greats when she lived with me. Kevin, the oldest grandchild, told me she sat up and started to read a book to his little one, who was very curious, touching Mom Mom and Mom was waving at her. Priceless interactions.
I ask Mom if she remembers seeing Kevin. She shakes her head no. No matter. We have pictures. Crystalized moments.
In Victorian times, families would take a lock of their loved one’s hair, weave it and turn it into a locket or brooch. I decide I want a lock of mom’s grey hair. My grey hair, our grey hair. I forgot my scissors and ask the caregivers for a pair. What would they think if they knew what I wanted them for? Do people do this often?
I return to the room; Mom is resting on her side. I brush my fingers through her hair; I lift the scissors. And I stop. I realize it’s the last time I’ll be doing this. I have been cutting my mom’s hair for over 30 years. She was my model when I took my Cosmetology Boards in Philadelphia and I was 7 months pregnant.
And this will be the last time I cut it. I almost can’t do it.
Mom wakes up. “What are you doing?” I tell her I want to trim her hair. Very casual, normal. We've been doing this for years. I snip a few pieces from the back, trimming like I always did. I stop. And gently place the hair in a tissue, wrap it up, tuck it in my purse.
I leave the room for a few minutes and talk to the caregivers. One of them says, “You’re mom’s feisty!” What do you mean? “If she doesn’t want to do something, she’ll let us know!” You have no idea. Mom was never a pushover. Feisty doesn’t begin to cover it. And it delights me to hear that to the end, Mom is Mom.
While Mom sleeps, I look in her closet. I try on her jean jacket. Just like I’ve always done. Playing dress-up in Mom’s closet. I pull out a burgundy Jones New York (where she worked) wool sweater that she’s had since I was about 18. She gave me a matching navy one. Both had moth holes in them.
I look through her books, stuffed in her bookcase. Before she left her home to live with me, her living room overflowed with books. They were everywhere! Bookcases, coffee table, floor. Books were a comfort to her. Many times she told me, “When I was a little girl, I would read all the time.” In her little girl voice, she would say, “My Mommy gave me books. They kept me company."
I open the cover of one, “To Mom. Love daughter Angela. 1994” Then another one, “From Albert and Ann Marie, 2004.” “From Francis and Judy.” “From Arthur and Angela 2014.” Over and over, books from family to Mom, which I know she cherished. And what do we do with them now?
Each time I see her I’m aware it may be my last. I hold her hands and kiss her over and over and I tell her I love her. Tell her I’m glad she was my Mom. She says she loves me too.
It’s time to go. Arthur gives me a few moments alone. I stroke her hair, hold her hand. When my kids were little, I would give them “Now and later kisses” before bed. A kiss in one hand for now. A kiss in the other hand for later, when they woke up and needed one. I place a kiss in the palm of my Mom’s hand. “That’s for later.”
“I have to go. I’ll see you soon.” She waves at me. She says, “Be careful. And lock the door behind you.”