Friday, May 11, 2007
Things my mother told me.
Barbara and Florence, Summer 1995
Never live with a man before you’re married.
Nice girls don’t live alone in their own apartment.
Get a teaching degree so you can support yourself if you need to.
Knees are ugly. Skirts and slacks should cover them.
Stick with wool, silk and cotton. Fine fabrics last forever.
Always send a thank you card.
Don’t give your children everything. They need something to wish and work for.
It’s as easy to love a rich man as a poor man.
Save everything. You never know when it will come in handy.
Marriage is hard work.
Spend the money you have, not what you expect to receive.
Don’t be the last one to leave a party.
I’ve broken most of those rules throughout my life. Those I didn’t break, my children have. At this stage of my life, I think Florence had the right idea about most things, especially the knee part. She rarely complained, even while she cared for my father as he lost his mind to Alzheimer’s. But her true legacy to me is the way she chose to die, eleven years ago, a month after her 87th birthday.
Ovarian cancer. The surgery was successful. No trace of cancer remained. Florence left the hospital in good spirits, determined to recover her remarkable energy. But instead of gaining strength, she slipped a little each day. Anti-depressants, antibiotics, therapeutic intervention had no effect. In spite of her resolve, she weakened until she was unable to get out of bed, eat, or move except to lift one finger to pull at the feeding tube threaded through her nose. When asked if she understood she’d die if the tube were removed, she smiled for the first time in days. To live a compromised life to her was no life at all.
Two weeks later, she died from lack of food and water, a painless, courageous death.
At 5 foot 4 inches, Florence considered herself tall, which I suppose was true for her generation. She loved her children and grandchildren, volunteered her time, worked as a bookkeeper. She knew what to do when someone died, had a nervous breakdown, or needed surgery. She could knit and sew, create exquisite needlepoint chair covers, bake delicious strudel. She kept a clean home, was an adequate cook and had a modest sense of humor. Most importantly, she loved me unconditionally, which is all anyone can ever hope for in a mother.