My Mom has had a difficult life. She was an only child growing up in Coney Island in the 1920’s and lived her teenage years in the Depression. Her parents were Russian/Polish Jews who came to New York to escape persecution. Her father worked in a hat factory and was constantly worried that someone was going to come take him away. I don’t know many details, but it seemed clear that her childhood was far from happy.
As a young adult, she sold my father some art books while working at Barnes and Noble and thus their romance began that led to a very happy circumstance for me—ie., I was born! During my childhood in 1950’s New Jersey, which I fondly recall as quite happy, my mother was either bouncy and vibrant to the point of occasional public embarrassment or laid out in bed with a migraine or just general low spirits. This back and forth soon found a name—manic depression (now bi-polar)— and in her later years, discussions about my mother’s health revolved around adjusting the dosage of the current drug treatment. Whether from the disease, the drugs or just her general character, it was hard to follow my mother’s train of thought, but there often was coherence behind it if you dug deep enough. And many times she astounded me with her depth of insight.
Close to 91 now, her dementia makes her coherence even more rare. Sometimes she hovers between dream and reality, telling fantastic tales where time and space are hopelessly confused. . Sometimes it involves terrible images of children being beheaded and such and I wonder if it’s a replay of some of her childhood fears and anxieties. Sometimes she just marvels at how lucky she has been in her life, appreciating every breath of fresh air or note on the piano I’m playing. You just never know what will come up.
So today I took her out into the sunshine and she starting talking and after a few minutes, I realized that something was happening here and took out my pen to write things down. It felt like she was saying goodbye and though her health is stable and I hope she stays with us for a few more years, it was about the most beautiful goodbye speech I could imagine. Though she mixes up her childhood with mine sometimes (see first sentence), most of it was extremely coherent. Here it is, almost verbatim, with barely a pause between thoughts, as if she were taking dictation from some other world:
“Don’t worry about that terrible, lonesome life you had. You will be happy. You will live a lovely life that you made all by yourself. The world will notice you. I’m so lucky, my two wonderful children who are so good to me and made me so happy. Never regret anything. Make good decisions that bring you happiness. What more could I ask for? I got everything I wanted, I’m so thrilled. Just smell that air. I’ve got to say goodbye to you, you know. Oh, my precious! And I know your children will be lucky. You’ll wish it on them and look after them. You had a hard upbringing and you made up for it later. I’ll be living up there and watching you. I’ll never forget you. Goodbye, my sweetheart, my wonderful, wonderful people. You’re young and healthy and determined to live life to the fullest. You won’t rest until you’ve taken good care of yourself. You’ll be happy. And we’re all going to look out for you. Thank you all, I love you all. That wasn’t bad for an only child to end so great. Be happy. Make that your goal. You can do it if you use your brain, thinking. I had a great time working it out. I’ll say this laughing and patting myself on the back and saying, ‘See? You just had to wait and see how everything turned out right.’ You’re going to be so happy. You’ll see. As happy as I am now. It is going to happen for you all. It was meant to be for this family and I’m so grateful. “
I believe she would have continued on longer, but I had to go back to school to lead the preschool singing time. So I reluctantly interrupted her and started wheeling her back to her floor. And then, my mother, who never once mentioned God in the 60 years I’ve known her. concluded with:
“There is a God after all. There has to be.”