I received a phone call the other night from the nursing facility where my mother resides. Of course, seeing that number on Caller ID at 9:30 p.m. sends chills up my spine. They advised me that she had stopped breathing twice, and called for paramedics. It was one of the coldest nights so far this year. My car had not started in days, and I panicked.
As I waited for my uncle to pick me up to take me to the emergency room, my mind was flooded with emotions, fears, madness, memories, and the constant overwhelming feeling of guilt I continue to battle ever since I was forced to place my mom in a nursing facility.
I've spoken of these feelings before, and I work at feeling more confident about my decision every day. You know how they say when you have a near-death experience your life flashes before your eyes? Well, this was a similar experience — but, instead of memories, it was the urgency of wanting her to wait for me — give us one last chance to be with each other and say a proper goodbye; for me to see her eyes one more time before they closed.
|"Beryl," by Peter Cristofono|
She was born in 1923. In those days, doctors placed drops of silver nitrate in a newborn's eyes, and they sometimes did not open them for a couple of days. When my grandmother got her first glimpse of her second child's eyes, she saw they were a very pale green; the same color as beryllium — one of the precious gems of the Bible — the eighth stone in the New Jerusalem, Beryl. And so, my mother was named Beryl.
I've been thinking of some of the wild-and-wacky experiences I shared with her. Because my father was in Germany at my birth, and Mom went back to work within weeks, our extended family helped her raise and nurture me. Her older sister took me on several trips with her. By the time my mother was ready to take her first plane ride to Canada, I was to go with her as her escort. I was five. She was terrified and pretty vocal about it. I told her to calm down and put her seat belt on, because (I thought) they kept the plane from falling.
We took the subway to the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows again and again, eating huge Belgian waffles with powdered sugar and fresh strawberries; Japanese food, escargot, crepes and my favorite, Polynesian food.
Baseball and The Beatles
She loved baseball, and went to the last Brooklyn Dodgers game at Ebbets Field (supposedly, I was too young to go, so she went with friends). However, she and I went to the first NY Mets game at Shea Stadium when I was 10. Two years later, she braved the young masses (and my mania) and took me back to Shea to see the Beatles — what were we thinking?
Before we moved to Indiana in 1967, Beryl had a different persona. She worked at Lever House in Manhattan for Lever Brothers, and wore these amazing tall, skinny stiletto heel pumps ("Mad Men" style), with pencil skirts and flamboyant dresses my grandmother made her.
I remember sitting on our stoop in Queens during the summer waiting for her to get off the bus, which she took from the subway home. When I heard those heels clicking, I knew she was coming. She played poker and wore the same hair style from 1949 until just a couple of years ago, and the same lipstick, Revlon's Cherries in the Snow. Yes, they still make it; there are a few tubes around here somewhere. And, she always wore eye shadows in shades of purple to enhance the soft, green beryllium color of her eyes.
She was stabilized while in the ER. But, I watched her cry endlessly for her mother, and I felt the presence of our ancestors in the room. She's changed though. Now she appeared less tense and fearful; a bit more peaceful and comfortable. Today, she stared at me a long time with those eyes, and I know there's just a short time to bask in them. How does one prepare for that end?
First Published 1/25/2015 by The Courier-Times, New Castle, IN
Photo, "Beryl," by Peter Cristofono