About this time last year, my cousin, Andy, brought a couple of guys with him to help move my parents into an assisted living facility. They left early so the guys could get back home in the same day.
I’d been secretly packing things the week before, not wanting to disturb my ailing mother, both from sleep and the emotional upheaval of making a move like this one. Neither of my parents wanted to leave their home of the last 43 years. But my mom could no longer lift herself out of bed or get to the bathroom on her own. And my dad had ruptured discs in his back that had immobilized him as well. So when the people at the assisted living facility told me they had 24-hour in-house health care that could help us with my mom, well, it seemed like the best option.
Andy arrived with his crew before eight o’clock and they stealthily began taking furniture from the house. Other friends drove from out of town to help us pack and move in a hurry. I imagined the noise of moving disturbing my mom, not knowing exactly what was going on in her home, all her things being moved, and being uncertain of where she was going. Our friend, Jane, came and sat in the bedroom where Mama was sleeping, making sure she wasn’t startled by the commotion. But there was never any commotion. The guys were amazingly quiet – like a team of professional burglars, they didn’t make a sound taking things out of the house and my mom slept right through the whole ordeal.
The furniture from my parents’ bedroom was loaded last, so as to disturb my mom as little as possible. When the guys were ready, we moved her into the living room and Mama sat in her wheelchair until everything was out. They had already removed her electric lift recliner and much of the other living room furniture, so it looked pretty bare.
Mama was solemn that day. I know she didn’t want to move, but she was willing.
“We’re not selling the house, Mama, we’re just staying at this other place while you need some extra help getting around,” I’d tell her.
I think she knew, though. It would be the last day she would spend in that house.
For the whole month before Mama died, she ate a full breakfast every morning. Bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee. The eggs had to be runny and the coffee had to be in her ACU insulated mug. The morning we moved was no different.
I had started to bring a tray into the living room, just like I’d done every morning so that she could eat in her comfortable chair. But I’m so glad that a friend suggested that she eat at the dining room table.
The table where we ate almost every dinner after we moved there when I was in high school. The table she loved to dress up for elegant dinners and holiday meals for the whole family and the Christmas party for my friends every year. The table where I learned which fork to use and how to set the table. The table where I learned how to carry on conversation and be hospitable. Where I learned family stories. Where I learned to listen.
Where I learned that sharing a meal around a table is just about the most important part of your day.
We wheeled my mom up to her place at the table, the place where she’d always sat, closest to the kitchen so that she could easily retrieve anything her family or guests might need. At the same time that it dawned on me this would most likely be her last meal at our table, someone suggested that we all just sit down and eat together.
Like we’d done so many times before.
A friend brought my dad and me some eggs and toast and we sat there at the table with Mama while she ate. Old friends and new ones, ones I hardly knew, stood around the table, giving us space and time and reverence for a last meal with my Mama at her table. Andy sat down at the other end of the table, equally aware of the importance of this moment, and teased her about something, easing the tension for all of us. Mama joked back at him and we all laughed.
Like we’d done so many times before.
She took her time and ate every bite.
And then, just like she’d done so many times before, she reached down and fed the crust off the toast to Chester.
Photo above: Supper at our dining room table in the summer of 1986, right before I went on a trip to Hawaii. I was practicing using my new tripod and the self-timer on my camera. At the time I was desperate to take pictures of anything! Little did I know how priceless this picture would become.