Today would’ve been my mother’s 90th birthday. She died suddenly in 2007. She dropped dead of heart failure as she reached for her meditation chair, prayer books in hand. “She wouldn’t have felt a thing,” the doctor confirmed. It was a real shock. Although she’d had a bit of an issue with high BP in her last few years, she hadn’t been sick, had not, in fact, ever suffered from illness of any kind. She was a vegetarian, never smoked, exercised regularly (walking, hiking, occasional halfhearted aerobics and isometrics) and drank alcohol every day, in the form of a gin martini, the only kind. She called it “a ruin” after the well-known English name for gin, “Mother’s Ruin.” Happy hour in Mum’s house was legendary.
Since her death, I’ve thought often about the words, “died suddenly” because, when one mentions that a relative has shuffled off in that way, there’s always a distinct reaction. It goes like this: “What a good thing she never suffered,” or “Thank heavens she passed away without a long-term illness,” or even, “You’re lucky she didn’t drag on for years and years like my [fill in the blank].”
Of course, I’m glad that she never suffered and passed away without being sick and didn’t drag on for years, but it took a while for me to feel that way. For ages, I was heartbroken that I never had closure, never had a chance to say goodbye, never got to force one last awkward hug on that beloved round-shouldered body. In fact, our last contact was dreadful, one of those phone conversations you wish you could snatch out of the ether, and do again.
“Hello, Berni. It’s Mum.”
“Hello Mum. How are you?”
“What, dear? It’s a bad line, I can hardly hear you.”
“The line seems okay at this end, Mum. Are you holding the receiver up to your ear?
“Mum, have you got your hearing aid in?”
“You’ll have to speak up, Berni, I can barely hear you.”
Me, shouting: “How are you, Mum?”
Me, shouting: “Are you holding the receiver up to your ear? Perhaps your hearing aid battery has gone.”
Mum, laughing: “I’m sorry, darling. I’m starting to think that my hearing aid battery has gone.”
Rattle, rustle, crackle, as she checks her hearing aid.
Me, laughing: “Mum, why don’t you call me back in a minute.”
Mum: “It’s no good, dear, I can’t hear you. Why don’t you call me back in a minute.”
Me, laughing hysterically: “But Mum, you called me…”
Line goes dead. I wait two minutes to see if she’s going to try again before re-dialing. My call goes straight to her voicemail.
See what I mean? Not an ideal way to bid a final farewell to your favorite person in the world. But I must say, what strikes me in recent years is that this conversation ended in giggles, and if there’s one thing we always had plenty of in our household, it was humor. We weren’t obviously affectionate or demonstrative, but we did know how to make each other shriek with hilarity. With that in mind, I wish you HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY, MUM! And thanks for keeping me laughing until the very end.