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October 6, 2011

I left my lovely Welsh cottage in mid-July, heading for the one place in the world I tried hard to get away from, especially in the summer: South Florida. Have you any idea what Florida is like during the summer? For your sake, I hope not.

Mom - Dorothy Briggs

The good points of Florida are: my daughter, her husband, my two little munchkins, Jacob and Nicholas, and my parents. Unfortunately, my call back to the Land of Strident Sunshine and Hovering Humidity was not for good things. My Mother, a lively woman of 88, was ill and needed taking care of. Dad was already under care at my brother’s home, but Mom had suffered a fall, was being released from the hospital and wasn’t capable of living alone. So, all the balls I had floating in the air in search of a career commitment came crashing to the floor — and I headed for Heathrow.

The next 2 ½ months were good, bad and ugly. Mom and I spent many lovely evenings together, talking, remembering and singing. Every road trip we took when I was a child was accompanied by song: war tunes my mother remembered dancing to at New York City’s Palladium during World War Two; the great American songbook performed on stage in Broadway musicals; songs reminiscent of her youth – and mine. The tradition continues today as little Nicholas is now learning the same songs as we drive along.

We came to an understanding, and forgiveness, about all the horrible things a daughter remembers about her upbringing, whether true or not.

I learned more about her life growing up in New York City, attending Cooper Union College and becoming a draftsman for the Navy during World War Two. I also heard the stories about how hard it was for a woman to find a drafting position after all the men came home from the war, and how she turned to waitressing just to earn a living and supplement my father’s income.

My life was taking on a new meaning as I saw it through her eyes. And she learned about my life that went beyond all the husbands, careers, adventures and travels. We got to know each other for the first time in both our lives. Her words to me one night as she went to bed were, “Do you love me?” Of course I love you, Mom.

That was the last of our conversations. Mom fell the next morning and was rushed to the hospital, bleeding, shaken and semi-conscious. She never fully recovered, and left us one month later, under the care and loving concern of the Hospice wing at her hospital. I kissed her hello as I walked into her room the afternoon of September 15. She took a breath — and then quietly slipped away.

At her memorial I spoke about my mother being “a hoot.” And she was. She was the first to hop onto the dance floor at my daughter’s wedding, shaking her 83-year old bottom and waving her arms with glee. She also managed to stuff several leftover steaks into her handbag to take home to her dog. Most old ladies steal bread and rolls from restaurants. My mother took china dishes, salt and pepper shakers, and steak. Her local casino probably had her on their high alert cameras whenever she strolled in with her accomplice – a large, gold-studded handbag!

We went to Portugal together and spent two weeks eating, dancing and touring with my daughter and friends. We took a cruise. We planned road trips that were never taken. One evening, during her last week at home, she looked at me longingly and asked if we could move to Paris for a year. Her energy was abundant, her dreams never ceasing. Until the end.

My Mom had had enough. Life had been reduced to moving around with a walker or a wheelchair. Those simple confinements cut the artery of life that fed her. She shut down. Her doctor likened her withdrawal from any nourishment to the rituals of the Eskimo. And like the Eskimo who has reached the end of life, Mom put herself on an iceberg and floated out to sea. She simply wrapped herself in a pile of blankets, cuddled up in her favorite quilt, and climbed onto her own iceberg that would take her to the end of her journey. Travel safely, Mom.



7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2011 11:49 am

    What a loving tribute to your mom! You sound like you worked it all out before she passed away. When my mom died in May, I too was able to be there to share her journey and transition. From the sounds of things, our moms must have found each other in the afterlife because my mom was a hoot-and-a half! So, I’d like to think that they are playing cards or pulling that slot handle sitting side-by-side making each other laugh. I am so sorry for your loss. Miss you! Post pix of your family

  2. Kate Holly permalink
    October 6, 2011 4:17 pm

    Welcome home, Jann! So sorry to hear about the loss of your Mum but happy for you that you could be there xxx

  3. trudi permalink
    October 6, 2011 7:21 pm

    Jann…a lovely blog about your mom. So sorry for her loss, but she went perfectly. A model!

  4. October 7, 2011 3:43 am

    Dear Jann,
    Our condolences. It’s never easy. And then we realize we are the older generation and not anyone’s children anymore.
    Am sure you are happy to be home with hubby. Rest up and write more – your blogs are great.

  5. Sharon permalink
    October 8, 2011 6:42 pm

    Dear Jann,
    I am sorry for your loss. It sounds like the last trip home was a good one in that you and your mother could find some of the peace that we women seek and that it was very grounding. I am sad that we never connected but I certainly understand. Best wishes to you as you start the next leg of the journey.

  6. October 10, 2011 12:09 pm

    Jann take great comfort from the fact that you were able to have such a precious time with your Mum at the end.
    So glad that you are back in wet and windy Wales !!

  7. October 12, 2011 11:15 am

    Jann, I’m so sorry about your loss.

    I did enjoy reading about your last weeks with your mom. I even forwarded your story to my mom.

    I think I may have a similar relationship as yours. I love her but we don’t always understand each other. It’s wonderful that you got to have that time together at the end.

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