The Last Thing to Go
© By Jack Bogut
As her long life was coming to an end, the last part of our Mother’s personality to depart was her sense of humor. You would never have known it to look at her. The small figure that had loomed so large in the face of the obstacles challenging a single mother of three children was now shrunken into a fetal semi-circle.
We knew her spirit was in there but beginning to flicker and dim with only the faintest of shudders. We also knew the small movements of her body were not resistance to leaving, but efforts to move on and away to what she was convinced, being a woman of deep faith, was the best place of all and her final reward for a hard life well lived.
Mom was so proud of all of us, that we had married well, given her loving grandchildren and great grandchildren, and that we had all been successful in our given careers. But even when we were no longer a worry and she could relax, life kept throwing bricks at her windows.
One of her greatest joys was her car. She loved to drive her less mobile friends to the store or to church or out of town to see the animals and marvel at the mountains. But when she could no longer drive without putting herself or others at risk, we had to take her car away. We did it as gently and kindly as possible, telling her that we understood what a radical change in her life this would be, and she said she understood, but the sadness in her face and eyes spoke of a knowledge that some of the open doors in her life were beginning to close, never to open again, and her world was shrinking. Even so,
“Growing older isn’t for sissies,” she would say.
When Mom was no longer able to live independently and safely in her apartment, we helped her move to an assisted living center. Instead of getting rid of most of her belongings, we put them in storage because she was convinced she would need them again. We knew better but didn’t say so.
Then it was a nursing home as her mobility was implied more than real, and her world continued to shrink until we moved Mom out of her home town and hundreds of miles to where she could be close to my Brother and Sister.
She was now, both physically and mentally, in unfamiliar territory. When she looked outside or was taken for a ride, nothing was familiar. As time went on, nostalgia took over more and more of her awareness and we all tried hard to remember with her. It was somewhat worrisome for us, but we took comfort in knowing that Mom was not depressed or despondent, just impatient. She knew she was loved deeply and appreciated by all of us and all who knew her. She had expressed her love and gratitude many times and said her goodbyes to all of us, but she knew the end of her life was in sight and simply wanted to, “Go home.”
In the meantime, her sense of humor continued to endear her to residents and staff. There was one male nurse who was particularly good with Mom who greeted her with,
“Hey, sweetheart, how are you doing?”
Even though she had to be lifted in and out of bed, she responded with,
“Much better now that you’re here.”
“Well then, how about a kiss?”
“Okay, but that’s all you’ll get.”
And then they’d both laugh and the moment was golden.
All of us shared that moment over and over again when we visited and marveled at the strengthening power of kindness and humor.
There were also other moments not so easy. More than one time we sat holding her hands and touching her arms as she struggled with consciousness and about to leave us, but the fire that sustained Mom and had reared us refused to go out.
And now, here we were on her ninety fifth birthday, sitting in a church service in her nursing home, singing hymns and taking communion and saying amens.
When the service ended, we and a few of her favorite caretakers moved to a small party room to celebrate. I was sitting next to Mom with my arm around her shoulder and, because she could not feed herself, held a cup of coffee to her lips.
“Do you know what’s going on?” I said in a voice loud enough for the rest to hear.
She whispered, “We’re having coffee.”
We’re celebrating someone’s birthday.”
“Really?” She looked around the room at everyone nodding.
“Yes. Someone is ninety five years old today.”
“That’s awfully old,” she said, wrinkling her nose.
“See that bouquet of flowers? There are ninety five roses in it.”
“Did you put water in the vase?”
“Yes I did. And there’s a birthday cake.”
“Not with ninety five candles,” she said. “That might set off the sprinklers.”
“No, just one big candle. And do you know whose birthday it is?”
She shook her head.
Without hesitating she said,
I spilled coffee.
The room erupted in laughter.
And, with a flickering twinkle in her eyes, Mom just smiled.
Even after all this time, the laughter still echoes…