A TRIBUTE TO
A WONDERFUL WOMAN
(Note to readers: I wrote this column three years ago when
my mother died, before I started writing for The Chronicle. Since it was
never published, I'm running it now, in memory of my mother and her
remarkable attitude about life.)
I hear it all the time. People telling me they don't
want to live to an age where they are a shadow of their former selves. If
they aren't in relatively full charge of their physical abilities, they'd
prefer not to be there at all.
Everyone obviously has the right to their opinion regarding old age, but
when I hear those words, I think…. if only they had met my mother.
She died last weekend at the ripe age of 90, and she had no
interest or desire to leave this world. Yet she was the epitome of what
people talk about when they say they don't want to live that way.
Diagnosed with emphysema (she smoked, but quit 60 years ago),
she has had an oxygen tube in her nose 24 hours a day for over six years.
She also started using a walker six years ago and a wheelchair two years
ago. She hasn't gone outside, except for an assisted ride to a doctor's
appointment, for at least four years.
But my goodness, did she ever love life.
Confined for the last two years to what was basically a hospital room in
her retirement home, she stopped reading books and watching television
because it was too difficult to focus. She would wake up, get dressed
(with help), move to her wheelchair next to her bed, and sit staring into
This remarkable woman, who had enormous energy throughout her
life, was running on nearly empty. This glamorous woman, who always exuded
elegance and style, was indeed a shadow of her former self. Her skin was
thin, wrinkled, blotchy and bruised. Her eyes were tired, hair white, and
Why would anyone want to live like that? Meet my
She died peacefully in her sleep, but had she been awake, she
would have gone kicking and screaming. She was simply a fighter, and
refused to give in to the ravages of age. One of my last images of her is
walking into her room a week before she died, and she was doing leg lifts
in her wheelchair, all by herself, determined to get stronger.
She believed she could do it, even though she had no chance.
She knew she was dying, but wanted to delay it as long as she could. Only
recently had she stopped doing laps around the hallway in her walker.
Nowhere to go, but everywhere to go.
Why delay the inevitable? Many reasons, but I believe it was
because she could still, despite everything, laugh and laugh and laugh.
Maybe it's hard to imagine, but picture this frail woman
simply rocking with laughter. Tired eyes dancing, emaciated body shaking
with unabated joy at something she said or something somebody else said.
She just loved to laugh, and wanted to laugh again and again.
And she wanted to hear about her family. My sisters and I
would give her the latest gossip, and she would listen with wide-eyed
wonder. She'd ask questions, pass judgment, give advice (she called
herself Mrs. Interference), and generally show more interest in our lives
and her grandchildren's lives than anyone in the world.
I know, I know. She was lucky to have a family that cared so
much for her, lucky to have 95% of her mental awareness, and certainly
lucky to be relatively pain-free.
Maybe that would have changed the equation. Maybe she
wouldn't have laughed so much if she didn't have her family. Maybe she
wouldn't have been doing exercises if she was in pain.
I think she would have found a way. She would have found
someone else to laugh with, and she would have been doing leg lifts or
some other exercise in the hopes it would ease the pain. She wanted to
live, because she knew it wouldn't last forever.
She was, and is, an inspiration to me, my family, her
friends, and the staff that took care of her. I don't know if I'll reach
the age of 90, but if I do, I want to be like my mother.
I want to go out laughing, just like she did.