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A mother's final, best lesson: postscript

category_bug_journal2.gif On the day we returned to our respective homes, Joe to San Francisco and me to New York, Joe drove me to the Sacramento airport. After four months of getting to know one another in round-the-clock intimacy of caring for a woman we both loved, the parting was painful. We were both teary, but neither of us doubted we would be in touch often and we promised to follow up on our plans for Joe to visit me soon in New York.

Mom’s friend, Barbara, was becoming my friend, Barbara, and we phoned several time a week after I left Sacramento. At first, she spoke mostly of the times she and Mom had shared over the years and how alone she felt without Mom. Now we were discovering our own commonalities.

When the phone rang one day about two weeks after I got home, it was the first time I had heard Joe’s voice since we had left Sacramento. He was hesitant and a bit distant. He said he had tried to write a dozen letters to me, but the words wouldn’t come and now the telephone seemed the only right way to say what he then blurted out:

“I’m gay and I’m HIV-positive.”

It hit me like a punch in the gut. If, in the 1980s and 1990s, and you had made your home in Greenwich Village for a long time, you could not escape the scourge of AIDS. I had already buried too many people I loved – many of them not much more than boys - and my oldest, dearest, closest friend, who lived in Los Angeles, was HIV-positive too.

Joe had not told me in Sacramento, he said, because he didn’t want to increase the burden I already bore. But he was surprised I had not guessed because of the AZT pills he swallowed at regular times of the day and the several rest breaks he took – both required to maintain his health.

I had assumed the pills were vitamins, and Joe had made so many of the household chores his own, I hadn't noticed rest breaks. It wasn't fair. I wanted to scream and yell and cry and when we hung up the phone, I did. I had found a second brother with whom I had connected so closely, and now the spectre of his early death would shadow everything between us.

We humans are remarkably resilient in the face of horror, and Joe and I had an outstanding ten days together when he stayed with me in September. Joe had never been to New York and he took to it like a native. The subway was an adventure and instead of seeing the dirt and grime and noise, he liked its speed and convenience. We visited museums and walked through Chinatown and went to a Broadway play. We took advantage of the variety of restaurants and we shopped the Bleecker Street stores for cooking at home.

Joe saved my life one evening with the Heimlich maneuver when a piece of cheese caught in my throat.

Joe agreed with me that among the abundance of spectacular architecture in New York City, the Chrysler Building outshines them all. He was as much in love with New York as I have always been and he said, at the end of his visit, that more than anything else, he wanted to walk the winding Greenwich Village streets during a snowfall.

So we planned a February visit.

Late in the year, Barbara phoned with terrible news: a tumor had been found in her brain. Surgery was to be immediate, but the doctor warned about damage to her brain, though there was no hope at all without the surgery. The doctor’s concern proved true. Barbara and I spoke briefly on two, maybe three occasions following the surgery and then her son told me she no longer recognized anyone. Barbara died a month later.

In the days before Joe’s February arrival, I was glued to the weather reports. It was cold, flurries were predicted with a light dusting of snow, but no big storm: good for airports, bad for Joe’s wish. I sent entreaties to the gods. I got my mojo working and some good juju too. I lit a few candles and prayed the weatherman was an idiot.

There were light flurries in the air, nothing serious, when Joe arrived in the late afternoon. We talked and chattered and reminisced for a couple of hours. I cooked dinner and we lingered over the last of the bottle of an excellent Bordeaux I’d saved for his visit. Afterwards, Joe helped clean up the kitchen and wash the dishes, and when I peeked out the window around 10:30, I was giddy to see that my mojo had caused the weatherman to fail. Already, there was more than half a foot of snow on the ground and I could tell it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Joe and I giggled like kids as we bundled up in our coats and scarves and hats and gloves and we were the first, on some blocks, to make footprints in the snow. There was enough of it piled on parked cars that it was easy to ignore them and imagine we were walking in the Village a hundred years before when these same houses were lit with gaslight. When we listened carefully in just the right way, we could almost hear the clip-clop of a horse and carriage around the corner. Joe said the walk was more than he had hoped for and the best thing that had happened to him in ages.

Joe didn’t have as much energy on this second trip to New York. One day, we cut short a visit to the Metropolitan Museum when his entire being seemed to deflate as weariness suddenly overcame him. His enthusiasm for the city had not waned, but his ability to keep going all day had. Nevertheless, by pacing ourselves, we checked off everything on Joe’s list before he went home.

