Monday, August 08, 2016

Leavetakings - July 2016

July 2016 was a month of leavetakings, the happy and the sad.

We had long encouraged our daughter to move out, but we tried not to nag about it too much. She's 35 and really should be out on her own. Suddenly in June, she said she was starting to look for a place. It turns out she had a good reason for her long delay - she wanted to save at least a year's worth of rent before moving out. Leslie found an apartment that was even closer to her work than we are. So by July 8, she had moved out. She has us out to her place every Sunday night for dinner. So this was a happy leavetaking as we were all ready for her to be out on her own.

And then my mother died on Tuesday, July 26.

This was not unexpected. She was 86, had had breast cancer twice over the last few years, and was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer in February. Mom was an extraordinarily anxious person but took this news with equanimity. Not to say she was never anxious about anything in the intervening months. She had had a stillbirth in about 1961 and had some overpowering episodes of guilt over it this year. It was strange because she'd talked about her miscarriages (she had 3 before me) and the stillbirth pretty matter-of-factly while I was growing up. She talked some to the ministers at her church about it and she wrote a short poem about the baby and had it put in her casket.

My mother had a lot of support over the last few months, from our family (especially my brother Terry and sister-in-law Jess with whom Mom lived), from Jewish Home Hospice, and from the ministers at the First Congregational Church in West Boylston, particularly Steven Small and Chip Hurd. She was able to die at home which had been her hope.

Mom was really the first person I was very close to who's died, which seems like an odd thing to say when you're almost 60. While we visited our grandparents and other older relatives while I was growing up (and even lived with her parents for a few months when I was around three), I really never felt that close to them. But I lived with Mom for 18 years and while we fought we were close. We talked a lot about everything. We were both non-crafty, loved to read and write and really enjoyed food especially really sharp cheddar cheese and chocolate. We preferred comfortable clothes (though when Mom was young, she was thin and dressed more glamorously). We had kind of a morbid sense of humor and sarcasm (though Dad is still very much like that). I last saw her about three weeks before her death and she would still joke "I'm still here..."

She had a few scary health episodes this year, particularly in the last two months of her life. She got a little cold in late May, at a time when Jim and I and my brother Jeff were en route for a planned visit. When we got there she was having trouble breathing and was using a nebulizer. But she rallied; the next day she was feeling better. However, she was then pretty much bed-bound for the rest of her life. I was up visiting in early July and came over to find her napping but breathing very shallowly. Her aide was concerned about that too. But about a half hour later, she gradually woke up, and after about 10 minutes, she became quite alert and we had a wonderful talk. In doing some cleaning, I'd found a trunk of hers we'd been looking for for years. It had a lot of fascinating old family stuff in it, including some photos of her I'd never seen, her stepmother's nursing certificates and a hooked hanging, trim from her grandmother's wedding gown and her father's baby cap. I was so glad to show her a few things that afternoon.

Which turned out to be the last time I ever spoke to her.

Mom had written her own obituary and planned her funeral, so we didn't have to do very much other then be there.

The funeral was on Saturday, July 30. It was a very hot day in Central Massachusetts. Chip, the associate minister, led most of the service, but Steven, the longtime minister, came down from his vacation in New Hampshire to participate as well. Over 200 people came. She had a simple and musical service. While she didn't want a eulogy, Chip gave her a very warm and mostly accurate one (though did skip over her sarcasm, but that had toned down a bit over the last few months).

She was interred in her family's plot in Vermont the following Monday. It was cool and sprinkling early. Her cousins were there, and some of their children, and a few of us had breakfast at her favorite place, the Miss Lyndonville Diner. But it started to rain torentially just before the service. I felt sorry for Steven who wore a full ministerial gown that morning and was drenched despite the tent over the gravesite. She was buried beside her father (whom she outlived by nearly 50 years), mother (outlived by 77 years), step-mother (outlived by nearly 25 years) and other relatives.

We were a little lucky that she died when she did. Despite having bone cancer, she didn't have much pain until the last few weeks. On top of her other health problems, she'd had a very gradual dementia over the last 10 years or so. But she never forgot her family, or close friends, her past, or that she'd lived a pretty interesting life for the classic '50s woman. And I'm glad about that.