The Yellow Box
The security lights were on at the elementary school across the street so I could make out the windows of the classrooms on the east side of the building. I remembered the floor plan inside as I’d spent my childhood there what seemed tonight like a hundred years ago.
This was the umpteenth time I’d made tea this week, and many of those had been in the middle of the night. Most of the cups came back with just a couple of grateful sips taken, but it was essentially the only thing mom could keep down anymore. I’d heard the plaintive call coming from the master bedroom five minutes ago as I’d been dozing on the couch in the living room. It was my shift so I flung off the blankets and made my way by the lamp light to the master bedroom.
We chatted for a moment about whether the other got any sleep, how mom was feeling and did she need anything. The answer was always the same and it was beginning to hurt my heart. I helped mom onto the commode then left her in privacy. I ramped up the burner under the endlessly full kettle then went back and offered support to return to bed, doing the personal care required before tucking her back in.
Passing the computer/T. V/spare room on my way to the kitchen I heard my sister whisper, “Mo, everything okay, do you need me?” I assured my sister with a reply into the dark.
“No, it’s all good Kat, get some sleep you’re on in the morning. Love you.” I added, drifting towards the dim light over the sink. This is where mom had stood for years, watching kids on the playground and then past it to the ocean and mountains beyond. Over the years, at this sink, as a healthy young mom, a working woman that popped home for a quick lunch, in her retirement making lunch for herself and dad, then standing stoically after he passed and preparing dinner for one.
The kettle was starting to gather steam and I turned to watch it, just to make sure it didn’t overflow when it boiled. Taking a tea bag from the familiar beige box, lowering it by it’s stapled-on string into mom’s favourite mug, adding just a bit of sugar and milk the way she liked it. It was decided right there and then that I’d never make another cup of this stuff after mom died.
There it was the word. I tended not to dwell on the fact even knowing it wouldn’t have made a slight bit of difference if I acknowledged it verbally or not. Mom wasn’t going to be here, in her life, in this house, in this realm by the end of the week.
They’d had a zoom discussion today, well yesterday now, with the doctor who was going to come up in two days and provide the MAID procedures. Me AKA Maureen, Kat, and David sat on the couch like three sad monkeys, asking and answering questions about the process. It needed to be a consensus and we all consented to the decision for three distinct reasons.
I walked gingerly back to the bedroom, making sure I didn’t spill any on the white carpet. Mom was typing something on the purple iPad she’d been keeping close to her lately.
“What are you looking at, Facebook?” I smiled and sat the mug on the rickety, pale green side table. Sliding down the wall to sit on the carpet, all the better to chat from this angle.
Some people that visited would pull a chair from the dining set just outside the bedroom, or if they were good friends they’d snag a bit of the mattress and gossip.
“Maureen, honey? Are you okay? Mm, this tea is perfect, thank you. I don’t know why your siblings can’t make it like this.”
“Maybe because they’re not married to a Scot who drinks tea every day?” I answered back then asked again what she was working on. When she told me she’d been writing her own obituary I wasn’t surprised.
“Organized to the end eh?” I smiled at her. I’d seemingly adopted a no-nonsense attitude to the whole thing even though the little girl inside was continually throwing a tantrum. It served to make Mom more relaxed about appointing me as the executor. It’s not a job that anyone wants no matter how close you are or were to the deceased. I knew hers would be easier than some. She’d been showing all three of us where her binders were to be found for ages. The campaign picked up after dad died four years ago. She had one binder for personal things like banking and her cell phone plan, and another that covered house details.
“Do you want to read out what you have so far?”
“Not yet. How’s your brother doing? He doesn’t come in to see me very often.”
“I think he’s having a tough time talking, and you know he’s not good with death and dying. He was the same when dad was sick. You wouldn’t even know he was in the same house sometimes.”
“That’s true, women are almost always stronger than men, I never got why they get the reputation as being the strong caretakers when it’s us that carry the emotional and physical loads most of the time. I’m done with the tea honey; can you take it away now?”
I stood up and before I picked up the mug I looked into its depth; she might have taken two sips from the whole cup. I raised an eyebrow at her, a query without voice then turned and poured the tea into the sink, again.
After using the washroom, I measured out the medication she’d asked for from the counter pharmacy. We chatted a bit more then she released me with a smile.
“Back to your couch peasant!” She commanded and I laughed back. Peasant had been one of dad’s phrases. I managed to get comfortable on the couch for a couple more hours of light sleep before hearing her again.
“Hello, hello, can anyone hear me?”
“I’m up Mom, on my way.” I kicked off the cover and clumsily folded it realizing that it was six thirty and therefore unlikely I’d be laying down again for awhile. Even though Kat’s shift started at 7:30 this morning I still had tea to make and another conversation with my mother.
“Hey mom, did you get any rest? What can I help with?”
“I got an hour or two, I know you did, I could hear you snoring from here!” My snoring had been a family joke for years so it didn’t bother me. It was especially loud when I’d had a couple wines but those were few and far between lately. I’d had a couple of beers with pizza here last week on my birthday. It was only my fifty-fourth, not a big one but the celebration was muted at best. Kathleen had her fiftieth a couple months back, the same week mom had been diagnosed, so she totally won the prize for worst birthday so far.
We went through the morning routine of personal care and medications then after I brought her another cup of the perfume scented tea that was starting to make me gag, we sat and chatted. Kat stumbled in, her long dark hair in a messy bun, her glasses emphasizing big hazel eyes. She’d likely put in her contacts later, but for now we three were gloriously unkempt, unbathed, and united.
Mom told us the song she’d like to be played as she ‘drifted off.’ It was the Hawaiian version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’ She related how she and dad used to hear it all the time in Maui, so it was kind of their song. I knew the one she meant, Al and I spent almost as much time there as they did. I jumped up realizing I hadn’t called my husband since yesterday afternoon. He would come over for a couple hours at a time but he felt at odds here because he didn’t really have a role. I understood that but I still missed him.
That day flowed like most the past three weeks. When mom was sleeping my sister and I would just sit and talk at the kitchen table. A few times David would emerge from the basement where his bedroom remained much the same as his teenage den. He would deny any health issues and gently tell us to ‘back off.’ He didn’t want any dissension with his sisters as he knew in our edgy state we’d call him on anything at this point. When the three of us were in a good space and maybe having a glass of wine, we’d hear a plaintive greeting from the bedroom and sigh, Kat and I would put our glasses down and David, knowing it was no place for a man, would slink back downstairs.
‘The morning of’ as we would eventually come to call it was a beautiful April day. The three of us stood in the kitchen, not making tea for once as an empty stomach was called for. We came to the bizarre conclusion that it had been many years since the three of us were awake, in the same house, this early since our last Christmas as kids. The doctor and nurse arrived and we were reminded of the process. We gathered at mom’s bedside and I cued up her song on the iPad for her. She looked at us three grown ups as one of us foolishly said, “Say hi to dad for me” then she said, “Goodbye my babies” and slipped away.
Kat and I both had our husbands in the house for comfort, we both tried to keep our brother with us but he continued to slip away during the day. I made the usual phone calls; the funeral home and close family, while my sister phoned her kids. There was a lot going on that day, but I still managed to remember to find that despised light-yellow box and lower it into the garbage can. It had soothed her, and given me something to do, but its job was done now.
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A wonderfully touching story. Just one suggestion - not many people outside Canada would know what MAID stands for. Which is unfortunate, as it is such an important part of understanding the story.