After my father turned 80 he started to complain to his doctor about things going wrong with his body. The doctor told him, “Your warranty is up.” It happens to us all unless we get hit by a bus, or have a heart attack or succumb to disease. If you beat the odds and live into your 80s, your body will eventually start to break down bit by bit After a few years of warranty problems, my father contracted cancer of the bile duct and died. I was with him for most of the last week of his life, but, thinking he had much longer to live, left him to come home for a few days. He died the next day.
My mother was about 5 feet tall and tipped the scales at around 100 pounds in her prime. She had 7 kids. When we stood next to her as adults it seemed like a miracle that she once carried us in her womb.
For over 30 years my mother was a smoker (Benson and Hedges Deluxe). As a kid, I could tell she was coming up the stairs by her coughs: one in the middle of the flight of stairs and another at the top. She quit in her 50s or 60s. Her father savored a cigarette like it was sent from the gods. I remember seeing his 90 year old hands shake as he had his daily smoke. He watched what he ate like a hawk and walked every day. He was in amazing shape. He died at 96 in his own bed with my mother by his side.
For the past two and a half years, my mother had the dwindles. Once she reached 88, her warranty was up. Slowly her body started to fail her. Bit by bit, day by day. She spent the past year confined first to a recliner then a bed. It seemed impossible that someone so frail could live so long, but she had her father’s genes and excellent care. Ten days ago on a Monday I received a phone call from my younger sister telling me that she had taken a turn for the worse and to get home. The hospice nurse said she’d be lucky to last a day or two. I arrived a little after midnight on Tuesday morning after a 7 1/2 hour drive. After talking to my mother for a little while, I fell asleep on a sofa. I woke 4 hours later and began a long week, mostly just hanging out by my mother’s side with some of my siblings.
I read books (the Hunger Games I and II), flipped through magazines, played with my iPhone, and channel surfed. Waiting. After a few hours, I pulled Little Nellie out of the trunk of my car and went for a short bike ride. I stayed within the city limits of Albany NY, meandering down to Washington Park to check out the tulips. I didn’t appreciate the tulips in Albany – originally a Dutch colony – when I was a kid but I sure do now. After 13 miles I headed back to my mother’s house.
|Little Nellie among the Tulips|
|My Favorite: Two-toned Tulips|
Wednesday was pretty much the same except I woke up with a back ache from sleeping on the sofa. My brother Jim and I walked to get coffee and my back loosened up. That night I slept – more or less, actually less – in the chair next to my mother.
|Awesome Victorian in Voorheesville|
Thursday I took a break and rode Little Nellie into the suburbs. When I was little, I lived in Slingerlands NY, so I rode to our old house to check it out. Then I made my way on back roads to the village of Voorheesville. I had lots of company. The weather was splendid and the locals were out on their bikes too. It never ceases to amaze me how nice the bike riding is in upstate New York. I’m not talking about the area just north of New York City either. Get away from the big city and you’ll find all kinds of surprisingly smooth roads with wide, paved shoulders. The Slingerlands/Voorheesville area has dozens of beautiful old houses. I am partial to towers and porches. I stopped to take a shot of one with both. After 23 miles I arrived back at my mother’s house and more sitting.
We played her some Dean Martin tunes. She managed a little smile. I asked if she wanted to hear Tony Bennett. She grunted what was obviously a “no”. Deano was her man.
My mother stopped moving on Friday. She could no longer see, but she kept breathing. We were all in amazement. A hospice nurse came and said it wouldn’t be long now. She was impressed with how strong my mother’s heart was. We gave her morphine to keep her comfortable. A little after 11 pm, one of the aides and my sister gently bathed her with a damp cloth.
Just after midnight, with four of her now adult children by her side, in a bed in her own home, she dwindled away. Very peacefully.
A few days later there was a short visitation at the funeral home and a funeral mass. At the gravesite, a squall line came through. Gusts of wind and sideways rain. As the burial ceremony came to an end, a hail storm hit.
I guess they don’t have dwindles in the great beyond.