“Twinkle while you shake it.”
“Ya Gotta Have A Gimmick,” from the musical Gypsy, engraved on my mother’s tombstone
“One never knows, does one?”
Fats Waller, one of my mother’s favourite quotes
A few days before my mother died, we went to the grocery store. The Giant Eagle, to be exact. My mother did not have the strength to walk, so we rented a wheelchair. The company providing the chair took their sweet time delivering, and my mother sat in the living room, on the couch, waiting.
She waited while I went to the gym to lift weights. To build my strength, mostly in spirit. My body was already strong from weeks of daily workouts, lifting and pushing and running away from the thing I couldn’t elude. I needed to be strong. I didn’t think I’d ever be strong enough.
She waited, and thought I’d forgotten.
She waited for the wheelchair, and thought they’d forgotten.
She thought we’d all forgotten.
We didn’t, we couldn’t.
Our adventure began at Skyline Chili, an Ohio institution. The food was terrible. She didn’t care. She didn’t even really eat anything, but eating wasn’t the reason she was there.
Then to the Giant Eagle. Like she and I did with her grandmother before, I pushed her up and down every single aisle. But my great-grandmother walked – tiny, frail, and stooped in her old age – and pushed her own cart.
My great-grandmother also lived past 100 years old. “All of the women in our family live really long lives,” we always said. Everyone always said. It was understood. A given.
My mother was 57 years old when I pushed her wheelchair through the Giant Eagle, touching things on shelves, discussing produce. We bought acorn squash.
No one really talked about the fact that 57 is not 100. No one talked about the fact that her parents were still alive. Her father’s brain had begun to succumb to Alzheimer’s, but still, he knew. “You were always the best shopper,” my grandmother said to my mother, on their last visit. Their last time together on Earth.
I watched my grandmother try and reconcile the situation before her. She wrung her hands as she sat next to my mother’s hospital bed, set up in the den. Her daughter’s deathbed. “You were always the best shopper.”
There is no higher praise in my family. My clan of women who take bargain shopping as seriously as some take final exams. My mother was the oldest of four daughters, who mostly had daughters. Except my mother. She had but one daughter, and two sons. The oldest son married his high school sweetheart, so she quickly became indoctrinated into the family obsession. Shopping is serious business. The biggest bargain is worn like a crown, wielded as a trophy.
My mother once bought me an Armani dress for 99% off. $5. We joked about framing the tag and receipt. I wish we had.
My grandmother didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t know what else to say.
My aunts, my mother’s three sisters, came with their parents on that visit. To say goodbye. I have no idea how they got there, or how they got home. They drove almost four hours, from Indianapolis to Columbus, and I still don’t know how they did it. They came in a vehicle that my mother’s cousin (essentially a fifth sister) drove. But when I think of being inside that van on the trip to and the trip from visiting my mother, their big sister, their firstborn… my mind breaks.
That was the worst day of my life. Not the day my mother passed; that day ranks second. I am empathic. The sorrow was too much to process.
My mother somehow rallied, and lived for two more weeks. I’m looking at the calendar now, not believing what it’s telling me. I thought it was three weeks. It felt like three weeks. It was two. Eleven days.
Eleven of the longest days of my life. Eleven of the shortest.
Eleven days spent with my brothers. With my mother’s partner, David. Her love. With my mother and David’s dog. With my mother.
We watched movies. We watched family slideshows. We ate a lot of bagels, drank a lot of beer and gin & tonics. We celebrated life and dreaded death. We slipped into a temporary normal. I tried not to cry too much; I didn’t want to upset my mother. I screamed into a washcloth in the shower.
She knew she was dying. She talked to us about dying things: her will, her belongings, her wishes. Her fears. She decided she wasn’t going to die until my younger brother turned 30. In two more years. She eventually accepted that it wasn’t going to happen. She rejected any moves to make her a victim, a patient. She remained my mother, our mother, until the end. That was important, that was her job. Our mother.
The night before my mother died, we knew it was coming. I don’t know how we slept. I don’t know how I slept. The sound of her body dying filled the house, filled my brain. I took xanax. I read Harry Potter. I waited.
The morning my mother died, we took turns sitting with her, having our last moments, not leaving her alone. We didn’t want her to be alone. Eventually, we all ended up at the kitchen table, talking about breakfast. Death stops for nothing as mundane as hunger. We joked about how we had nothing to eat, how when someone is dying, people are supposed to bring food. We had overflowing amounts of food for the previous few weeks, but on this day, this most important of days, we had none.
It was 9am.
We were all at the table, out of her room, for about five minutes. Five minutes.
In that five minutes, my mother died.
She did not want us there as she left. She wanted to remain my mother, our mother. She took the last bit of control she had, and exercised it.
She left on her own terms.
In the silence that followed, I looked around.
On the kitchen counter sat three acorn squash.
Judith “Judi” Lyons Kremer, 5 August 1943 ~ 6 December 2000Share this: =$service->name;?> | =$service->name;?> | =$service->name;?> | =$service->name;?> | =$service->name;?> | =$service->name;?>