And so the next morning, instead of greeting the rabbi in her bathrobe, Irene insisted on getting dolled up. She couldn’t stand or walk on her own, so Dawn, her Jamaican angel aide, carried her to the bathroom and helped her with her makeup. But that was as far as my mother got before her energy simply gave out. She toppled over into the easy chair by the hospital bed, her mouth slack, eyes shut, softly snoring.
I knew how much she wanted to see Gary again, so I tried to rouse her, without success. The rabbi talked to her, too, and said a blessing, but she didn’t respond to him either. My mother seemed to have slipped into a realm that was beyond sleep but this side of death. After several minutes, Hugh, together with Dawn and Gary, lifted her onto the hospital bed. She never awoke again.
In a way, her retreat could not have been more perfectly Irene. My mother used up every last atom of her awe-inspiring, superhuman energy reserves to make herself look pretty for the rabbi.
As I kept vigil at her bedside over the next week, I realized that it didn’t matter anymore what she and I called each other. Mother or daughter, those roles were done. Finished.
She was just Irene, a woman being swept away by the current that sooner or later takes us all. This was her story, her passage, and I was her witness. It was the first time I really saw her as a separate person—rather than one who existed only in relation to me—and somehow, during the hours I spent by her side not trying to do anything except be present, something came unhooked. All the things we fought over—my ripped jeans and wild hair, her ridiculous pretensions, my bad boyfriends and so-called irresponsible ways, her yearning for a daughter who would reflect her back to herself, my longing for a mother who would see me as I really am—seemed as insubstantial as a wisp of smoke.
I buried her in the leopard chiffon.
Selection by Barbara Graham, copyright © 2012 by Barbara Graham, to appear in the forthcoming title from North Atlantic Books 'Exit Laughing: How Humor Takes the Sting Out of Death,' edited by Victoria Zackheim. Adapted and reprinted by permission of the author.
Barbara Graham is the editor of 'Eye of My Heart,' a collection of essays about the perils and pleasures of being a grandmother. Her articles have appeared in More, O, National Geographic Traveler and many other magazines. She is at work on a memoir. Visit her at barbaragrahamonline.com.
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Click here for another memoir by Barbara Graham on the subject of grandmotherly obsession.
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