Although we talked about Joe returning to New York and even fantasized now and again about his moving to the city, he became steadily more sick over the next year and a half and spent increasingly more time in and out of the hospital for new treatments. Each took more out of him.

Sometimes, when Joe was too weak, I talked with his caregiver, Jack. By mid-1994, Joe was no longer capable of speaking on the phone at all. In October, Jack said I should come. The end was near.

Jack was sitting on the front stairs of his home when a taxi dropped me there from the airport. He was crying as he hugged me and said Joe had died at the hospital while my plane was still in the air.

There was a memorial for Joe a few days later at the Bay View Boat Club where he was a member. That’s “boat,” not “yacht” club, as befits those like Joe who loved sailing more than any kind of status. His friends told me he had often talked about me in the years after Mom died and about his two trips to New York. And they said he always called me, “my sister."

Some weeks after I returned home, Joe’s friends scattered his ashes near the Farallon Islands, about 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco.

There is no revelatory conclusion here. No grand enlightenment. No flash of wisdom gained. Joe and I, and Barbara too, had been the tight little family surrounding and protecting Mom in her last days. Two-and-a-half years later, there was only me to tell this story.

                                        - Finis -

A mother's final, best lesson: Part 1
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 2
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


What a remarkable record of an unimaginably difficult time. You have got me crying again... My best friend's mother died yesterday after a long battle with cancer, throughout which my friend nursed her. I will be telling her to read your beautiful series when she feels stronger.

Thank you so much.

Unlike Jeanne, I have no cause for the tears that are rolling down my cheeks beyond having read your postscript. Ronni, your words (and the events that they tell) are truly moving. Thank you, once again, for sharing this wonderful story with us, your readers.

I'm afraid that if we deny the reality of death in life, then we close ourselves off to the rest of what is real and incomprehensible and wonderful in life. These warm, respectful stories gently help us to open our eyes and put us in contact. It has been a great series, a thing of great substance. I wish it could have a broader, more enduring life than is possible from the blog medium.

As you know, your series has helped me through a bad time recently. We make connections in life, and inevitably as we age, the losses pile up. With each, we are stronger. But the acceptance never really completely comes, and the memories are all we have left. Thank you so much for sharing what I can see is pain softened only a little by time.

I sit here with tears rolling down my cheeks. I had planned to read all you wrote about your Mother this the past Mother's Day, but I did not, following the recent loss of a family member of my own.

Previously, I not only hadn't taken the time to read this full account, but after a light skimming here and there, I didn't have the courage to do so.

Today, I thought I just might be ready to allow myself to experience the full feeling impact of the words here.

There is much with which I can identify. There is, also, much with which I have had no personal experience. I can only say at this point in time, how profoundly moved I am by what I've read.

Oh my, oh my. What a wonderful, loving daughter you are. Such a tale i have not heard told so exquisitely honestly, crisply, graphically. The timing for me in reading this is exquisite, too. What guts you have. What awareness. Like you, i couldn't find it in myself to honor my mother far earlier in her life and in mine. Maybe it is never too late. You had the very end of her life to bring you together w her and w your "family" and... with yourself. Thank you for this gift of your narrative.

Ten years ago I lost my best friend - my Mother Rose at age 83. The loneliness and acceptance has been hard for me because sometimes it is better not to be too close to one's parents. My Mom had heart trouble and other ailments and also wanted to die because My Dad had died in '91 after an eleven year battle with prostate cancer. When I read this story, it made me realize that others too - share such pains and reflections and this story was like a trip down my memory lane. Thank you for allowing me to read it.


Your writing is incredibly beautiful, and I very much appreciate the honesty and grace of your words. Thank you for sharing this.


I couldn't stop reading your story and identified so much with your experiences and thoughts as I also took care of my father at home when he was dying of liver cancer.
I was living in Australia and
had to leave my daughter with my ex for several weeks, which was very hard. I know how difficult it is and felt unprepared for the demands. There wasn't much aupport from the rest if the family. except for my nephew sand as couple of old friends

But, like you, I thought my father was teaching me how to have courage in the face of death.

A really fine,well-written, poignant piece.

