Mom died exactly two years ago, April 19, 2015, so I thought a few words about death were in order.
Mom had very definite ideas about death. Her entire family did.
The McFees were a close, funny, loving group of Scottish Presbyterians with a singular attitude toward death.
They were all confident they would be going to heaven—every Scottish Presbyterian is. They were fiercely long-lived, with most of them living well into their nineties. We called them the Scottish Mystics for their ability to predict, almost to the day, when they would die and then, right on schedule, dying. I always thought Mom would live forever because, having dementia, she would forget to tell herself to die.
Now while death was a constant source of conversation, when someone actually died, the conversation stopped. Death was ignored. No funerals, no memorial services, and especially no tears.
I once asked Mom why.
“Well,” she said. “It’s considered showy.”
Then Dad, at the age of 89 and Mom’s constant companion for 74 years, died. We were all in the room and after some debate—Would be have to tell her this every day? Would she have to live this over and over?—we woke her so she could say goodbye. I have never, ever, seen such grief. And certainly not from Mom who, in the family tradition, kept a tight rein on emotions.
Fearing the worst, I arrived early the next day. She was sad and a bit lost but she remembered.
The second day—she remembered.
The third morning I found her crying softly in her bed, “I just want to be with your father.”
Without even thinking, I summoned the mother of my youth and said, “Well Mom, you should have thought of that before you began taking such good care of yourself.”
She laughed. “Well, that’s life.”
And from then on she put her feelings in a box. Though she said “Oh, Bob,” twenty times throughout the day, she reverted to her cheerful self—friendly and eager to join in and be of use.
Occasionally she would ask me,
“Do you believe in heaven?”
“I’m not sure,” I would answer, “But if there is, Dad is up there building you a boat and when you get there, he’s going to take you on a cruise.”
“Now you’re talking!” she would say with joyous anticipation.
And throughout the next seven years of her life, she continued to laugh and smile and take delight in every moment.
If there is a heaven, I’m sure Mom and Dad are cruising somewhere, happy as clams.