My grandmother was the strongest woman I have ever met. I knew she wouldn’t live forever, but I thought she was going to easily make it to 100. This year when she was diagnosed with melanoma on her hand at age 91, I didn’t think too much of it, they removed it, and it looked like everything was going to be fine. Unfortunately it wasn’t fine, it returned in her lymph nodes. They did surgery followed by radiation. She powered through, driving herself to radiation every day. We talked 3 weekends ago, and she asked me if I had experienced extreme fatigue with radiation, she said she could barely keep her eyes open and she seemed concerned about it. I actually did experience exhaustion and I assured her it was a normal side effect. On that call she told me she was thinking about me all the time. She said that she was fine going through the radiation but when she thought about me going through it she told me “Al, it just frosts my tail, you are too young and I wish you didn’t have to do that baby.” Some people don’t know this about Mimi, but she was a very compassionate person. She was tough and could be abrasive, but she had a big heart and really wanted you to be the best you could be. If you fell and scraped your knee, Mimi would tell you to suck it up and move on, “toughen up” she’d say, but when you were really down for the count, she’d be there nursing you back to health or cheering you on.
I got the call from my Mom that I had been dreading. She told me if we wanted to get up to spend some time with Mimi, we should book a flight immediately. The radiation wasn’t working and the cancer had spread everywhere. They moved Mimi into a hospice facility in Falmouth, MA on Wednesday, May 15, and on Friday, me and my Dad and my brother were on a plane up to Boston after work. We arrived at JML Care Center on Saturday afternoon. My heart raced as I entered the building. I floated along the hallways until I arrived at Mimi’s room. I paused for a minute at the door and then went in. There she was, lying there with the sun shining on her face looking lifeless. I immediately started crying uncontrollably. I had never seen Mimi like this before. She roused herself up from sleep, pointed at me and said “None of that! No tears! Let me see those beautiful teeth.” I laughed and collected myself gripping her hand and gave her a big smile. “Good, you are here” she said. Her body looked weak, but when she took my hand she still had that same strong grip she’s always had. “My Al” she said. She kissed my hand and then I kissed her hand and a really sweet smile washed over her face. She kissed my hand again and I returned the kiss. “Oh Al” she said “We are going to have to call this thing off, or we are just going to go too far” her eyes welled up with tears for a brief moment “..well OK, one more” she said, and she tightened her grip on my hand and kissed it again. She was still Mimi, strong and sharp as a tack even on a morphine drip.
We spent the whole day there with Mimi. There were 12 family members all crammed into her room and friends streamed in and out all day. Mimi loved hearing all the activity around her, and she’d drift in and out of sleep looking so content and happy. People took turns holding both of her hands, she didn’t want to be left alone for too long. At one point I went outside to play frisbee with my cousins. Mimi yelled out the window asking us to slide over so that we were in view from her window. We were playing and laughing and I knew she was listening, I knew this is what she really wanted, for us to connect with each other and to be outside enjoying the beautiful day together. At one point the frisbee landed right below her window, I went to grab it and yelled “Hi Mim” through the window, she opened her eyes, smiled and gave me a little wink. We spent the day like this. It was a nice day, filled with love and light and laughter. As I looked around the room full of people with Mimi, I thought to myself, she really earned this, she spent her whole life connecting with people and giving of herself and it was all coming back to her, how nice!
As Mimi faded in and out of consciousness, she’d ask who was in the room, she was keeping track of everyone. We all took turns sitting right beside her and holding her hands. I sat back down with her, taking both of her hands and she opened one eye and complimented me on my earrings, this made me smile. I told her I knew she’d notice, so I tried to look fashionable. She looked at me with a big grin “You know me well babe” she said patting my hand. I told Mimi I was wearing her mother’s ring and her face lite up, she said “Oh I wanted to see that on you so badly” she grabbed my hand and looked at the ring on my finger “It’s right where it belongs” she said. She closed her eyes and grasped my hands, tears streamed down my face, but this time she didn’t order me to stop. I held onto her hands and let the tears drip onto my shirt.
