A Flower Taught My Mother How To Die
The apartment smelled of Jean Nate and Lysol. On the wall near the bathroom hung a plaque I had given her years earlier. It read: “The best things in life are not things.” The sound of the oxygen machine kept time with her antique clock. There lay my mother, small on her pillows in the rented hospital bed.
Home hospice told me that it would not be long now. She came in and out of consciousness. I had already told her "I love you" many times. Unable to reach for me, she kissed her hands as if they were my hands, and whispered a meaningful “I’m sorry.” A welcome gift for past mistakes and intermittent neglect.
In her heyday my mother was a savvy business woman, antiques dealer, and artist. She painted flowers on everything, from wall murals to the toilet seat. Her presence was large. And I was small. Her antiques gave her so much pleasure. I often felt I couldn’t compete with the elaborate porcelains she so valued. Growing up, our home looked like a showroom with heavily carved furniture and large, musty oil paintings of unsmiling women and stern-looking men. My mother thrived in a gold-plated material world. Pretty things made her so happy. For a long time I was not one of them. I loved poetry, animals and flowers; my mother loved porcelain plates, old tarnished tea sets, and furniture too rickety to sit on. We orbited different worlds in the same fussy Brooklyn home on East 33rd Street. She saved everything, “just in case.”
My mother woke for a few minutes and looked over at me as I sat by her side as she lay dying. Her teased red hair spread out on the pillow like an angelic halo. I patted her head over and over smoothing her into place, wishing her to be effervescent and larger than life once more. I placed one of her most special porcelain figurines in her hand, thinking she would again tell me how important and valuable it was. I longed to hear her loud voice again. But she looked at that porcelain figurine of a mother and child as if it were a lump of clay. I was amazed that her prized possession now held no meaning for her.
Hoping for a response, I took a red rose out of her antique vase and put that in her hand instead. She smiled for the first time that day. Her pale face brightened that dim room. With tears in her eyes, she whispered, “It’s so beautiful.”
At last, my mother and I orbited the same world. But just for brief moment. She died holding that flower and I felt as if it were me she was holding. Finally.