I went to help mom today. I go to see her and to run errands with her once a week or so. It’s the way I keep the commitment I made to dad on his deathbed—to take care of her for him. I also do it because I love my mom. Each trip there feels like a pilgrimage. At first, I felt some resistance to going. I would chafe and think about what I should be doing, or what I could be doing, if I wasn’t doing this. Now, these common trips seem comfortable, well-worn, familiar.
Today when I went to see her and we were about to leave for her errands, she yelled out to me, “David, come back here a minute.” Mom, if not exactly a yeller, has a voice that’s hard to ignore. So, I walked down the hallway into my dad’s bedroom and saw a Harry Levinson garment bag neatly laid on the bed.
She directed me to open it. Which I did. As I unzipped the slightly torn, inexpensive black bag, I saw a champagne-colored woman’s ensemble. At least I think that’s what they are called. Silky and finely made, it shimmered in the morning light. I turned to her; a bit puzzled. She went on to tell me that the last time she had worn it was at Beth’s and my wedding. It had not been worn since. She then shared the real reason she wanted to show it to me. She wanted me to know that she would like to be buried in it.
We both know our days together are becoming fewer, yet I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting this. I zipped up the bag, picked it up, but was unsure of what to do with it. She told me I could either take it with me or leave it there. As I considered her crammed closets, I told her I better take it with me so I could find it easily when that day comes. And then I told her how I hoped that day would be a long way off. She shrugged and made a little expression that seemed to say, “Who knows?”
We ambled back down the hall. It felt as though a small release had just happened; a gentle burden lifted through her making a simple request for a date and time yet to be determined. It’s funny how the acknowledgement of death’s certainty can bring two people closer together.
I’m home now. The Harry Levinson bag is laying on top of my great-great-grandfather’s walnut chest. The chest looks a bit like a casket. A foreshadowing? I’m not sure where I will hang this wish of hers. Somewhere where I can remember and retrieve it when it comes time for that final wearing.
Though I miss my dad, I’ve grown to accept his death. It was time. Now, as I watch mom inch along with a gritty grace that only comes from surviving almost 9 decades, I can’t yet imagine a world absent of the forcefield of her personality. So, like most things that are still unimaginable, I tuck my thought with the garment bag in my closet, knowing that someday I will be called upon to pull it back out and fulfill this simple, unexpected request.