Oh Ronni:
I finally took the time to read your beautiful series. I was profoundly affected. This is some of the best writing I've ever seen.
Have you considered a memoir?
More should read this. The lessons are rich and meaningful.

I spent the morning reading these profound, beautifully written words that flowed so directly from your heart. I sat quietly for awhile, unable to respond, touched so deeply that words didn't come, only quiet tears. In addition to being so deeply moved by your experience, my identification is strong. While your mother was dying, my husband, who I loved very deeply, was dying of lung cancer. I kept a journal through those times to save my sanity thinking someday I would write his story. Perhaps some day I will be able to that and it will be called: Let's Drink the Good Wine. That was his response to my determined optimism about his potential treatment outcomes in the weeks after his initial diagnosis. He said, "I'm perfectly willing to be optimistic, but let's drink the good wine." Eleven months later, continually demonstrating amazing courage and deep caring while he continued to live life fully until he couldn't anymore, he died at home. It was our choice too.

Thank you, Ronnie. Thank you very much. There's no way I can express how much I appreciate what you have written. Blessings to you, ~ Sil

Ronnie, as I read this, it brought tears to my eyes, and I thought of two similar stories in my own life, and of how doing for them brought more to me than I could possibly have given to them. This lesson is one that cannot be too often repeated; your telling of it is something I will never forget.

Ronni, this eleven part series is the best writing I've encountered in decades. Your story telling is so well done. You are a real voice in my head, narrating your tale. I smile and laugh and cry as I listen to you. Thank you.

Thank you for this - My father was in a hospital when he died, unexpectedly, and my mother in a nursing home also died unexpectedly (also, she had dementia) so I was both blessed (I thought at the time) and denied the experience you had with your mother. Thank you for such a clear description of what I missed (and I don't mean that ironically). And I'm grateful that you had the faculty and talent to make the description so artful. Thank you for your honesty in the sharing.

Painfully profound piece exceptionally written.

Ronnie, I was in your shoes just 11 years ago that seems like yesterday. My journey was 9 months and there were days that I didn't think I could go on but just the sight of my mothers beautiful face made me go on. It was a struggle but a lesson for me and I pray that I will have the privilege of being with loved ones when my day comes. You are beautiful and you write it down with meaning. Thank you

As I am getting of an age when "arrangements should be made", I thank you for showing me exactly what will happen (if I'm fortunate) for my daughter.
I will encourage her to read your story, in order to prepare her.
Thank you from both of us.

Thank you once again. This is most inspirational for me.

What a beautifull history i am a private care giver in antioch california and i know what u whent thou i love my job but it take all my energy i learn so much from each of them is a sad experiece but thats thru we know how to live or survive but not all whant to take a time to live the experience to take care of their parent the last days of life u did good whem i see pacients die i ask my self where in the world are the family.so sad but truth.

Thank you for sharing this intimate part of your life. We all can benefit from your words.

I read every word. Thank you for sharing.

As I read your story, I was reminded of my four month "end of life" journey with my Mom - a woman who absolutely adored. Although it's now 7 years since that journey, often it seems like only a few months ago. In your heart-felt, beautifully expressed words, you captured so much of the emotions and many of the experiences the journey leads us through. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Typed in "memory loss" and ended up on your site. Wonderful! All is said already. Wholeheartedly agree with everybody's accolades. I'm going to take the time to read more on your site in the near future. Your writing is exquisite. Thank you so much for translating emotion in words.

My father died today,

Ok, he didn't die today, but he did die 3 months ago,
I also left behind a busy life and a young child to be with him often during his last months and his last days,

He had survived so much, childhood polio, lymphoma, leukemia, prostate cancer and finally, the dementia of Alzheimer's that began slowly but in the end rapidly took away his ability to care for himself and his family - this last was the hardest part of all for him,

He would shake his head slowly when he realized he couldn't make this most recent thought known, or would complienly obey when an aide would lead him away to use the toilet while he was still able to slowly shuffle into the bathroom,

I recognize so much of our story in yours, After living this myself (albeit I had more help than you because at the same time my step mother also developed dementia and a sudden hostility towards us and inability to care for herself or dad) -- but like you-- I recognize the valuable lessons granted by my father to all of us who cared for him,

He truly taught us not only to live a life with grace, kindness, compassion and loyalty, but also -- he taught us to leave it in the same way,

I am still mourning him strongly and I am prone to tears at the slightest memory of him. Sometimes just a passing thought that I want to phone him and realize he is gone, or a favorite food or a walk on the beach where I spent many hours talking with him from a distance as my dog (who left me to join him just 1 month after dad died) and I walked along the shore in the morning mist.

