The End of Summer
by Beth Portolese
I, for one, am glad this summer is ending. Aside from the fact that fall is my favorite season, there are other reasons this year. In June, my mother passed away which cast a pall over the whole summer.
For my entire life, my mother was my best friend. I don’t remember ever having a fight with her even when I was in high school, a time when mothers and daughters usually do. She was a great mom. As my brother Ed said in his wonderful eulogy, “In motherhood, she found that one thing that we all strive to find. That task, objective or responsibility that, when you do it, things just connect and slip into place.” Sometimes I think that if she hadn’t been such a good mother, this wouldn’t be so hard, but that is wrong. Everyone misses their mother no matter how their relationship was. My mother was the person who always told me I was smart, talented and beautiful, even during those awkward teenage years that seem to have extended into my 50s. Maybe I’m being selfish missing this, but I do.
My parents had six kids, 5 boys and me. Among all that testosterone, it was always just my mom and I. Now it’s just me. Even the dog was a male in my family. Our dog, a poodle named George, was madly in love with my mother. When she would leave to go to visit one of our neighbors, we had to hold him back in the house until she was out of his sight. If we didn’t, he would follow her to whatever house she was at and then bark until they let him in. Even when he didn’t see where she went, once we let him out he would follow her scent sniffing the ground like a bloodhound until he located her. Dogs always know who the good people are.
For the past year, she hadn’t been well. She had breathing problems and really bad osteoporosis, which had slowed her down quite a bit. Then one weekend she started getting ‘confused,’ as my father described it. Her doctor said it was dementia but my theory is that she had some small strokes, which damaged her. My mother had always been an avid reader; she read about 3 books a week. After that weekend, she never read a book again. Because of the confusion my father took her to the doctor. Her doctor told him if he wanted a diagnosis, he needed to take her to the emergency room. He did and she wound up in the hospital for 5 days. Once she got out, things were never the same. She didn’t go out and by the end of her life was in bed most of the time. Ever the optimist, my father was convinced that she would come out of it and recover. I knew it wouldn’t happen, but deep down I wanted to believe he was right. The summer before this one, I was home for 4th of July and my mother told me that she had had a good life and was ready to go. Of course, I did not want to hear that but now I’m grateful she said it. It made things a little easier when we had to discuss removing the breathing tube. Our favorite movie was ‘Terms of Endearment.’ We must have watched that movie over 20 times during her many visits. At the end when Debra Winger dies after a long cancer battle, Shirley MacLaine says, “Somehow I thought when she finally went, it would be a relief.” After watching my mother suffer, I thought that also, but like Shirley discovered, it wasn’t.
So now it’s almost fall and I’m glad. My mother always liked the fall. She wasn’t really a summer person and neither am I. Every fall she came to visit me and two of my brothers in New York for a week and we always had the best time. We saw plays, went out for dinner every night (she hated to cook and passed that trait on to me) and went to museums to see exhibits she had read about. She loved visiting New York. These are good memories to have and another reason why this fall, always a time of renewal and moving forward, will be special.