1/7/91 – Part Six

I need to preface this post by saying today is the 7th anniversary of my mother’s passing. Last year on this day I was watching Kris Kristofferson in concert (and blogged about it) and today I’m unpacking in our new house. Today is the one week anniversary of being in this new house in Charlottesville. New house, new city, new start. I think Mom would want me to end this particular memory on this day – her ending, my new beginning. She’s been telling me for a while that it is time to move on from this particular piece of writing. Today seems like an appropriate day to do that……


Up until that point, my mind had taken everything calmly। Except for a few brief moments of anxiety, I had felt pretty confident that this was still something Mom could easily pull through. But the sight of her hooked up to so many mechanical devices, the sound of her forced breathing, and all of the tubes are just too much for me to cope with. All of this stimulus is the proof I need. I last about twenty seconds outside the room before I break down. It is like a huge tidal wave of emotion which sends me literally to the floor. I can’t stand up. I can barely breathe.

Ironically, several years later I was working at that hospital as a secretary and had to drop off some documents to that very ICU. It wasn’t until I passed through the swinging doors that I realized where I was. It was surreal. Everything started to spin – I dropped off the documents and got out of there quick. I had no idea that life would conspire to bring me back to that room again. Ugly memories flooded me before I could stop them.

But that night of the accident, it was that room that gelled the seriousness of the situation for me. Not until then did I know what it meant to her to be in this situation, and what it would mean for all of us from now on. I have now gotten the extreme I had looked for in my life so desperately. Beware what you wish for…

It was a remarkably long and hard road for her from that night on. She did finally come out of the coma after several months. The cuts on her face cleared up. The only scars she retained were inside, where a shunt placed in her brain drained off fluid so she could retain consciousness.

She could feed herself, but she talked little from then on, and sometimes what she did say was not her. Mom also used a wheelchair for the rest of her life – the coma left calcium deposits at her joints, so she couldn’t move them. They don’t tell you that part. That part isn’t covered in T.V. shows like “House” are they?

Mom wasn’t the same woman, but more like an old lady with Alzheimer’s. Mom knew me, but couldn’t remember I had visited two weeks before. She couldn’t even remember what she’d had for lunch. And now she ate like a horse, instead of picking at her food. The “pre” Mom had always watched her weight. It was like now she was finally giving herself permission to eat. Or she was a different person entirely who didn’t remember that she used to diet.

I hold bittersweet memories now, because even though she was able to attend my college graduation, and my sister’s wedding, she wasn’t Nancy. She was some other, much older woman. The cliché says, “a shell of her former self.” I’m not sure I’d go that far – there were always glimmers of Nan that would appear every so often – a smirk, a laughter in the eyes. But if you blinked, you’d miss them.

The literature on head trauma says you can expect the patient to undergo rehab for 10 years before they can expect to have a “normal” life. That’s how long we had Mom for – 10 more years. It was esophageal cancer that finally took her from us. Three months she lasted from diagnosis to her passing.

As for me, I take each day now as it comes. My views on life have taken a 180 degree turn since this shattered all of our lives. I regret a lot of things we said to each other, and still tell her so repeatedly. I am also grateful for the 10 additional years we had together. I felt very helpless much of that time, because there was so much I wanted to do for her, and I knew most of it was out of my power. I felt angry at God for that and kept trying to tell myself that all of this must be for some reason, right?

Sometimes when I’m driving in the car, the windows down, breeze blowing, and one of her favorite Rod Stewart songs comes on, like “Mandolin Wind” I swear she’s sitting in the back seat, tapping me on the shoulder saying, “Are you taking all this in? It’s a gorgeous day – are you ENJOYING it?”

I’m learning to. I tell myself to live in the moment, to appreciate life’s little moments of peace – not just for me, but for her too. By learning to do this, by living this way, Mom can live again too – through me. When I sing along to a favorite song as loud as I can and really FEEL happy, to my very bones, she feels it too. Ever seen that movie “Wings of Desire” (or City of Angels)? It’s kind of like that.

