Today I put out the six little pieces that still remain of my mother’s old crèche.
Baby Jesus and the three wise men are the only survivors of the original set that
date back to my childhood fifty years ago.
My mother died three years ago today, after a difficult struggle with cancer. She
had "the faith of a mountain!" as she used to boast, and that sustained us both
in the gathering storm. Eventually Hospice stepped in, and they were a help,
paying home visits while I scaled back my job to part time.
But then one day something went wrong in her brain and she took a sharp turn
into picasso land. By then morpheus, and his pharmaceutical namesake, had
made inroads as well. But her intellectual energy was still formidable, so
episodes could be quite vivid. One minute she'd be lucid, winning at cards, joking
with uncanny presence of mind about her illness, the next there was a descent
into a house of mirrors, with sordid apparitions and heartbreaking remorse.
Then a world-weary humor would return, and tender sunset-hued talks.
Eventually there was an opening at Hospice House, a splendid quiet place in a
woodsy setting north of the city. She wasn't quite won over by its prevailing
ambience and insistence that death is a "lavender-scented kiss". She was a
nurse herself, and unsentimental. We had discussed it candidly long ago; she
wanted to die in hospital. So she got her wish, and was soon at peace with the
place's lavish serenity. The medical care there was first rate and specialized.
They did more for her the first day, than the visiting nurses could have done in
all the months at home. But at 88, she was letting go. She was there for nine
days, a hospice novena.
She used to say that if there was no coffee in heaven, she wasn't going... only
to quickly take it back so that the Lord knew she was kidding. The word "coffee"
was the last thing she said to me before she lost her voice. I gave her some of
mine through a straw. A look of satisfaction that could have sold a ton of Chock
Full O Nuts accompanied her to the pillow. Next night I led some rosary at her
bedside, just the two of us. She was devoted to her rosary, and to the Blessed
Mother. By then she could only speak with tears. Then she slipped off to another
realm. I read 'A Visit From Saint Nicholas', our old favorite, to her ear. And to all
a good night. She died two days later, on "Mother Mary's Day".
"He's the one who's kneeling," she said of Melchior, "so he's the one who goes closest to Jesus."