A letter to my mother as she lay dying

By | Tuesday, November 08, 2022 1 comment


My mother with a friend's dog, Harry

Dear Mom,

There are so many things that I want to tell you, but I can’t make it through telling you these things in person. So, I have written them down and asked your caregiver to read this to you.

I wanted to tell you how much I love you. How terribly important you have been to me throughout my life. How much of you is in me. How much you have made me who I am. I am the child of both you and dad, but I wanted to make sure that you know how much I cherish those aspects of myself which came from you. More than anything the kindness and caring, but also your love of knowledge, your breadth of interests, and your sense of humor, subtle and ironic.

Did you know that for me, every dinner was a conversation about nurturing and love? That I had watched the hours of effort you put in and the stress you endured when dad was on his way home amid the rush to get dinner ready on time. His entrance demanding, “when’s dinner!” was made all the more painful because I had been watching you working. I was sitting in the kitchen, watching TV, but you were at the stove just beyond the TV, so I was watching you too. This was a conversation in which dad did not participate, spoken in a language which he did not appear to understand. He sat down at the dinner table, ate, and then left. The love and nurturing were between us. Of course, I didn’t understand this ‘till many years later. It was only in my late 20’s that I began to figure this out, and later still that I felt I understood how food represented to me love, caring, and compassion.

For my whole life I have never understood the word “milquetoast” (a timid or feeble person), because to me, “milk toast” was one of the things that you gave to someone you cared about when they were sick. Milk toast, bananas, apple sauce, and love. So too I find the term “mamas’ boy” absurd, defined as “a boy or man who is excessively influenced by or attached to his mother.” How could being attached to or influenced by one’s mother ever be excessive.

I remember tiny little things from growing up. I remember you at the kitchen sink, doing dishes, and then hitting Spot on the back with a fork when he bit Seymour for stealing his food. I remember you closing the window at the bottom of the stairs at the house on North Street, telling me that if cold air blew over your chest you would get a cold. I remember that you could never get a blueberry pie to set up, so you called it “blueberry pie soup.” I remember lying on the couch in the living room at North Street after coming home from school with what turned out to be a fractured arm, and the concerned look on your face when I slept through that whole day.

I remember losing my shoe in mud on a beach in Canada, and you trying to wash me off in water that turned out to be electric due to a downed power cable. I remember stepping into an elevator, thinking that you were behind me, only to discover when the doors had closed that I was alone.

I remember gerbils in terrariums in the room between the kitchen and the garage. I remember hatching chickens in an incubator in the kitchen. I remember taking your wristwatch apart, but not being able to put it back together. You didn’t scold me. I remember you driving me and some other kids to day-camp. I remember making paintings by blowing paint over sheets of paper with straws.

I remember you letting me stay home from school when I was “sick”, even though I was clearly faking it. I remember going with you to the Cambridge Center for Adult Education – you took classes in paper sculpture, and flower arranging, and stained glass, and jewelry making, and mosaics. I remember talking you into buying things for me: a block of balsa wood at Ken-Kay-Krafts, and endless bottles of Testor’s paints for model cars and planes; cactus and other plants that ultimately you had to take care of; raspberry-lime rickeys from Brigham’s. I remember you buying me marbles and maple syrup candy somewhere – maybe it was the Salem Witch House?

I remember watching the first moon landing from your and dad’s bed. And Thalassa Cruso’s Making Things Grow, and The Galloping Gourmet too. I remember watching endless hours of cartoons in the kitchen while you made dinner at night, or breakfast on Sunday morning.

I remember a piece of cardboard with coins taped onto it which you used to teach us about money. I remember you typing my school papers for me because I had left my assignment till the last minute and didn’t have time to type it myself. I remember dad complaining that you walked too slowly and having to choose between keeping up with him or hanging back to walk with you.

I remember calling you from the bed in my hospital room after my heart-attack - asking you to come out to be with me, even though I knew you hated travel.

I remember shopping trips to the kitchen supply store on Newbury Street, and Mass Hardware, and I remember hiding in the middle of the round racks of clothing at Jordan Marsh while you shopped. I remember your driving what seemed at the time to be a ridiculous distance to Waltham to buy bread, or to get pizza at the really good place that was worth the long drive.

I remember the vegetable garden on the far side of the garage at North Street. I remember somewhere getting the plant growth hormone called gibberellic acid. I wanted to see what would happen if I injected it into plants instead of putting it on the leaves as you were supposed to do. For some reason you let me try it. I remember making Halloween costumes from sheets, and carving pumpkins – wondering if some day my pumpkins would come out as well as yours (they never have.)

I remember you bathing me in the bathtub in the new bathroom at North Street after the renovation, and I remember the old, long bathroom from before the renovation. I feel like I remember the changing table in that old bathroom, but I am sure that must be a false memory. Was the room light yellow? Was there a window at the end of the room? Were there sheer curtains with embroidered flowers on them? That is how I remember it, but it is likely to be something part remembered, and part imagined.

I have travelled an unorthodox path through my life; taking years to get through college, not marrying nor having children, leaving my career at its peak to go off and have fun. But I hope that I have made you proud. I hope that I didn’t cause you too much grief along the way.

You said to me recently that you don’t want to be an “inconvenience” or a “bother”. You took care of me my entire life. That is something that I can never repay, nor do I want to repay it. This is not about reciprocity. This is about love. There is no inconvenience. There is no bother. My only wish is that you be as comfortable as possible.

I want you to live forever, but no one does, and “death comes to us all.” I want you to know that I understand. That you did everything you were supposed to do, and you did it so well. I understand that you have to leave.

I want you to know that you should feel completely free stay as long as you want, but also to leave whenever you need to, whenever you want to. I will cry for a long time, but that too is inevitable – that is the inevitable consequence of your being such a great mother, such a great person, and such a deeply caring caregiver to me all of my life. You have done everything necessary to make me the man that I am today, able to stand on my own, able to care for you now, and able to survive after you are gone. Please stay, if you want to stay, but don’t stay because of me. Go when you are ready. There is nothing you need to worry about. Erica and I will take care of everything.

And I will always love you.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Andrew and Erica, I am saddened to learn of your Mother’s passing. Although I only knew her briefly , (before you moved her to California) I felt her specialness. She was warm and interested and offered her knowledge of certain flowering plants to me. Like a familiar and beloved Aunt. I am sorry I missed her funeral but my husband had Covid at that time. I wish you both well. What an unforgettable letter. I think of my Mother every day. She is my guiding light. I know the same will be true for you. Sending admiration of your Mother. ilene solomon


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