Ma was a feisty woman who juggled many tasks and got everything done to perfection. She boasted that her kitchen and bathroom floors were “clean enough to eat off of” and that no one could make a brisket as tender as hers. In addition to cleaning, cooking and doing other household jobs, Ma worked full-time at a local children’s store. Nothing ever slowed her down.
When Ma was in her early eighties, she developed spinal stenosis. After three surgeries, she struggled to hold onto her normal routine, but even stepping onto the bus that took her to work challenged her. She washed clothes, sheets and towels in the sink rather than having to lug them down to the basement laundry in her building. Many of her meals were now TV dinners that she simply heated in the oven.
Ma was determined that age and health issues would not stop her—but she soon lost her grip.
I am not sure whether Ma had dementia or Alzheimer’s—or just such severe depression that she could no longer maintain any quality of life. I do know that this vibrant woman, one who cared about cleanliness and appearance, stopped showering and only dressing in a stained white T-shirt and torn white underwear. She sat blankly in her chair all day and then wandered the halls at night. Dad and I tried to hold on—to keep Ma at home in familiar surroundings—but we knew our efforts were in vain.
Ma spent the last several years of her life in a facility. Dad and I visited her daily, trying to remind her of the family that still cared and of the memories that still mattered. We bought her cheerful, colorful blouses and pants to wear, and we treated her to chocolate chip cookies and chips, foods she now craved but would have never eaten in her “you can’t be too thin” other life. Only when MRSA invaded her body did we realize that it was time to let go.
Except for a few hours of sleep, Dad and I never left Ma’s side at the hospice where she lasted for two weeks. When she died Wednesday, March 21, 2007, the peaceful look on Ma’s face assured me that she, too, had somehow decided to no longer hold onto a life without substance. I felt some comfort knowing that she had willingly let go.