My mother passed away recently at age 84 after a long illness. She loved reading, but she did not write. I’m not sure why other than to say that I guess she was never bitten by the bug. Maybe, too, she believed books held a certain magic and if she wrote it would somehow break that magic.
But knowing my mom, she probably didn’t have the time. She loved people—teaching middle schoolers was her perfect job—and always wanted to be around people and engaged in some pursuit, whether it be politics (an ardent Democrat and Quaker, Trump is her antithesis), improving her local library, substitute teaching (everyday after retirement from her job as principal at Westtown, a Quaker school), to singing with the choir at the local Congregational Church (Quakers don’t have choirs).
The exception was reading. I’ve often compared her to a tomato because both thrive on hot, humid weather with lots of sun. When I was a kid, she would lay out on her metal folding lounge chair with a diet Pepsi reading. Then she would talk for hours with her mother and her friends (Kathy, Kit, Robin) about what she and they were reading.
Eventually, I joined her ad hoc book club. I first had to pass through my relatively terrible teen years, but by about age twenty I’d discovered how lovely it was to talk with mom about books.
In her last months, I took care of her. She couldn’t read but she still loved to talk about books and reading. My greatest failing as a son is that I didn’t take more time to read to her. I regret that deeply.
She was surrounded by books in her shared room at the skilled nursing facility as well as photos of her grandchildren (when I asked her what she would like me to say to them she said, “There’s so much I want to say, but that I love each and everyone of you so very much and am proud of you all.”) and many other reminders of how much she was loved.
The day she died, in an emotional state whose color I would say was slate gray, I packed her belongings and brought them to my house. The books, by far, are the heaviest and most numerous items. I didn’t cry that day. I was numb. The next day I saw her favorite sweater among her things, and for the rest of that day my sadness came in deep sobs.
I miss her terribly and so does Kathy, the last of mom’s friends. She called this morning to say that she and mom would have had an open line going during the Michael Cohen hearings today to lament the disaster that is Trump (these are women born during Franklin Roosevelt, lived though Eisenhower as kids, became adults and parents with Kennedy then Johnson, sobbed at the loss of Bobby Kennedy, knew Nixon was a crook and deeply admired Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama) and just talk, deeply, laughing, about life and stories and in ways that only they could understand.
“Where did she go, Jamie,” she asked rhetorically but with some seriousness. “There isn’t anyone else I know who just gets it, who gets me, that I can talk to like that.”
The things I would do or trade for just ten minutes with her. One more chance to read to her and talk about stories.