Frosties, tennis balls and a grilled cheese that wasn’t

Part 2 of ‘Mom and me,’ which ran in the The Coastal Star in 2010….

My mom was on a gurney, tubes everywhere, strangers leaning over her, machines making beeps and whirs, fluorescent lights shining cold and bright.

When I got to the emergency room that day six months ago, after my mom turned blue and fell in her assisted living home, she was looking about and crying

She needed a breathing machine —What? Breathing machine? — to live. It would be temporary. They could clear up the pneumonia. But, oh, by the way, if we find
that she can’t swallow right she’ll need a feeding tube.

Feeding tube? Like, forever? Right, forever.

I wasn’t going the feeding tube route. It was time for me to get prepared for my mother to die.

‘Everything’s going to be great,’ I’d tell my mom in the hospital. ‘Everything’s going to be what, Mom?’


I wasn’t referring to her health, but the afterlife she’s always believed in so strongly.

My mom was finally discharged from the hospital. When she was wheeled into a nursing home, I thought she might never pass through those doors again, like
she was entering a tomb.

This is probably it.

•   •   •

It’s been six months since my mom was put under hospice care — when experts predicted she might have six months to a year left. Today — after heart problems and a blood clot in her leg have cleared up — my wife, daughter and I load her into the car every weekend and hit the road to a nearby park. On the way back, we go through the Wendy’s drive-through and get her a chocolate Frosty.

Mom and Amanda, Jupiter, Fl., 2009

On a lark, we tossed her a tennis ball the other day. She snatched it out of the air, dumbfounding us. The dementia apparently hasn’t yet attacked the neurons controlling hand-eye coordination. We immediately videotaped her catches with a phone and proudly e-mailed the footage to family, like we’d captured evidence of Bigfoot.

There are still considerable health concerns. Swallowing, infections, lurking heart issues.

But my mom is faring much better.

I asked Hospice of Palm Beach County whether she should still be in their care. Yes, absolutely, they said. Unspoken was, ‘She could do a 180 any second.’

I know that. But it’s much easier to be prepared for death when the signs of death are staring you in the face.

That’s no longer the case, but there are reminders. When my mom coughs while eating dinner, for instance, or struggles to name someone in a picture.

•   •   •

And there are more potent reminders.

My mom’s first roommate, who had recently lost her husband and did not have dementia, was terrific. A movie buff, like me.

One day, I arrived and she was watching Gone With The Wind on her giant TV she shared with my mom. As we talked about it, we both swooned at the beauty and heartache of the film. I got her a tin of popcorn, her favorite junk food, for Christmas.

One night in January, I was visiting my mom when the roommate got back from seeing the movie Dear John with her daughter. She’d enjoyed it. But it was well after dinner hour and her meal was cold. She asked for a made-to-order grilled cheese, but was told the kitchen was closed.

I thought about going to get her one somewhere. But I had things to do, and I didn’t.

When I visited my mom two days later, the roommate’s belongings were gone. I was told she’d died, at 1 in the morning, two nights before, six hours after asking
for the grilled cheese.

Dead? Like that? But, she was just at the movies! She didn’t get a grilled cheese! Dead?

As I clutched a flyer about her memorial service and wheeled my mom outside for some fresh air, I was bewildered, sad and stunned. I found my eyes filling with tears.

It felt bizarre that the first person I was grieving over at this nursing home was someone other than my mother.

If I was this shaken, if I found this so unlikely and so unfair, what must it have been like for her family, for the daughter who’d seen Dear John with her?

Then, a more sobering thought. Did my mom know? Could she tell, when they came to get her where she lay, six feet away, that her roommate had died? Did she, somehow, think that made it OK to die?

If my mom knew what had happened, she didn’t let on.

I tried not to let on that I knew, either.



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