It’s the little things that make the most personal good-byes. ❤️
One of the flower arrangements was small and meager, its white wicker basket flaking and unraveling. The basket was dried out, the dirt nearly evaporated, the affordable and practical carnations so big that they tipped the whole thing over. It was the smallest basket. I didn’t care. The room was bursting with fresh, full flowers, and I found every one, big or small, unbearable.
I stood there going through each arrangement, reading little white cards of sympathy, browsing as if I was in a bookstore. And while I had my attention on the cards, every ounce of awareness was on my mother’s face, her hair, her skin, her coffin. How unreal to stand here as I cupped my hands beneath each flower, while she lay there, hands cupped for eternity.
I reached down to right the falling basket of carnations, one of many in the row on the floor.
And that’s when I saw it.
A little bottle of peach schnapps.
“What—” I said. But I knew the answer before I finished.
Sandy had been my mother’s friend and neighbor for nearly 40 years. On one of the last nights, Sandy had shown up at my mother’s house. My mother and I had been sitting in the living room, both of us quiet, working on a jigsaw puzzle.
Sandy, short but at least double her size in energy, marched in through the side door of the house where friends knew to enter.
“JUDE?” she called.
“In here, Sandy!” I called back.
My mother and I looked at each other. She was tired, and I couldn’t tell if she wanted a visitor. But with Sandy? She had no choice.
Sandy, in her practical white shoes and sensible short hair, ousted me out of the seat opposite my mother. I started to argue with her - I didn’t want to miss a single minute that I had left with my mother - but Sandy looked up at me with her huge grin, produced a bottle of peach schnapps out of her billowing dress pocket, and pointed to the door.
I looked at my mother to see. My mother was smiling.
“Got any orange juice, Jude?” I heard her ask, as I walked out of the room.
I was worried to leave my mother, but it was a reprieve. I could go home and catch dinner with my boys and husband. An hour of normalcy arriving in a long row of hourless days.
I gave them until 8 o’clock before I returned. It was bowling night for my dad, and I wanted to make sure she wasn’t alone. Still, it was getting late, and I was tired. I was hoping to get back to put the kids to bed soon.
But, as I hurried into the house, I heard something I didn’t expect:
I stopped mid-stride in the kitchen, holding still, listening. In the living room, I could see two women bent over the card table, one with thin hair and one with a bonnet on.
Both holding a fuzzy navel.
My mother had a puzzle piece in her left hand, but she wasn’t studying it. She was leaning in, waiting. Sandy whispered something and hooted, slapping the table and scattering the pieces. My mom, in response, swatted her. They both fell back, laughing again.
My mother was laughing! A sound almost forgotten by then. It sounded beautiful, the lilt and carry of it through the house. Full and warm, the kind that made you laugh just to hear it. I realized all the years I’d taken it for granted, the sound of it from the next room, from across the table, from beside me.
I stood and took in the music of it, trying to record every nuance, the opportunities ahead to do so, I realized, narrowing into an unbelievably finite amount. My heart seized, even as it blossomed at the sound. Undetected by either of them, I held still and memorized the scene, my mother. Her beauty, her laughter, her playfulness.
I would never see her like that again - relaxed, leaning in, laughing.
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