We were a fortunate family, six children of a postal worker, living full time at the shore, nearby my grandparent’s beach season restaurant that served mainly affordable spaghetti dinners.
We opened our beach house in late spring when the water was turned on again, then left on Labor Day weekend to return to our Park Street apartment in Hartford just before the start of the school year.
Looking back, closing up the ‘cottage’ seemed always a time of shadows, the days were getting shorter with sunset earlier, and there was an absence in the air, no early morning bird song and other nearby cottages quieter because our neighbors were leaving or had left.
The beach had less activity, no circle of families spending long afternoons exchanging gossip - back in a time when women of our circumstance had the freedom to remain at home full time, or at least the women of our shoreline community.
The air seemed to leave the cottage as one by one the rooms were emptied and windows were locked, and the gray tiled floor became grayer in the pulled down shaded rooms. Then, the door was closed for another season, leaving a time filled with memories of life stage changes to reflect on years later.
My “last” time at our beach was before the annual Labor Day cottage closing ritual, when I left for the novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in late August, just miles down the road in Madison CT. I left with happiness of finally fulfilling a several year desire for a life as a religious. I left before the shadows took over our cottage at the end of the beach season. I left before my last experience of my mother’s annual preparation of packing up and leaving.
When I returned some many months later it was to a new home my family moved into my last summer at the cottage, in the South End of Hartford. I never returned to the seasonal summers at the shore of my youth.
Closing the cottage for the season continued for over twenty more years until my mother and father retired to the beach into a renovated year round ’ home.’
It is now late August again and the shadows fill each room of the house on the last late afternoon before Labor Day weekend, as voices of children come through the open windows and the aroma of weekend barbecues filter through backyards. There is no morning or late afternoon bird song. There is only the quiet feeling of anticipation of leaving behind again.
The cottage will be closed again for the season soon. My mother will not orchestrate the closing ritual this year. She is gone.
Her lifetime of life in rooms in the cottage that has been her home for twenty-five years is completed. Her seasons at the shore are over forever.
I will have memories, as will my brothers and sisters, of this August, to reflect on for whatever time is left to us - they seem to me shrouded in shadows as I try to have precise recollection.
The gray is taking over the full season of sunlight coming to a close.
One week has passed since the unexpected events that led to my mother’s passing.
This passing of time is familiar to me…marking, remembering, coping.
My mother’s “home” is losing the feeling of her presence in every room - I am already aware of leaving it behind for the last time as hers. I have twenty-four hours before I leave and return to New York.
I left my own home of over ten years on August 20th - six years ago. I feel the familiarity of this unique separation knowing I had to make it in the past.
My brothers and sisters, together again after tens years, have returned home promising to stay in touch and see each other again - I will make a greater effort that this happens.
I am still in awe and deep gratitude that the universe responded to our wishes and my mother’s - so much could have occurred differently than what actually did - my peace comes from this “miracle” and prayers that were answered.
I have increasing anxiety of returning to a grief that I am all too familiar with, knowing I have options as to how to cope when it does, while at the same time fully cognizant that I must embrace it’s reality in my life.
The rabbit hole is out there for me to fall into…I know my way out when I do.
Our mother is on her last journey - she is surrounded by family, friends, and medical care respectful of her wishes and ours, her wish to be at home, which we are all honoring.
She is being kept in prayers that she may be received peacefully into the loving arms of God…
When I awoke that July Tuesday morning I was resolved to leave Düsseldorf on a positive note - confident of your hoped for successful chemotherapy treatment starting in a few days.
Within hours of my imminent departure John would be arriving for a visit.
I thought someone from “home” would be a good transition, even through your lifetime Düsseldorf friends were constant and faithful visitors during your monthlong hospital stay.
Today, five years later, the memory of that time is as fresh as the day that it occurred.
I did not know that morning how I would say “good-bye” - but I did and within hours of my arriving back home in NY that same day John called and asked me to return - not a desperate request but one based upon your doctor’s recommendation that my time spent with you was a positive influence in your recovery.
My return home was uneventful - the hospital goodbye was our last to each other. I would say it again a month later in a more formal memorial service attended by your family of affection and friends who also gathered to remember you.
How was it that within five days of my departure you quietly passed away - a telephone call ever vivid to this day - as I expected a call of hopeful news of a positive result of the chemotherapy treatment you were finally convinced to begin?
Your daughter did not arrive in time before your death.
Early Monday morning news of your death was a day as quiet as the day of my saying good-bye to you. Strangely, during our last hours together no interruptions occurred in a hospital where daily routines broke up the monotony of hospitalization - nurses in and out, visitors coming by, the daily cleaning of your room by hospital staff.
But it was John who spoke to me - no one at the hospital would give me the news - no one ever called afterwards.
So many months afterwards my dreams of you were nightmares of desperately trying to reach you on the telephone, without success.
I wanted to see you again, speak with you again, have that time together before our last goodbye. A final acceptance of your death was months, years later. Even today, not entirely realized.
There was finally, however, a dream that occurred, over three years after you died, when, at the end of another telephone call the phone stopped ringing and you answered with your voice saying, “Hello, it’s me.”
I cherish that dream event as an answer to my understanding that we will never really say good-bye to each other. That realization is a comfort, today, as I remember.
I recently had the occasion to make a “non-emergency” visit to the local emergency room clinic with my 88 year old bed-ridden mother.
The visit was preventive, in that nursing care was anticipated based upon physical symptoms that appeared to require care also needed a medical diagnosis.
My mother’s primary care doctor of over thirty years wanted a “face to face” visit to approve home nursing care, based upon the visiting nurse requirements and Medicare.
Since my mother is in a hospital bed this could not be and the ER visit was arranged.
The ER staff were wonderful, caring and in every sense gave her quality care and signed the documents needed to advance our mother’s medical care needs at home.
They also gave us a DNR for ambulance transfer back home.
These events give pause for thought in many ways.
We were fortunate to have an ER physician who was caring and considerate - my mother will probably never see her own longtime physician ever again.
Other thoughts are still too raw still to articulate - the emotions around them are still churning.
The ER on the day of our visit was filled with “seniors” needing various medical attention, many with family members who brought them in.
One wonders, what experience brought them and what feelings they had afterwards?