As a child I had a morbid fear of my mother’s dying. It wasn’t that I feared she was in danger of imminent death, but that her death was inevitable and it would inevitably wreck me. I was correct on one count; it was inevitable. She died three years ago at age 93.
“If you want things done right, you better do it yourself,” she said as often as necessary, and it was necessary often. Her doilies with their gazillion loops and knots, god forbid if ever she needled a two instead of three count. Everything would get unravelled. Maybe her dying, which was protracted in a way that astonished the hospice workers but not her children, was her way of getting it right.
“Hello, Idaloo,” I’d say to the skeletal face.
Her eyes would open one more time. “Hello, Richy dear. “ My sister Mary opined that I was not very respectful calling her Idaloo. “I give it to him right back,” my mother said.
One morning, finally, there it was. Her breathing stopped. We surrounded the bed, singing her onward. Francine started, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are gray.” We all joined in, voices quaking. Mom opened her eyes and began croaking along, and lived some more.
By the time she died we were happy for her release but there was a moment standing over the casket in the vast godforsaken emptiness of a western Kansas cemetery when the boy returned, the trembling boy abandoned. Dropping dirt on the casket was desolation coming to stay. We left the cemetery and had lunch in the church basement. The ladies of the Altar Society served food, as she herself had done countless times for others. Nobody was particularly desolate or even sentimental, which would be just the way she wanted it.
Since her death I’ve missed her hardly at all, but maybe because it’s near the anniversary she has appeared in my dreams. She is frail and distraught, mopping the floor, determined to stay on her feet, knowing that if she stopped moving, it would be the end. She breaks into tears, something I don’t remember her ever doing.
I wake into grief, an inverted grief that instead of lessening as time passes, deepens.
The autumnal dawn. Mortality breathes us into wakefulness. The patio is covered in fallen apple leaves where yesterday there were only a few. There was no wind. Something that only trees sense happened in the night and there was a rush of leaves falling. The apples still hanging on the tree are the smaller ones, little pockets of flavor that increase in preciousness as they become fewer.