A Life Well Lived

Posted Apr 18 2012, 5:04 pm in

Marie M. Moreno 1941 - 2012

On Saturday, April 14, 2012, we said goodbye to our mother, Marie, after a heartbreaking battle with stage 4 breast cancer.  We knew death was imminent; she had been admitted to hospice just a few days earlier and her decline wasn’t just rapid, it broke records. When the medical staff felt we had mere hours left, we asked for a priest. The staff at Middlesex Hospital hospice in Connecticut took even better care of us – her family – than they did my mother, their patient. The priest on call that evening led us through prayers and anointing of the sick and then asked a simple question that would end up changing the course of the night for the better.

“What are the best memories you have of your mother?”

My Mom reminds me of Lucille Ball, always getting into crazy situations, so the best memories I have of her are the ones where she’s saying something ridiculous or getting into some impossible situation. I’d been thinking of the funniest things for a long time now, so when the priest asked us to share, I started laughing and shared one of my happiest memories.

When I was growing up, ours was the house where all the kids played. She frequently joined us in our marathon Monopoly games or taught us games she’d played as a child. I don’t have a single memory of any of my friends’ mothers playing with us like this. We played Mad Libs, whatever board games were trending, and cards – she adored card games. I told him about the Spoon Game, a card game in which players try to steal a spoon without competitors noticing. We’ve actually drawn blood in this game. (It never occurred to us use plastic spoons!)  One of our fondest memories was being allowed to stay up late when our grandparents visited, playing Italian card games. Playing Italian card games with an American deck required removal of all the eights, nines, and tens. Sadly, I can no longer remember how to play scopa and briscola, so if anybody remembers these Italian card games, please send me instructions!

We all laughed and that opened the flood gates. My sister said, “Do you remember that story Mom told us about her first job? She commuted all the way to work with a wooden hanger dangling off the back of her coat? Or the time she had the back of her skirt stuck in her pantyhose and wondered why it was so cold?”

She had a lot of zany commuter stories. Another day, she was wrestling with her umbrella – the long kind, before the folding umbrellas came onto the scene. She was trying to close it on the train and ended up shoving the tip of it straight through a gentleman’s slacks. She apologized and added, “You can keep the umbrella.”

And then there was the time my sister, her fiance and my mother were shopping for the bridal gift registry in a swanky store. They’d separated and when my sister heard a deafening crash, she turned to her fiance and said, “Run. I KNOW that was my mother.”  Two minutes later, my mother caught up to them and said, “Oh, God. I’ve broken thousands of dollars of crystal, but it wasn’t my fault! I picked up one glass and the bottom fell off and crashed into the others and those crashed into rest and they all broke!”

My husband joined in with his favorite story: when my mother was a young bride cooking one of her first meals, she’d baked potatoes for about two hours and they still weren’t done. Turns out, she’d baked two rocks. My husband enjoys this story because in the years since this disastrous dinner, my mother became a great cook.

“And what about my bachelorette party?” My sister said and I nearly cracked a rib. Mom had done a salon trial run earlier that day and looked amazing with a new hairstyle and make-up. We hit a favorite bar popular with railroad commuters and Mom – NOT any of the bridesmaids – collected the most phone numbers that night. I didn’t tell the priest this part of the story, but I suspect her popularity that night had much to do with her success in drinking ‘blow jobs’ – a shot you have to toss back using only your mouth, no hands. *snorts*

Later that night, she got her hand stuck in a pool table pocket, trying to grab not one, but two balls. *belly laughs*

Then there was the time she ended up persona non grata at Genovese Drug Stores. She’d accidentally shoplifted a lipstick. She was looking at various colors and decided to blow her nose on the tissues in her pocket. A lipstick ended up in there. Genovese management was not as amused as we were.

And of course, there’s the time in a Times Square theater, when she blurted out this random question: “What’s bestiality?”  When I stopped choking on my drink, I told her it was love with animals and she followed up with another question: “Then what’s necrophilia?”  Surprisingly, we did NOT get evicted from the theater, but did make a few new friends. *grins*

My sister countered with another story that happened when we were kids. We grew up in a Queens neighborhood filled with garden apartments and two-family homes. One night, neighbors had a party after our bedtime. Our parents put us to sleep and headed next door – a common practice back then. Periodically, they’d come back to check on the kids. Mom left the party around 1 AM to do the check, but got her sweater caught in the door as it closed. It snagged in such a way that she was trapped. She couldn’t move her hands to reach the doorbell. She was out there for half an hour before anyone missed her.

We exchanged stories for hours, laughing and crying at the same time. Have you ever truly laughed and cried at once? Damn it, it HURTS. My sister explained to the priest that my mother   used humor to cope with her illness. When her hair began falling out from the chemo, she asked my sister to give her a short hair cut, hoping it would cushion the shock for my niece. My sister cropped her hair and then had her bend over so she could brush out the clippings. When my mother stood up, they both burst into hysterics. Mom looked like the lead singer from A Flock of Seagulls.

They laughed so hard, they woke up the entire house. My now-divorced sister’s boyfriend ended up running the buzzer over Mom’s head to straighten out the mess my sister had made. “What do you think, Marie?” He asked.

Mom examined her shaved head. “Um. It looks great! It’s the best haircut I’ve ever had.”

And then they cracked up again because it was such a baldfaced lie – get it? “Bald”??

At a few minutes before 2 AM, she took her last breath. One by one, we took turns saying our final goodbyes. When it was my turn, I bent to hold her, kiss her, just one last time. I reached out to touch her shoulder.

Me: “Love you, Mom. Thanks for all that you—Christ, this isn’t her shoulder, it’s a breast.”

My sister: “Oh, dear God.”

We then dissolved into fits of giggles all over again. If she could have, Mom would have laughed herself silly over my mistake because it’s exactly the kind of thing she’d have done.

In the end, it was the best, most appropriate, most comforting send-off we could have hoped for.



7 responses to “A Life Well Lived”

  1. What a beautiful, amazing tribute to a clearly incredible woman!! Huge hugs and prayers at this difficult time. Without ever having met her, I can feel your mother smiling down on you. And probably laughing.

  2. Julio Vazquez says:

    An awesome story, Patty. This is the way things should be done. Don’t cry, celebrate the life you shared because all of it is beautiful in the long run. I’m sure your mom loved reading this post.

  3. Bill Cameron says:

    So moving, Patty. Thank you for sharing this. I am so sorry for your loss.

  4. abby mumford says:

    this is an incredible tribute to your mom, patty! a well written send off for a life well lived.

    i’m sorry for your loss.

  5. Blake says:

    Patty, thanks so much for sharing. My heart goes out to you and yours. Your mom will always be with you.

    “They that love beyond the world cannot be separated by it. Death is but crossing the world, as friends to the seas; they live in one another still.” – William Penn

  6. LindaG. says:

    Awww. What a great tribute to your mom. You had me laughing through my tears. *hugs*

  7. My regrets that I didn’t see this sooner, Patty. And I am deeply sorry for your loss. What great memories you have of your mother. Your stories remind me of the ones we tell about my grandmother. She was always getting into something. {{{hugs}}}