Several people have asked me to post this since they missed the funeral. Here it is.
My mom passed a lot sooner than we were expecting. Had I known that my last comment to her while she was awake for would be “Can you open your other eye,” I am sure that I would have chosen something different to say. Something like “I love you” or I will take care of Thomas (her cat)”, or even “Rob will take care of me, so don’t worry.” These were all things I told her in the hospital over the next few days, and I am sure that on some level she heard me.
Over the last year or so, we had discussed what she wanted when the time came, something that I felt sure would be years in coming. I remember a surreal discussion on the day we discussed what kind of casket she wanted – cherry – and that was when she told me something that really surprised me. She said, “Don’t put any stuffed animals in the coffin with me.” Now I thought that she meant “Don’t embarrass me by doing anything silly,” but when I commented on what I thought she meant, she told me no, that was not what she had meant, but that she did not want any of her friends to be locked up alone in the dark for all eternity, never to see the light of day again. That was an eye opener because I had never thought of it that way, but could totally see what she was saying. I got it, and that day I understood my mother a little more.
We didn’t always see so eye to eye. We had our arguments, and our disagreements, usually over stupid things like replacing the television that no longer showed anything with blue in it or how to use the microwave, something that she never got and she somehow lost the written instructions I left for her at least once. But we did agree on teaching and the importance of being a teacher. I know she was proud of me, as one of the last things she did that night in the hospital was to tell her nurse how happy she was that I was graduating with my master’s and teaching. The conversations about teaching were among the good times that we had. Those and, of course, anything about my kids.
Dad’s death six years ago made us come closer together. She and I had never seen eye to eye about most things, but after Dad was gone, we pretty much had each other and my daily calls became a habit for both of us. Except for weekends, I would call her two to three times a day. I knew she was lonely, and I worried about her being alone in her house. Even now, I find that I keep reaching for the phone to tell her about the stupid detours in Boston or a myriad of other things that have gone on in the past few days. This has been one of the hardest things to accept about her passing. I can’t just call her and talk to her when I need to anymore.
At the very end, mom managed to slip away when we were all momentarily distracted. She was as private in her leaving as she had ever been in life, and managed to pass when no one was looking. She was one never to cause a stir and I think that she waited until all of our attention was focused elsewhere to leave us.
When we had first gotten to the hospital, my friend Jen suggested reading to her, and Rob brought a book from home that I had recommended for years that she read but she never go around to. This book, Watership Down, begins with the line “The primroses were over” and goes on to tell the story of a group of rabbits, led by one called Hazel, fleeing a doomed warren to find peace at last on the top of an English Down, or high hill. I had read some of it to Mom while we were in the hospital room, but had not had a chance to finish it. After Mom passed, Rob handed me the book, open to the last page, and I read the last passage aloud as I felt it was right to do so. I would like to share that passage with you now.
“One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way — something about rain and elder bloom — when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him — no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mind, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, “Do you want to talk to me?”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve come for,” replied the other. “You know me, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger’s ears were shining with a faint silver light.
“Yes, my lord,” he said. “Yes, I know you”.
“You’ve been feeling tired,” said the stranger, “but I can do something about that. I’ve come to ask whether you’d care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re ready, we might go along now”.
They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
“You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be all right-and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.”
He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom. ”
The passage is about things coming full circle. Things end and things begin, following the cycle they are meant to. Mom’s life was a circle, bright from one end to the other. She has inspired so many lives through her teaching and her generosity, and I will miss her terribly. But it’s like the passage says: we’ll be all right. We’ll all take care of each other, and she can take her rest knowing that her family is safe from harm.