Early this afternoon, I walked in to the house where I grew up to visit my mother. She is a shadow of her old, “larger than life” self in this old house, where every knick knack is filled with memories. Her legs and arms are like bent toothpicks as she curls up in an oversized, comfy chair with my niece, who warms her body like a blanket.
“Your hair looks beautiful today,” my mother tells me when I walk in.
My sister in law, her sister, my husband and my niece go Silent. Everyone looks at me. WHAT?
Everyone knows my mom has not exactly been free and easy with the hair compliments, and I had not washed my hair in two days.
“Wow, you really must be dying,” I tell her. “Or are you just trying to make amends for when you said my hair made me look like a bleached out old whore? Because if you are, I’m not sure you can undo that one.”
“I’m just telling you the truth. Your hair looks beautiful today. I always tell you the truth, you know that.”
And yes, my mother does not lie. It’s her signature. Actually, it’s not exactly the “truth” necessarily… usually it’s just her honest opinion, said bluntly and without any tact whatsoever. But because she is dying, let’s just go with that she always speaks the truth.
Recently, my mother told us one of those hard truths, with her usual bluntness and honesty. She decided to stop treatment for her MDS, or Myelodysplasia a blood disease for which there is no cure. Simplified, for her it means that her body kills off its own platelets. This was not only requiring her to get blood transfusions every few days, but not giving her much relief any more.
My mother told us she is done, ready, the sooner the better. She reminds us that she has had a good life, that she is so proud of her children and grandchildren, and reminds us again and again that no one will say at her funeral, “tsssk, what a shame…so young.” I am quite sure she thought of that before Joan Rivers.
Like the young woman from Oregon who recently decided to terminate her life before her brain cancer took away her ability to recognize her husband, my mother is hoping that she will die before we are not able to recognize the old Marlene. I respect that decision. I believe in death with dignity. Still, it is hard, and most especially for her grandchildren.
Because the old Marlene was, and still is, pretty amazing. Always the feisty one, the strong one, the fiercely independent one, the totally controlling, family matriarch. The old Marlene could plan a wedding with 5 phone calls. The old Marlene could prepare a dinner for 15 with 15 minutes notice. The old Marlene could make a break the fast for 50, and did so just a month ago. The old Marlene could feed an army for a month with just the food in her freezer. The old Marlene was part doctor, part lawyer, part rabbi, part soothsayer, complete and perfect grandmother.
And if she says it’s time, then it’s time.
My mother is the cement that brought our extended family together. Actually, she is more like the cement truck, big and strong and in constant motion, providing the cement to where ever it is needed most. No one can imagine what it will be like when she is gone, but one thing we know for sure is that none of us will ever taste a chicken soup like hers.
“Just so you know,” my mom tells me before I leave for the evening. “I hate your boots; the truth is they’re horrible.“
“Mom, that’s just your opinion. I love my Frye boots! Everyone loves my Frye boots. People compliment them all the time.”
“You don’t love boots,” she reprimanded. “You love me; you like your boots. You shouldn’t love things, only people.”
“Yes, I love you….but, I really love these boots too.”
“Well they are terrible. Who else other than your mother will ever tell you the absolute truth?”
“No one, mom. Just you.”
I think I will actually miss these conversations.
Besides, she said my hair looked beautiful.