Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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In a full heart there is room

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Wertheim flowerbox photo: Jon Ring

Just like one of the characters in my novel, my mother had a Leap-Year birthday on February 29. As my sister and I remember her this year, I’m grateful to share a guest post from my sister that carries my mother’s voice — unmistakable to my inner ear, across years and the incomprehensible distance between this life and the next — in ways that leave my heart astonished.

It was captured at a time of unbearable loss, and unfathomable mystery, just the sort of atmospheres in which our mother knew how to accompany us.

 

Guest Post

By Tracey Edgerly Meloni

I need my mother.

I’m twelve years too late, but never have I needed her more than at this moment. Her last words to me were, “I’ll always be with you,” though I doubt either of us believed that she was being literal.

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Photo: Karen Olin Darling

This is not what I expected, this waiting for Bob, the last time I will see him in this hospital, the last time I will touch his hand, brush his lips with mine. Sometime between when a tinny voice called me in the middle of the night and when I arrived here, he was spirited away from his sterile ICU cubicle (now stripped and eerily empty) to this unknown room I am waiting to enter. The Visitation Room, they call it. Doctors, nurses, orderlies and general helpers bustle past; no one looks at me.

I am sitting in the Dead Zone, an awkward limbo to hospital personnel: the patient is no longer here, but has not yet left the building.

Don’t worry — you know they are getting him ready. And I will be with you.

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Painting, “Movement” by Diane Kirkup

Mum is here – that deliciously throaty voice, Helen Mirren meets Lauren Bacall, her Arden scent wrapping around me like her slender arms.

Yes, I do know, after years as a doctor’s wife,

I know about  “getting him ready.” Removing the tubes and wires, masking the bruises, the torn skin, the paddle burns; erasing that final image, the moment of knowing alarm, from his features. I’ve been there hundreds of times, but not with my Bob being the one readied. Definitely I am looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

Let’s go away somewhere for now – pick your happiest memory.

There were so many … let’s go with Turks and Caicos, 1987, before the Glitterati discovered it, when only one gas pump, a Club Med and the most glorious scuba diving in the hemisphere defined it. When torrid and wine-drenched afternoons were spent lying naked under the lazy ceiling fan …

thOK, enough … I am your Mum, after all, and you were a long way from married then … pick another memory.

In Venice, on the Grand Canal, in the bridal suite of the Regina-Europa, toasting Mum’s leap-year birthday at a time when no sane person goes to Venice.

Or in Cairo, having dinner at sunset on the Nile …

Or in Djibouti, where “Bombay Bob” gained fame on our 100-passenger explorer vessel for my dubious lyrics, to the tune of the old “Pretty Baby:”

“If you miss the final shuttle

Say GOODBYE, your cruise is scuttled,

In Djibouti today!”

Naked stuff there, too, yes?

483660_10151501579297641_2073824323_nThere, and everywhere.  Soul mates and best friends and … yes.

“Mrs. Meloni? You may come in now – and my condolences.”

Mum says nothing – For this, I must step forward on my own.

The room is ridiculous, chintz and lavender wallpaper and a rocking chair, as if I am welcoming him to the world, not saying goodbye.

He is clean, pink, scrubbed – no sign of the odious central line that became so infected, all evidence of his cracked chest,  ventilator, bedsores and other bodily harm hidden by an Amish quilt. Terrible music – Mantovani Mediocrity, elevator music – plays softly in the background. Tears, the unbidden, unattractive snotty-nosed kind, threaten.

No, no, no! We don’t cry for bad taste and worse music. Get everyone out of here and be alone with him – capture what you need.

I ask everyone to leave. I kiss his forehead, his earlobe, his neck. I slide off his wedding ring, knowing I will wear it on a chain around my neck, maybe forever. I marvel at his peaceful expression, so different from yesterday’s angst. I long to stroke all of him, but know that those days are over.

Never again will we lie naked together, under a lazy ceiling fan.

Some not-quite-a-nurse person hands me a plastic bag: the dead man’s stuff, no longer needed. Glasses and underwear and a book he never read about Cole Porter.

I think of his spider-quote from EB White: “and I … as spiders do, attach one single thread to you, for my returning …”

Mum

Peggy Wilson Edgerly, 29 Feb. 1920 – 4 Nov. 2000.

You’ve forgotten Antonio, she reminds me;  we both love Antonio Porchia, especially  in a full heart there is room for everything and in an empty heart there is room for nothing.”

I cock my head to one side, holding Bob’s hand gently, wondering what she will say, and if she will come back again.

She blows me away:

Man, when he does not grieve, hardly exists.

 

 A heart full of thanks to writer Tracey Edgerly Meloni

 

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