Thursday, December 8, 2016


Dear Mom, 

Dee and I held your hands as the clock ticked above the sterile door. I was trying to stay awake, humming a bunch of corny show tunes, listening to you breathe. 

Wondering - as midnight left the room and a new day entered - will this breath be your last?

Wondering - how often did you hold my hand as I slept, and listen to me breathe?

Wondering - how do you say goodbye to your mom?

Impossible. Unfathomable.

Unless Mom breathes her final breath.

Unless Mom's finally at peace. 

All your kids returned to your room in those wee hours of December 8th. We stayed with you until a couple of aides came to offer condolences and take you away. Hugs. Lots - as we said goodbye in front of the hospital doors we had entered and exited for months. Years.

Alone, I slid into the car, the silent darkness of night wrapping itself around me like a frigid cloak. Mannheim's Steamroller's Bring a Torch Jeanette Isabella began playing as I turned the key in the ignition; the first song of my Life Without Mom soundtrack.

The lullaby lushness of recorder and strings accompanied me home down deserted streets, traffic lights blinking red, green, green, red. I was exhausted. Elated. You were finally at rest.

Our first year without you, Mom? 

It's been. 

A year without you.

You'll be pleased to know that Dad's substituted teary for grumpy. He's writing a book about your 60 year love story, filling it with tons of detail and devotion. You're Scarlett to his Rhett, Jackie to his John. I hope to refer him to an editor of historical fiction as soon as he's finished.

Your kids are looking out for each other more than we're annoying each other, though there may soon be a moratorium on that. We're constantly on the hunt for the perfect pithy, text-able quote that brings relief for about ten seconds. Then we just vent. Thanks for making us Italian, Mom. It helps with the venting. 

Our friends - and yours - have been a gift. People still check in, understanding that grief perseveres as much as it overwhelms. Their kind inquiries and therapy sessions have soothed many a dark moment, and not one of them has yet channeled Cher in Moonstruck, screaming a desperate, "Snap out of it!" Ditto the moratorium on Cher.

Danny broke his ankle, after severely spraining it during a sectional-championship  volleyball season. Rather than bubble-wrapping him for the rest of senior year, I bought him a new boot to keep him safe.

He's also driving. Pray for him. 
And the drivers on the road with him.

Ben graduated from high school! Is now studying physics and engineering.

We moved him into his dorm, then walked around campus beneath a clear blue North Carolina sky, setting sun, and pink cloud angel. Nice touch, Mama.


Natalie graduated from college! Hung out in the kitchen cooking and baking for three months (food! good food!) then packed five 5-ton bags and moved to the UK to begin her quest to save the world. 

 Cambridge is gorgeous, Mom. The history, architecture, gardens. Who grows flowers this color blue? You'd love it. Except for the rule that no one gets to walk on the perfectly manicured university lawns unless he is a really important person. I'd give anything to watch you march across one of those lawns. 

Grace, your Little Bit, is still working crazy hard as an analyst, and volunteering at Columbus Children's Hospital on weekends. She was randomly placed  in the NICU to help care for preemies and their parents. Nice touch, Mama. You always hoped she'd be a doctor. Is a surgeon okay?

Trixie's still here, much to daddy's delight, eating everything in sight. Bingley  jumps all over Pops whenever  he arrives, dog-demanding the whereabouts of his favorite gray-haired lady.

Super exciting news!
Meghan, your baby grandbaby, made her First Communion - in a gorgeous dress that looked just like your wedding gown!

Andrew, your king grandbaby, asked Kristen to marry him on Thanksgiving - in front of all of their relatives. You'd have  hooted and hollered the loudest after she said yes!

You certainly would have hollered when Dad sold your house, our house, this fall. He had to move, Mom. It was physically painful to be in those rooms with all your stuff, and no you.

Now, you live in all our houses. I have the rolling pin that you and I used to bake zillions of pies and cookies... 

...the teapot and teacups you adored...

 ... books that were tucked into your wooden shelves for decades; words, stories, poetry you read all those years ago,  that now help me better understand and appreciate you as woman, wife, mother.

You can only imagine the joy I felt when I discovered that you'd left notes in so many of these treasures.  


On notebooks,

in greeting cards...

and hundreds of family letters.

                                    You're everywhere, Mom!

                     Reminding us to keep our sunny side up...

...tossing hearts 
into sandwiches 

and soups...

          ...and pennies right where we can't help but find them!

We have our challenges.

I've finally stopped picking up the phone to call you. And I only dial Dad's answering machine to hear your voice on Mondays - . every other week. I'm still making way too much food, thinking I'll bring soup to you for dinner. The kids have finally learned to agree that a few tears in the risotto enhances its flavor. The Bills still need a coach and quarterback. And Donald Trump (yes, that guy) has the world by his unstable, tweet-twister fingertips. I'd give anything to watch you march into Trump Tower!  

Somehow, it's already your holiday season. Christmas! Our second, without you. Last year, we were so numb, beloved friends decorated our homes and cooked our meals. This year, we're decorating for you, Mom.

Christmas lights from the attic of your childhood home are glowing in my office. The yellow one is fried, but who needs yellow at Christmas?
I wrote my letter to Santa. Using your exact words.

Meghan brought pizza for lunch and helped display the manger scene your brothers brought home from Germany after WWII. She wondered what happened to the sheep's nose, and horse's tail. I told her getting old has its challenges. Noses and tails are the first things to go. Deb didn't slap me.
My favorite Christmas gift this year? Your candle creche that I've been placing - and adoring - on your mantel since I was a child.

Everyone will be here for Christmas dinner. But it will never, EVER be the same without you, Mom. I promise not to cry when I'm serving your lasagna. Tears really do make sauce taste awful. And I spilled enough of them when I opened a Christmas bin and discovered the angel I placed at your hospital bedside last year. Where's Moonstruck Cher when I need her?

One final note before I let you get back to whatever brilliant artist, poet, composer or philosopher you're sipping tea with this afternoon. We took the kids to Scotland with Dee and Sean after all the graduations.

Mom, it was spectacular.          Otherworldly beautiful.

 Could you see us in the Fairie Pools and waterfalls? 


Climbing  mountains and baaaaaa-ing at sheep?

In my imagination...

    ...Scotland looks just like heaven. Does it?

We miss you, Mom. You're in our thoughts and prayers all the time. When I was a child, I remember asking - rather often - why you were sad when your eyes suddenly looked red. "Just thinking about something, honey," you'd say, wiping away a tear. Now I know the something was your mom.

It's not getting easier without you. But you'll be pleased to know that we're getting on without you. 

Because of you.

Because you gave us each other.

And a zillion reminders of your time on earth and love for your family. Yes, you're in books and cards and letters, rolling pins and ornaments. You're in clouds and songs, and blinking lights that no one can explain. But mostly, you're in us. Your kids. Your grandkids. In teary/grumpy old dad.

Love goes on and on and on. Just like you said. 

Happy First Anniversary in heaven, Mom. Hope you're dancing with Bobby Darin By The Sea today and pouring extra strawberry syrup on a Dutch baby. 

We will be.