You may have heard by now that Mother Mary has passed, but permit me to say one last thing on the subject.
It's my last word.
On her last words.
Let me begin by saying that all of us, including my mother, were surprised when we found out she had late-stage lung cancer and that her death was imminent. Her kind pulmonologist explained it all to her carefully, so she knew the end was near. But another doctor happened to mention the term "end-of-life" care, which went over like a lead balloon, one of Mother Mary's favorite expressions. When we got home, her throat hurt too much to talk, so we got her a Sharpie and a dry-erase board, and the first thing she wrote, in large letters, was: DON'T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT END OF LIFE AROUND HERE.
So we didn't.
And when a visitor asked her how she was feeling, she wrote, OUTSIDE OF ALL THIS CRAP, I'M DOING FINE.
And to one of her friends, Nino, she wrote, SEE YOU IN THE SUMMER.
Secretly, I kept wondering whether she was in denial about her own death. I'm a bookish sort, so I read the pamphlet they gave us at the hospice, which advised that the terminally ill often want to talk with loved ones about the important events of their lives, offer them parting gifts or mementos, or say good-bye in a variety of other ways.
Mother Mary did none of these things.
She hadn't read the pamphlet.
And even so, she wasn't the type of woman to do anything by the book.
During her last few days, I used to lie awake at night, worrying she wasn't going to have the typical, or normal, death, whatever that is. We weren't going to say good-bye like in the pamphlets or the movies. I was fine with that, but I worried that if she didn't accept her own death, would she be fearful when it came?
Thankfully, no, she wasn't.
She was dozing, under a dose of morphine that eased her pain but not her senses. She squeezed my brother's hand one last time, three squeezes that were her signal for "I Love You."
Those were her last words.
In retrospect, I realize Mother Mary knew she was ill, but she wasn't ready to accept death, offer us mementos, or say good-bye.
Because she had hope.
And she kept that alive.
And in return, hope kept her alive, for much longer than the doctors expected.
She didn't provide us the storybook final scene as she passed from this earth, but it wasn't supposed to be about our comfort. It wasn't about us at all, or the pamphlets or the movies.
It was about her, and she faced death the way she confronted life - on her terms.
It won't surprise you to know her favorite singer was Frank Sinatra and her favorite song "My Way."
In all things, she did it her way.
She wouldn't concede to cancer. The only way it would win was to beat her, and in the end, she still won.
Disease took her body, but not her soul.
Her spirit was full of hope and life.
Her last words were about love.
And, as Mother's Day rolls toward us, this will be my last word on the subject of her passing. From now on, I choose to write about her the way we all knew her - funny, strong, sassy, and full of life.
Thank you so much for the incredible outpouring of sympathy cards, e-mails, Facebook posts, and donations. It gladdens our hearts to see many of you loved Mother Mary, or saw your own mothers in her, through the stories Francesca and I wrote about her. We are overwhelmed with gratitude for all of you, as Mother Mary would be. It's testament to your generosity, as well as to the power of the printed word, whether in books or newspapers.
And I promise there will be more Mother Mary stories, because she was full of surprises. After all, it was only recently that I discovered her real name was Maria, not Mary.
So stay tuned and see what's in store.
In the end, Mother Mary will get the last laugh.