I hated the way my mother's life ended.
A proud and dignified woman for most of her 88 years, she was plagued with illness leading to the horror of dementia in her final years. She went from being a wife and productive worker to retiree to widow to resident of a senior high-rise and then, at last, resident of the nursing care section in that marvelous building. The staff and a special splendid friend cared for her, we did our best to make her comfortable, and doctors and physical therapists did what they could, but let's face it. When you're up against the aging process, the best you can hope for is to hold it to a tie or distract it long enough to add a little more fun to the day. Forget about winning that fight. You're not going to. Mom even recognized this, and told me, the last time I saw her - two days before she lapsed - that she was going into her "final days."
I've often pointed out that I am a Milton Berle sort of guy from a John Milton sort of family, but I believe that my mother put up with my raffishness because deep inside, the stately among us want to be the guy who asks the x ray technician for "a dozen 8 x 10s if they turn out ok," just as those of us who regularly reel off off-color quips wish we could sit down and work out a real estate deal, repair a reel-style lawn mower, reel in a 105-lb marlin, or really dance the Virginia Reel well. Really!
But I saw both of my parents (Dad passed in '97) cede just a little of their staid solemnity as the pages on their calendars started flipping more quickly. And I, the lifelong cutup and bon vivant, have actually done mature-type things such as preparing a will (you're probably not in it) and formalizing my plan for my later years (you're definitely in it!) So we grow and adjust.
Two more things about Mom, although there are thousands yet to be said: I am a good sleeper, and generally, when I wake up for some reason, I go right back to sleep (which always annoys my passengers). But, on the morning that Mom left, I awoke at 0337 and it was as if I had slept until noon. I simply sat in bed and waited for the call I knew was coming, and when my sister called at 0355 to say that Mom had passed ten minutes before, I knew that's how she chose to say goodbye for the last time.
And this: I should not start mentioning the names of the many wonderful people who where there with us and for us, because I would surely leave someone out. But I have to say that the Rev. Margery Schammel, Assistant Pastor at Towson United Methodist Church, delivered a homegoing service that filled hearts with gladness where sadness had been dwelling for almost a week. She took the time to learn about Mom so she could speak about Mom, and Mom's children, family, extended family and many friends are grateful for Rev. Schammel's deft handling of a sad service.
I remember reading Sam Levenson's book "Everything But Money," in which the humorist mentioned that years after his mother's death, if he found himself out late at night, he still expected her to touch him on the shoulder and say, "Go home! Nothing good happens after midnight!"
But there hasn't been an after-midnight yet that didn't turn into a whole new day. I expect to hear from Mom for the rest of my days.
To ALL of you who were there with us, who sent emails, or messages, or called, or sent flowers, or sent that incredible pan of Sloppy Joes so that Sloppy Mark and Elegant Peggy could have a nice dinner, or sent hugs virtual or real, THANK YOU from my heart and Peggy's and all of ours. I love life and I love you.