I want to write our story as your so vividly did. I don't think I can do so as well as you, and as time passes, my memories of exact words and things that made us all laugh due to their shear weight and sadness are beginning to fade from my memory.

I would say to all who have the opportunity to be with a dying parent, or even just an aging (even if annoying parent) that they should drop what they are doing and go. Go now. Stay as long as you can. Don't be afraid as this is not your journey but theirs and you will feel honored to be there and you will find strengths and abilities that you didn't know you had and as you lose your loved one into the night -- you will know that that is the closest to G-d you will ever be on this earth and you won't be afraid. Never again. And you will know the right things to say and do and your parent will through the process show you that you really are a lot stronger and less selfish than you though -- thanks dad. Again.

I will say this also-- that the time comes and your loved one starts to breathe badly and they slip into a sleep that you sense they will not awaken from (or even before this), go on line and find "the 10 most significant poems of our time" and read these to them. For you. And find their favorite songs from the past and read out loud to your dying parent the words. And prayers that you might not have read since childhood and anything else significant.

They will hear and you will send them off with words of meaning but more than that... From then on- when you heard those words, or read them to your child, or catch a whiff of that song on a radio in the distance as you walk on the beach -- you will remember those last moments that you gave each other and through the tears, you will smile.

Enjoy the moments. We are only with those we love on this earth for a very short while.

Good night.
Thanks for reading this.

I miss you dad.

Love, me

As I read this last message I thought WOW!! This sounds just like my daughter . OMG it is you! Trying still to get me to move to where you live. I will now give it more consideration.
I love you!!!!!

Oh, so beautiful yet gut wrenching.

Thank you.

Your journey touched my heart on so many levels, thank you for sharing..

The beauty and emotion of your series are indescribable. You bring out many unacknowledged feelings in me. Things I didn't realize I could feel. Thank you so much for sharing.

Brilliant. Thank you for sharing this.

I have been reading your blog for a long time now but never commented. I just wanted to say what an amazing writer you are. Thanks for sharing your story.

I somehow happened across your story as I was searching for some enlightenment to my mothers geriatric flatulence. After spending a few embarrassing hours looking for carpet and tile for her home.
With tears rolling down my face I look no further. But welcome the chance to have another embarrassing fart come out of her as we deal with sales people and CONtractors.

Thank You

You put into words the loss of my own mother in nov. 2014. I was also 51 and had quite similar feelings and emotions towards my mother. I was so blessed as you say to have been able to go to her in Florida from my home in the mid west to care for her. I was given a gift that I will cherish always. Thank you for this wonderful heartfelt and honest story!

Oh my goodness, what a beautiful tribute to you and your mother. Maybe even to life and death itself. More thanks than I know how to express.

Ronnie, I just “found” you a month or so ago. I don’t know how I came across your blog, but have been reading it ever since. Thank you for the joy, insights and outlook on life as you see it. This piece on your mom filled me for longing for my parents and all I learned from them. I’m sad that you are ill, but happy that your life has made so many of us glad to live the lives we do. You know you are cherished by many.

Thank You.
My mother has dementia and it's scary.
Your words were a gift x

I had a similar experience when my Mother died a couple years ago. You brought back the tears and thankfulness that I was able to be with her during her last few months. Dad lives with me now, and I am glad we have time together caring/loving/supporting each other through this and other difficult times.
Yours is an amazing story, reaffirming time with our parents is time well spent. Peace and blessings to you.

Oh, Ronnie.....you write beautifully. I am a retired RN, and worked 10 years in hospice; I was the administrator, with a census of over 400 patients. Many days, we would admit 40 patients and then would have 40 deaths in the same day. The stupid paperwork is required by M’care and our govt. I had to leave after 10 years....I loved the patients, the families, the staff.....but, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Get with AARP.....you need to publish this for all of the thousands of caregivers. They will identify with you and your journey. Your writing will give them confirmation in what they are going through. Thank you.

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