When we finally bought our “dream house,” a cottage really, in Montauk, I couldn’t wait to
share my excitement with Mom and Dad, thinking this might be a bond as Mom loved to
decorate. She was artistic. As a single woman, she had sewn many of her own clothes, had
always dressed stylishly and had taken up painting when they retired. In the past, we had gotten
into trouble when she tried to rearrange my hair or my furniture but I was willing to hear her
suggestions as we fixed up the house. During that winter we talked about my parents’ visiting the
Montauk house in the summer. Then in April, I met my daughter Sarah at my parents’condo in
Floridaduring her spring break from college. I was delighted to have time with my daughter as
well as with Mom and Dad.
My mom’s health had deteriorated, she looked old and frail. She was cranky, but she insisted
my father take her for her weekly manicure, insisted I take her shopping, insisted we go out with
their friends, always leaving Sarah behind. On the last day of our visit, after going for brunch
with another couple, she demanded that we drive to a store in spite of Dad’s conviction that it
was closed on Sundays and my wish to get back to Sarah.
When we finally returned home she retreated to her bed. Later she refused to have dinner with
us, but kept calling for Dad to bring her a coke, to fetch her more cigarettes, and finally to go out
and bring her a pizza. The last straw for me was her request that I sit with her in her smoke-filled
bedroom and watch her favorite show. “I can’t breathe in here, why don’t you join us in the
family room to watch television all together?” I asked. She refused. The next morning when I
went to her room to say good-bye, she turned away from me.
From then on when I called them, my father would pick up and talk, always friendly, but
Mom refused to join the conversation. I told stories about fixing up our cottage, the beauty of the
beach, my wish that they would visit. I promised myself that if Mom still wouldn’t talk to me by
August, I would fly down toFloridaand try to patch things up. As my July birthday approached.
Dad told me to watch for a package, that Mom made something special for me. Dad called me on
my birthday and again asked about the package. Since it hadn’t arrived, he asked me to call as
soon as it came.
Eight days later the phone rang. “Your mother died in her sleep” Dad told me in a husky,
grief-stricken voice. I was shocked, knowing that she had had health problems for so long but
never thinking she was near death. Then, full of guilt that I hadn’t resolved the tension between
us, I hadn’t said good-bye, I tentatively offered to get on the next plane “if you want me to be
with you,” thinking he must be so angry with the way I had treated Mom. Instead, he welcomed
me, tacitly implying “It’s okay, I know she was difficult.”
A day after I returned fromFlorida, a large battered box arrived on my doorstep. Inexplicably
it was three weeks in transport instead of four or five days. Tearfully I pulled out three framed
canvases with beautiful designs using shells and corals she had purchased at a craft store. She
had managed to make them for our beach house, a birthday gift for me, weak as she was.
Now when I walk around the house and gaze at her creations, I have mixed emotions. They
represent the best of her and I thank her for the gifts she gave. But sometimes I remember painful
times and wish I had been more patient for all she couldn’t give. She never got to visit in person,