For a decade now, I've celebrated Mother's Day with somebody else's mom. I drive to Massachusetts with my wife and we take her mother to a classy old-school steakhouse where the food is good and the attentive waiters wear white shirts, black ties and polished shoes.
Ginny is in her 90s and it's still her favorite place to eat; she always orders the double-cut lamb chops. I wear a suit when we go. It's not a requirement. Most times, in fact, I'm the only guy in the place wearing one.
It's about respect. At least, it is for me. When a man escorts a woman to an important place or event in her life, he ought to show up packin' the requisite amount of class, so as to make the lady feel special.
My father showed up packin' in a big way the last time he escorted my mother to an important event. In fact, he was wearing a tux. And I'm not referring to their wedding day, either. Dad had been dead for more than 35 years, and Mom, who was in her 80s, was getting ready for a reunion.
It was springtime, right around Mother's Day, and my wife Joan and I were spending a few days in New York with my mother and my brother Joe. As mom was still sleeping one morning, the three of us sipped coffee together and discussed a number of not-at-all pleasant alternatives to her ongoing care. Mom's longtime doctor, a former nun whose deep affection for her patient was unquestioned, had strenuously advocated the nursing home option. We had wanted very much to develop an alternate strategy, though admittedly weren't having a lot of success.
Out of nowhere, it seemed, Mom appeared before us wearing her navy-colored cotton bathrobe and somewhat matching blue slippers. She stood up straight and all on her own, without steadying herself in any way. There's no other way to say this: She looked radiant.
Joe caught my eye with that unmistakable expression of What gives? Joan did the same.
"Hey Ma, how you doin'?" I blurted out, not wanting the sense of surprise in the room to embarrass her. "Sleep OK?"
Mom looked out a window to see the sun, then slowly glanced at each one of us.
"I just had the most beautiful dream," she said softly. "Daddy came to see me."
She did not need to explain that she meant her husband, not her father. When referencing the man in his children's presence, Mom always used "Daddy"—never anything else.
"He brought me a big bouquet of red roses," she continued, looking at my wife now. "They were beautiful and smelled so nice.
"And he was wearing a tuxedo," Mom went on smiling at Joe. "He looked so handsome, just like when we got married."
I can't speak for the others, but she had me at "Daddy came to see me." My stomach ached. I could barely breathe. The end was near. Just as I'd read and heard about, a dying person was being visited by a loved one whose job it is to take them to the other side. Only this time, the person on the way out was my mother and the guy who was taking her away from me was my old man.
And then came the clincher.
"He said that I had to get dressed and go with him," Mom said, in a voice more peaceful-sounding than I'd heard from her in a long time.
"He wanted to take me dancing."
Instantly, Joan disappeared to the bathroom. Joe looked away, no doubt trying to keep his shit together as best he could. I just couldn't even move. It was like both my arms and legs were asleep and when the tears came there was no place for them to hide.
"That's some dream, Ma," I heard Joe say, his voice cracking. "Maybe you should sit down now, OK?"
It was winter when mom died. Though you could not find a more loving and dedicated group of people, I can't say that I'm proud that a nursing home staff cared for Mom in her final days. Her time came at around 9 o'clock one evening. We hadn't expected things to progress so quickly and so I wasn't there and neither was Joe.
I only hope that Daddy showed up again wearing his tux. Mom really would have wanted to go dancing.