Mixing up the generations
Freda's blog

A mother’s final, best lesson: Part 2

category_bug_journal2.gif Sometimes it seems that a thing is not real, does not have shape or size and does not take up space in the world until it has a name. And so it was with Mom’s cancer. Although her energy remained low after her surgery the previous year, she had not been sick. She shopped and cooked and swam and saw friends, continued to build her dollhouses and lived a slower, but normal life. Until she found out she had inoperable liver cancer. That day she drove home from her doctor's office and became an invalid.

As chance would have it, her friend Martha had been visiting from Reno when the doctor’s verdict was handed up. Martha extended her stay longer than originally planned to care for Mom during the two days it took me to arrange for a cat sitter in New York, pack for an indefinite period of time and sort out the details of taking my job with me to Sacramento. Martha telephoned several times a day with distressing news of Mom’s near-hourly deterioration.

She couldn’t get out of bed. She couldn’t eat. She was vomiting all day and all night. She couldn’t last another day. Hurry. Hurry. Mom was asking for me.

After 15 hours of delayed flights, missed, canceled and re-routed connections, I arrived in Sacramento at 10PM. Martha warned me not to be shocked at Mom’s appearance and when I entered Mom’s room, Martha’s telephone predictions about impending death seemed not to have been misplaced. Mom was weak, pale and alarmingly thin – but not so fragile to prevent her from following through at once on what was to her, apparently, an urgent agenda, one for which she had been husbanding her energy for my arrival.

Mom perked up the moment she saw me, despatching Martha from the room with embarrassing speed. When she was sure I had closed and latched the door, Mom directed me to collect her papers and other items from a file cabinet in the corner.

She had always said she wanted to die at home and what Mom showed me that night were the results of her careful planning for that eventuality.

Everything was neatly sorted and arranged. Bank account cards ready for my signature so I could handle finances in her name. Checkbooks, monthly bills, tax records, medical, life and auto insurance, car registration, birth certificate, other life documents, burial arrangements, cash for daily living – everything I would need. It was all in order, all there, including - her goddamned gold.

We had argued about the Krugerrands and other gold coins she hid in those fake food tins you can buy from such places as Lillian Vernon. I always suspected the burglars read the same catalogues and know all about false-bottomed olive and tomato tins but Mom had ignored my pleas over the years to rent a safety deposit box. She was a child of the Great Depression who had, from necessity, found her first job when 25 percent of the U.S. population was unemployed and from that time forward, Mom never entirely trusted banks or the government. If they let the worst happened again, she told me, real gold and not paper money would buy a loaf of bread.

In her room the night I arrived in Sacramento, literally on her death bed, Mom poured her gold coins out of those silly, bogus food tins onto her bed as she instructed me on what I should do with them after her death.

You should have seen her, propped up against a bunch of pillows, occasionally throwing up in a bucket beside the bed, running her hands through that pile of gold coins. She loved it. Like old King Midas she was relishing the heft and the glitter and rich jingle of the precious metal. I suspected she’d done the same thing on more than one occasion of an evening home alone even before she got sick. Then, it made her feel safe. And now, because her life had a cause of death and a time frame, she knew she had been right: the gold had kept her safe clear to the end.

…to be continued…

A mother's final, best lesson: Part 1
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 3
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 4
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 5
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 6
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 7
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 8
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 9
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 10
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 11
A mother's final, best lesson: Postscript


How human that your mother received assurance from being able to run her hands through the coins. My "take" on it is that the coins were visible evidence that she was self sufficient--that she provided for herself when no one else (least of all, banks or government) could be counted upon. How moving.

Interesting the reaction that people had to living through the depression. I have knowledge of it from my grandmother (1895) and my father (1921). They can never allow themselves to trust government and business again - and by so doing lock themselves out of taking advantages of many things in life.

Thank you for this story. I am "enjoying" it very much indeed.

I love the picture of your mother letting the gold coins run through her hands, showing you, her daughter, that she was right, that it worked!

I'm enjoying immensely your blog and read it every day. I now have "Legacy Matters" my blog up and running. www.estatevaults.com/lm

I'm just about to let people know - you see there's that initial shyness - and you're among the first


After I read that the most emotion you had ever heard in your mother's voice was when she called you to tell you about her cancer, I found it hard to return to the story, but here I am....

That seemed very sad to me. But maybe I focused on that because it is hard for me to focus on death, period.

An acquaintance that I served on the PTA board with for a year--a woman in her mid 40s with two middle school children and a very nice husband--just discovered that she has inoperable cancer. The doctors have given her three weeks, give or take. It has shaken up many people I know.

The thing I like least about entering middle age is that I now not only know people who have died but also people who are dying....

And it becomes so painfully clear that I, too, will die.

It's not that "it all comes back to me" but some of it does "come back to me." I won't deny it.Best,Tim

This is a so profoundly important topic in relation to getting older, Tim, that I will post an entire entry - maybe two - about it very soon.

I look forward to your thoughts on the knowledge of death, Ronni. I have over, say, the last two or three years come to a very calm realisation of my own mortality. For example, last week it came to me that I can expect to live about another 25 years which is the time that my daughter has been alive. Not very long. But I also realised that I am ready. Don't want to go just yet ... but no longer apprehensive.

Thank you for sharing your experience of your mother's living and dieing. There is great meaning to understanding the passage. And few signposts. You're generous to share.

I am busy these days writing about a time of life in which death was the centerpiece of my life, and reading your story here is both instructive and encouraging.

These entries that tell of your mother's final days are so personal and revealing, and I appreciate your willingness to share them. How heavy the gold must have felt as the coins slipped through her fingers ... such a weight that she could feel the safety within. I can appreciate the connectedness that surely passed between you and your mother towards the end of her life, yet I also mourn the many years that were of a different sort of relationship. I still haven't quite let go of the hope of my mother and I ever sharing such a connection. Your willingness to share these pieces of your memories are such a gift.

A moving, most poignant story, Ronni. I have such a lovely experiential image of the tactile comfort your mother had, of the importance of the experience for her to share it with you, her beloved daughter, of her feeling the "solidity" of those gold coins linger on her fingertips, proof substantial that she had not only survived a long life but thrived throughout it. In a sense they were the gossamer pathway leading her to the transition from this life to whatever comes next . . .

I'm here becasue of Denny's recommendation but I'll keep coming because of your clear-eyed, unsentimental approach to what we're all facing - and your really excellent writing. My mother, another stoic, lets-get-on-with-life woman, is being treated for cancer now and I am learning a great deal from her. I'm anxious for the next installment, and really appreciate what you're doing here.

We are born for two reasons--to produce (something/someone to further the Purpose of the entire universe) and to die. (How we react to these missions is not important except to us.) Both we uniquely experience. As a teacher once said to one child bullying another," Hey, leave him alone; we don't have another like him anywhere. We need him."

I enjoyed your story, Ronni....
Dr. Agarwal

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