We had just sat down for an early dinner at MACELLAIO’S after the overnight flight from Bermuda to London when I saw that my brother had emailed me. The complete text wouldn’t download properly, but my husband and I half expected that Richard was just checking that we had arrived safely. Or was calling to say hello as he has done every week of my life since about the time I was 18. It is a caring and lovely gesture from a patriarchal sort of man whose loyalty and love run deep but remain, outwardly, subtly expressed.
An hour later I was at the flat and on my computer reading the rest of my brother’s message. I stopped breathing.
‘DAL’S…..Ma’s in the hospital. Maybe a stroke. Waiting now….”
My mother looks 10 years younger than she is and has never had a medical problem to speak of in her whole life, short of 4 pregnancies and a gallstone attack. She is pretty and feminine and has a lovely figure. She is modest and shy and quiet. She is a real lady in every sense of the word. Strong too, like her namesake, Helen of Troy. And a completely selfless Mom. My beautiful father, gone 12 years now, is missed by her everyday. She was crazy about him. “He should be here enjoying all the things he gave us,” my Mom will always say when her children -we four grown kids- are all together in the family homes in Florida and Cape Cod celebrating happy occasions, like Christmas, without him.
I feel exactly the same way. And I, too, miss him every day. But I feel worst for her. The musician Luther Vandross captured our communal heartbreak in his song, “Dance with my Father Again.” One time, just after Daddy passed, while I was in the car listening to the radio, that song came on. I collapsed in tears and had to pull over to the side of the road on Route 128. I frantically called my younger brother, Michael. “Oh, oh” I croaked through thick sobs. “What?!!!” He almost screamed into the phone. “I’ve been listening to that song….” I managed to say, but could not finish the sentence. “Dance With My Father Again,” he said instantly knowing what I was referring to. “Turn it off,” he commanded. “You cannot listen to that.” He was right. And over a decade later I still can’t. Even reading the lyrics is too sad.
“Sometimes I’d listen outside her door. And I’d hear how mama would cry for him. I’d pray for her even more than me…..I know I’m praying for much too much. But could you send her The only man she loved? I know you don’t do it usually. But Dear Lord, She’s dying to dance with my father again.”
Oh God, Now I’ve caught sight of a second, more recent email from Richard. I hold my breathe again.‘Oh please,’ I say out loud. ‘No, No No’ I plead …to God,’ I think.
“Seems to b doing better. Did Cat and now doing MRI. I’ll keep u posted.”
I exhale. Thank You. I eventually speak to her. “Can you believe this has happened?” She says to me. ‘Well ya,’ I think. Then again, ‘not really.’ She is my constant. Always been there; will always be.
Mommie walks Lola, her dog, every day. Plays golf on Tuesdays in the summer. Gardens. Reads more books in a month than I do in a year. Travels down to see her older sister an hour away each week. And flies to visit me twice a year. It is part of the deal she struck with my husband after Daddy passed and before I married, something she wasn’t in favor of at the beginning as it would involve me moving from the U.S. to the U.K. Another loss for her she must have thought.
Confronting her refusal to happily accept my engagement I said, “Mommie I think you just want me to live with you for the rest of your life?” She never answered me but I knew I was right. I was never mad at her though. It is better to be loved too much than too little. My husband, who is the epitome of English charm and a broker by trade negotiated an emotional pact with her whereby he promised to send me to my mother for visits every single month. She adores him now and always bakes special brownies and gorgeous poached eggs on Bays English Muffins for him whenever he visits.
I have always predicted, or hoped that I’d be making my monthly sojourns to her until she was at least 100. I still hope to do so despite this week’s medical events. But it does shake you up.
“What do you want after you go,” I had recently asked her before this hospitalization happened. “I don’t want to be buried in the ground,” she said with a shudder. Cremation? “Oh, I don’t want to be burned either.” ‘Okay, Mom, we are running out of options here,’ I teased. Don’t you want to be next to Daddy forever? I asked. “Oh, yes,” she reconsidered. “Maybe you could just slip me in beside him.’ So sweet. So loving. And so marvellously her.