I made the executive decision, back when my mom died in December. “We’re not telling him,” I said, regarding my dad. Some people thought that was weird. They weren’t divorced, or estranged, or anything that might explain why a man wouldn’t need to know that his partner of 53 years was gone. That he was now a widower. My parents were still married. He still liked her. He still asks for her, sometimes.
“She’s sleeping,” is what I tell him, every time.
During the funeral, I kept thinking of him, sitting there in a nursing home, completely unaware of the death of his wife. Of the fact that we were sitting in a church, crying as the priest said nice words about her. Of the fact that his daughters had lost their mother. Of anything. Maybe that’s a good thing about Alzheimer’s Disease – you can let them believe whatever seems best.
“Mummy’s sleeping,” I say.
The other day, I was sitting with him in the dementia unit lounge and he said to me, “Where’s Mummy? Is she still sleeping? Wake her up, she was supposed to bring me something to eat.”
I said, “Oh, let’s let her sleep. She’s tired. Your lunch will be here soon.”
I wasn’t lying about the lunch. It was there, within minutes. He ate most of it, and did not ask about Mummy again.
This Mother’s Day, I wonder what she would think of all this. If there’s one thing I know about my mother, it’s that she sometimes enjoyed seeing people suffer. She loved the show American Ninja Warrior and one of my kids once said, “That’s because she likes to see people get hurt.” We had a good laugh about that. I even told it to my mother, and she laughed about it, too. Now, when it rains, we say that Grandma is in Heaven competing on the show. And just fell in the pool because obviously, you never make it through the course on your first try.
I don’t think she’d want us to cry and sob and be overwhelmed by grief forever, about her death. I do, however, believe she’d want the full impact of it to be felt. Especially by her spouse, who by rights should miss her at least as much as the rest of us do.
Instead, where Daddy is concerned, her death was a non-event. Nothing to see here. Mummy’s sleeping.
So on that note, I’m composing a little note to her, to take the place of the Hallmark card I’d have normally given her for Mother’s Day. Here it is.
First of all, happy Mother’s Day. You did a good job. I learned from the things you did wrong, and the things you did right were so eerily, perfectly right that I still can’t quite get my head around how you did it. Allowing me to read at the dinner table, for example, my book propped up around my plate and maybe even hiding half my face, when I was younger. This is a habit that has served me well, particularly when I choose to eat alone in public with my book propped up around my plate. Not many mothers would permit this type of behavior. You told me you figured that at least I wasn’t doing drugs at the dinner table. This is a logical leap that I still can’t follow, but thank you for it, and for all the other exactly right mothering you did.
Second: no. We have not told Daddy about you and we’re not going to. But the nurses have said they think he knows, anyway. He gets teary-eyed when he hears certain songs, and when he asks, “Where’s Mummy?” you can see a little more than just your average-level curiosity in his face. Also, the fact that he asks “Where’s Mummy?” at all is a pretty good testament to your legacy. He doesn’t ask about anyone else. He still expects you to deliver his meals. I like to think you are still taking care of him, from wherever you are, and so I let him think it, too.
Also, I like to imagine the reunion, when he joins you in the afterlife. “Jesus Christ, Maureen,” he’ll say. “When did you die?” And then you’ll laugh, and tell him how it happened, and then he’ll say, “But why didn’t those assholes tell me?”
Then you will both laugh, and then you’ll probably go to get him something to eat.
The only bad news is that I’m pretty sure he will beat you at American Ninja Warrior. But on the bright side, no one ever completes the course on their first try, so surely you’ll get to see him fall a few times. That will be fun.
Third: I love you. We all do. Rest in peace.
And happy Mother’s Day.