She offered me a cup of coffee from the half empty carafe in the Mr. Coffee that sat on the counter-top. I politely declined, telling her that I was fine and walked across to the couch. She poured herself some of the pale, three-time filtered coffee and came over and sat at the other end of the couch. The empty hospital bed with the head-end inclined sat as a silent reminder as the reason why I was here.
“How are you doing, mom?” I asked.
She sat quietly for a moment and then responded that she was doing fine, her gaze out the east-facing window. I didn’t know if she was looking at the now-empty bed, or if she was just lost in her thoughts. I was uncertain what to say at this point. Mom and I have never been ones to have “deep” conversation. Whenever Paula and I would visit, it was usually mom and Paula who would do the talking while I simply sat and enjoyed the stories. For the next several minutes, we just sat there quietly in a silent peace.
I finally asked how it had happened.
“He just stopped breathing. I’m sure he wasn’t in any pain at all”, she replied. “The paramedics said they think that it was probably pneumonia. I guess there will be an autopsy since he died here instead of at the nursing home. The Medical Examiner said they always do that.”
I nodded a few times as she spoke… as my mind wandered. I was still trying to understand how I felt and if my own feelings were a mirror image of my mom’s indifferent description of dad’s death. It seemed more like she was talking about a neighbor or a friend than a man she called “daddy”…her husband for nearly 40 years. I had to assume that the past several years of watching him decline in health and mental capacity had leached the last of her emotions from her being.
“He wanted to be cremated, you know?” she continued. “I’m sure you’ll want to see him first…to say your good-byes. Tomorrow would be a good day for that, if you’d like. They took him to the Moon Funeral Home and I’ll call them to make sure when a good time will be”, she added.
She absently lit another cigarette and took a sip from her now-cold cup of coffee.
“Would you like me to fill that for you…heat it up a little bit?” I asked.
She nodded an affirmation and I took the cup to the kitchen. As I reached for the coffee carafe, I could feel the thin coating of dust and cooking grease on the counter top and coffee maker. On the bar opposite the stove, the counter was nearly invisible under old mail, unread newspapers and other “stuff” that was haphazardly left there. The dish strainer was piled high with dishes that had been washed sometime during the previous days, but never put away. To the left of the sink, the "mulch dish" sat empty and stained...waiting for the next batch of coffee grounds or potatoe peels to fill it. On the stove-top, the ever present cast iron skillet sat on a grate with a layer of congealed bacon grease resting in the bottom. The sight of the skillet caused me to smile inwardly as I remembered the time my aunt Bea had nearly had a heart attack when she went to the kitchen one morning to find a mouse...still alive, in the skillet covered by a lid. Apparently mom or dad had awakened during the night, saw the mouse and trapped...it figuring they could take care of it in the morning.
I took the cup back across to mom and handed it to her. She thanked me and set it on the “hour-glass” stand that stood at the end of the couch…a gift to dad many years before. The “Viking Ship” wall hanging tilted slightly to one side above her behind the couch, a victim of neglect. A thin veil of dust covered the hardwood floors and small bits of firewood and old newspapers cluttered the corner in front of the fireplace. Dad’s sabre, an artifact collected at some point in his early life, hung unceremoniously above the mantle...tarnished and blackened with soot.
As I looked around this house…this place where I had been raised, I felt a sudden need to get out and get some fresh air. I looked across at mom and asked if she needed anything. She shook her head “no” and I told her that I wanted to just go outside and walk around…that I would be back in a little while. She looked up at me and asked if I was alright? I quickly responded that everything was fine, I just wanted to walk around the place for a little bit.
I turned and grabbed my coat and as I walked out the front door, I had to ask myself… “Was I alright?”