Her voice is filled with fear and carries with it a tone of terror. “He is terribly sick, the doctors aren’t even sure he will make it.” I listen, giving my full attention and ask for more details. “When did this happen? How old is he? How are his wife and kids holding up?”
Maryellen seems in a daze as she goes through the painful ordeal her good friend is facing. As the story of his illness unfolds, her matter of fact manner regarding the children strikes me. “His wife has decided not to tell the kids just how seriously ill their father is. She thinks it best to keep them from the truth.” I respond in my usual quick and unfiltered style, “Isn’t that what Dad decided for you, when Mom was dying? And didn’t he also keep you from attending her wake and funeral? I know he did it to shield you at the young age of 9 but do you think it was best?” Then I simple ask, “What do you remember about Mom, her illness and final passing?”
Now, you should understand that we are sisters and very involved in each other’s lives. Yes, the blood flowing through my veins is the same as hers. And Yes, I am her senior by 10 years but she is my Boss (owner of the business which employs me). We have laughed, cried and shared on everything we hold dear – all our lives. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, sharing and telling every thought and feeling that crosses my path. Maryellen, my baby sister, is not such an open book. But this question before her seems to, ever so gently open a door, which would otherwise remain closed.
“I don’t remember much about Mom”, she confesses almost guiltily. “She was always lying down and resting.” Then, opening the door a little further goes on to tell me what she does remember. “I stood in the parking lot, looking up and waving at her in the window of her hospital room. That would turn out to be our final good-bye.” I take a deep breath and swallow the lump which had formed in my throat. She continues, “The next thing I remember was coming off the school bus and knowing immediately that she had died. There were so many cars parked in front of the house. I went inside, sat down on Dad’s lap and cried.” Again, so matter of fact in her manner.
What she then shared broke wide the door of her heart. “I was 9, and after that brief cry I could think of nothing more than the moccasins I had seen in the store window. I wanted them so much and wondered when we could go and buy them. Here was this terrible news about Mom and what I remember most in that minute was caring about those stupid moccasins!” I am utterly blown away with her telling of this truth.
My own remembrance of our Mothers illness is vastly different as I’m sure my 3 other siblings (Ann, Pat & Frank) each hold. But, I immediately tell of my realities, “I shared the responsibility for taking Mom for chemotherapy. I was at her side when the doctors gave up any hope of remission. I stood at her hospital bed praying “the Hail Mary” while she took her final breath and then drove Dad and Nanny home to prepare for your arrival from school.”
I have looked at my mother’s passing from so many angles and viewpoints but this was completely new and different! Almost 35 years have passed and I am first hearing about “the moccasins”.
Our memories of that catastrophic moment seem frozen in time. Mine held within the confines of an 18 year old being forced to quickly grow up and face the harsh reality of death. And for Maryellen, the innocent desire of a sweet child found in those moccasins; overshadowing and maybe protecting her from the unimaginable tragedy unfolding around her.
Walking through that slightly open door gave us both the courage - to relive, to retell, and to help each other carry that which is deep inside our very souls.
|Frank, Ann, Pat, Chris, "Baby" Maryellen|
In Loving Memory of our Mom ~ who lives forever in our hearts.