Towards the end of the day the whole family got together and sang Edelweiss to Mimi, it was one of her favorite songs. Mimi actually sang along with us, she was smiling with the sweetest expression on her face, my brother was holding her hands and singing and he said she was right on pitch even though her voice was very faint. We did an encore and then said good night to Mimi.
The next morning we were waking up to get ready for another visit and my Mom got a call from my Uncle that Mimi had died at 7:55am on Sunday, May 19, 2013 (by the way, I have to say “died” because Mimi did not like the expression “passed away.” Say “died” or “croaked” or “kicked the bucket!” she ordered). I had been sleeping in Mimi’s cottage in Osterville with my Mom. I scanned her cozy little pad after learning she had died. Light was pouring in the windows. I walked around the place and noticed that the sun was shining right on her chair. My mom and I cried and hugged each other. I am so glad we were together.
The next few days became a bit of a treasure hunt as we found poems and readings that Mimi had tucked away in different spots with notes on them like “Love this. Use for me.” or “Please read.” We were looking for photos to create big collages and stumbled across a binder called “MY LIFE” filled with every wonderful picture of Mimi from the time she was a baby until the present.
We also found a letter addressed to all of us that read:
“To all my beloved children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and the wonderful persons they married- with all my thanks for the fabulous people you all are. How proud I am of all of you- each one of you is very special. Never have I accepted my angels Anne and Debbie leaving us so early- but I guess we all must be strong- Ted, Amy, Todd & Jillian- my heart breaks for you because I know how much they were a part of your lives. All of you my beautiful family- may your lives unfold with ease and grace- may you find joy and serenity and love and may all the opportunities you dream of be yours. I wish you happy endings, happily ever after- If you are all blessed with a family like mine, you will indeed be as happy and fulfilled as my life has been. I love you all so so very much. You have all made my life.”
People poured into the visitation on Wednesday, over 300 people must have come through. Flags were at half mast on the Cape. Mimi was loved. The funeral was the same, my aunt Lisa delivered an amazing eulogy and at the reception my mom delivered a lighter funny collection of “Mimi-isms” that had us all laughing. The surprise for me came from my cousin Kiley who fought back tears to deliver a heartfelt speech about Mimi. I felt overwhelmed by emotions. I knew Mimi would have been so proud of her for getting up and doing that, Kiley also said some of the things I wanted to say about Mimi, but most of all, I could see some of Mimi’s best characteristics in Kiley and it made me happy to see Mimi living on in my wonderful family. Get it Ki- you rock and PS. I think you are going to have to carry the Hannah Screecham torch, who else could do it!! 😉
I had actually prayed the night before Mimi died. I prayed for a lot of things, but I also asked Mimi to give me a sign after she died. If anyone could, I thought Mimi could. I don’t really believe in an afterlife or signs. I actually wish I had more faith, but I just have a big question mark in my head. Well something pretty incredible happened, we started noticing all kinds of signs all day long. First a sun halo appeared, it was so amazing and rare that it actually made front page news in the Cape Cod Times. Then we decided to walk down to the beach on Oyster Harbors where my Grandmother was a member and my brother and I spent many happy summers. My brother noticed that a clam had dug a perfect circle in the sand on the beach, also very rare and unusual! The last sign was pretty funny. My mom was with Mimi when the priest came to give her her last rights and Mimi made a bet with him that she had a son older than he was. She lost the bet, but didn’t have any money. She asked my mom to spot her a dollar and told her she’d pay her back. My mom only had a five and the priest took the money. My Mom and brother pulled up to the Oyster Harbors club to check out some logistics for the reception following the funeral and as they approached, Ty saw something blowing in the street, he opened his door and a five dollar bill blew over. Now, maybe we were looking for things, but I like to think Mimi’s energy was at work and she was surrounding us with love and light.
Mimi you continue to amaze me. I love you with all my heart.