We were invited out to dinner last night – it was the 80th birthday of my wife’s uncle, still going strong as a general surgeon, and despite a heart operation a couple of years ago, looking good for his age.
Naomi and I aren’t usually fans of French cuisine – I’m always afraid I’m going to have to choose between rabbit or snails – but I did enjoy a dinner of Beef Bourguignon at a swank resto on Laurier Avenue, although we did have to wait quite a while for our food to arrive.
During the meal, talk got around to Auntie Gita and Uncle Gerry’s fathers, both dead in their early 70’s. “In those days,” Gita said, “dying at 70 was not considered young as it is today.”
In fact, both fathers died within 15 days of each other, one at 70, the other at 73.
Suddenly, out of the blue, I realized that I am one year older than my mother was when she died at age 60.
I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before in that light, comparing both our lives. As you’ve probably heard regarding other people countless times, so much so that it’s probably a cliché, my mom was a vital, fun-loving person, full of zest and passion for the life she enjoyed.
As a partyer, she would put Naomi and me to shame. In fact, the social life of my parents, who went to outings and parties quite often, and who enjoyed a wide circle of friends, makes mine look positively like a hermit’s. She was – again a cliché – the life of the party, enjoying raucous, off-colour jokes. My father was the smoker, but at parties my mom would light a cigarette and in a humorous way, hold her cigarette awkwardly, blowing the smoke out of the side of her mouth without inhaling.
Before going off to wherever, my dad would pour a Scotch on the rocks and sit down at the piano and usually play his best. I would often sit down beside him and be entertained. There was joy in the air on nights like this and the family felt together.
All this ended in May 1980 when the cancer that mom was suffering from for close to two years finally ended her life.
My mother feared and despised death, and when she realized that she was dying, through the fog of delaudid-induced painkillers, fell into a despairing panic. Similar to how I’m sure I’d feel under the same circumstances.
In the hospital and in the hospice, she refused to see her old friends (who I hope understood); mom did not want them to see her in the condition that she was in, frail and in pain, much reduced from the athletic and robust person she once was. She could barely look at herself in the mirror; her hair had grown back a bit following bouts of chemo but it was grey and very short. Still, in this thin, boyish state, she looked beautiful; I remember once admiring her while she slept; she seemed at peace and was smiling; It couldn’t have been long before she passed, finally free from years of pain and humiliation.
As I’m sure many people do in situations like this, I wonder what my mother’s life would have been like had she lived another 20, 25 years. I know that Naomi would have loved her intensely; mom would have been an involved mother-in-law, but not too involved, a friend to Elan and Jonah, Naomi’s two sons.
Her death, like so many others in the world, seems to me an injustice. I mourn for the life that she could have had.