When I hear other women complain about their mothers it makes me cringe because there is nothing I wouldn’t do to get my mother back. Nancy will always be my mother. Much of the time after the accident she was distant, experiencing things I knew nothing about, in a world of her own that I was unable to get to. She would look in my eyes and seem very afraid sometimes, and right then I would feel like her mother, wanting and needing to keep her safe, but trapped because I couldn’t. It taught me a lot, and it changed me. It changed my priorities – it changed my life. For that, I am grateful.

Fantasy Meal.

So recently here in our local paper (the post-gazette, at least until we move next week) they ran an article asking local chefs what their fantasy “last meal” on Earth would be. And that got me thinking ……hmmmm………..what would be *my* last meal?

My fantasy dinner would happen on a sultry, summer afternoon at a Tuscan fattoria – one of those farms where you can stay for the weekend and everything they serve is produced right there – from the wine to the tomatoes to the pork, lamb, and chicken. Why summer? That’s when everything yummy is at its peak, tomatoes especially.

We’d have a huge wooden table set up with benches (much more casual) but lots of other chairs set up under shade trees all around. I’m picturing our view to be the perfect Tuscan hillside – as we eat we can watch the light and colors change as the day travels on from afternoon to twilight. In addition to food, we’d sip on fabulous wine, Belgian beer (hey, it’s my fantasy), Negronis, and limoncello for after dinner.

Guests? I’d bring back all the relatives I love so dear who have passed on and who have taught me how to cook and appreciate food – my mother, my Nana, and my aunt Bert, who had her own grape arbor and who astounded me at age 4 when she stuck mint under my nose and told me, “Smell this – it smells like toothpaste.”

I’d also invite all my family and good girlfriends (we call ourselves “Ya-Ya’s”) and my old friend Scotty Nichols, who I haven’t seen in YEARS. I’d also invite some folks who I *know* would add entertainment and culinary value: Lidia Bastianich (Joe too, he’s in charge of wine) Jacques Pepin, Anthony Bourdain (with Ruhlman tagging along), and John Waters, who is hilarious, and a terrific author (read Crackpot!). Speaking of authors, I’d have to include my favorites – just so we could eventually talk books over after-dinner drinks: Paul Auster, Milan Kundera, Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Gilbert. Margaret Cho and Dave Atell too, just so things don’t get too serious.

Food? We’d start with top-of-the-line fresh sashimi and nigiri sushi, like grade 1++++ toro – all prepared by an 80-year-old chef who’s been perfecting his craft since he was a toddler!

Then everything Italian – pastas, gnocchi, bruschetta, fritto misto, the works! Lots of fresh seafood, lots of cheeses and salumis, tomatoes and mozzarella, fresh basil and arugula, and a big pig roasting in a pit (of course). Perfectly-cooked Florentine beef with basil and tomatoes is also there, drizzled with nuevo olio (the best!). One-hundred-year-old balsamic vinegar is on the table as well, and everything, even the pasta, is handmade on the farm, from grain and flour milled on the farm. Truffles, lots of truffles shaved all over everything.

Dessert? The best tiramisu, cannolli, and mascarpone cheesecake you could ever ask for, handmade by a 90-year-old Sicilian grandmother. My grandmother’s 8-layer coconut cake. And fresh berries grown on the fattoria, drizzled with that exquisite balsamic. All served with homemade limoncello, grappa, and espresso (in my fantasy coffee beans grow on a fattoria). Music? Just the crickets chirping, laughter and conversation, and lots of drunken singing.

That’s my ideal dinner. Everyone would fall asleep stuffed, with a smile on their face. Only to awaken at 2am starving! No worry, because there’s a huge pot of Vietnamese pho simmering on the stove – it’s been simmering for hours and hours, and all the proper sides are there to accompany your soup: Thai basil, bamboo shoots, hot sauce, limes. The smell of this magical elixir is what wakes you up in the first place. People would begin to wander downstairs, pour themselves a heaping bowl, crowd around the table, and the sounds of happy slurping would fill the room. A perfect end to a perfect day.