Reading with my mother, 1979.
My mother never lived to see any of her grandchildren. Each year as Mother’s Day rolls around, I’m reminded again of this fact. She died in the month of May when many of her own children were still young, surrounded by family in the living room of our home.
I remember visiting the Christmas before the cancer diagnosis. She said she had heartburn that wouldn’t stop. When she and my father drove me to the station for my return to San Francisco, I remember the heartburn was so bad that she paced around the waiting area trying to get the pain to subside. I remember my dad stopped her at one point to brush some lint from her jacket, and then kissed her. This is one of the images of their marriage I always remember.
Two months later she called me to let me know that a second opinion had revealed that the heartburn wasn’t acid reflux. It was terminal esophageal cancer. I was already slated for a pilgrimage to Europe and she urged me to go and pray for her along the way. I flew directly back from the pilgrimage to Vermont. By this time she was in hospice care at home.
I remember helping shift her in her bed, helping her get up to walk around. The pain medication made everything confusing. She thought I was a doctor or a nurse at one point. She thought she was in the hospital giving birth, and asked me if the baby was okay. I told her he was. My father put his arm around her and helped her to the bathroom. This is another image from my parents’ marriage that I will always remember.
She died with relics of her favorite saints in the room: Padre Pio and Faustina. The priest came and anointed her just before she died.
I remember feeling guilty when on same day that she died we siblings talked about our memories of our mother, and we laughed about how funny she could be. Then I remembered how much she liked to laugh; a great, loud, hearty laugh.
I remember how she loved to read to us. How she would read Dickens and Wodehouse and Tolkien and the Hardy Boys. The voices she performed to identify each character would sometimes get mixed up, and she would laugh until she got tears in her eyes at the silliness.
I remember that one of the sayings she had put up to display at home was G. K. Chesterton’s “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” When I delivered her eulogy, I quoted it.
She has twelve grandchildren now, lively little boys and girls living around the country. The other day I listened from the other room as my six-year-old daughter read aloud to her brothers. She got to the silly part and gave a great, loud, hearty laugh.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. We miss you.