Marjorie Bonney, mid-1950s
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When she was still able to use a telephone, my mother would call me every April 1st to remind me that April Fool’s Day was her mother’s birth date, and that her mother had been nobody’s fool.
In recent years, as dementia overtook her, my mother imagined that her mother and brother, both long dead, were living on the same hall as her at the nursing home.
She would insist that I go next door and check on my grandmother or go see the administrator to make sure a room was being prepared for my uncle. I learned early on not to argue with such requests, and instead merely wandered around in the hall out of her sight for a little while until she forgot why I’d left the room.
It is only fitting, then, that after having ducked any number of humane opportunities to die and avoid further suffering and confusion, my mother waited until last night, the same day as her mother’s birth date, to die.
Marjorie Jones, c.1921
My mother was a formidable person. She patterned herself after her mother, who was left single with three children to raise after her husband took his life during the Great Depression. My mother didn’t face the same challenges that her mother faced. She was also the youngest of the three children and forever demanded the attention and adoration that a youngest child can sometimes expect. Still, she was, to put it lightly, very strong willed, and this didn’t always make her easy to be around.
The upside of my mother’s late-in-life journey with dementia, though, was that it erased her hardest edges. She forgot her grudges and couldn’t remember any new ones. My sister once jokingly asked, “Who took away our mother and left that sweet little old lady in her place?”
In the last year or so, there wasn’t much my mother could control. The one thing she could command people to do was to arrange the curtains in her room. (I always felt sorry for her roommate, who got no say in this matter.) No matter whether you found them open or closed or blowing gently in a spring breeze, she’d have you pull them back and forth endlessly until they were “just right.” And then she’d have you move them again.
I used to think it was the curtains. Then I realized it was that the curtains were the one thing over which she could still have dominion.
I thought it was just family, too, that she’d order around like that. But as various members of the nursing home staff stopped by her room yesterday to pay their respects, almost all had a story to tell about how she gotten them all hot and bothered trying to get those damned curtains “just right.”
I must confess that they were far more patient with her than I was. I’m just happy that my grandmother and uncle didn’t actually make it to this nursing home. I’m sure my mother would have had me go to their rooms to adjust their curtains, too, and I just didn’t have that much patience in me.
Marjorie Jones, c. late 1930s