I managed to get home this last weekend for my mother’s birthday. Because I’m the “long-distance child” – the kid who went away for college, never got back after age seventeen except for holidays, and lived several hundred miles away for all of my adult life – I’m not around nearly as much as my three brothers who still live within fifty miles of where we all grew up.
As I was catching up with my mom and dad once I got there on Friday night and heard what was planned for the weekend, my mom asked me if I’d do her a favor: would I please come with her on Saturday to visit Claudette at the assisted-living center?
I said, absolutely.
She said, good, this may be your last chance to talk with her.
Claudette is my godmother. She has been my mom’s best friend since high-school, and is the person who volunteered at my christening (along with her husband Bruce) to accept the responsibility of helping my parents turn out a decent, useful, ethically-grounded human.
My relationship with my godmother has been exceptionally affectionate for as long as I can remember; she is now about the only person left who still has open license to call me “Danny”, which most of the rest of the world stopped doing about forty years ago. For what seems like forever, I have greeted her boisterously with, “HELLO GodMother!!” and she has always joyously returned my greeting with “HELLO, GodSon!!” – and I have heard the pride in her voice every time.
Claudette (BA, MA, PhDEd) is also one of the most well-educated, well-written, GRACIOUS people I know, and she is someone who had a huge part in the making of the specimen that I am now. She is the person who, about thirty-eight years ago, asked me point-blank what I wanted to do with my life, heard me say that I wanted to be an engineer, and Pronounced Decisively that the ONLY choice for that path would be to cease contact with the third-rate colleges with whom I was flirting, get on the stick, and apply to Purdue – her alma mater and the top-tier engineering school that my godfather (BSChE, MSChE, PhDChE, top of his class always) had also attended with great distinction.
(Of course, she was absolutely right. Boilermakers RULE. Hail Purdue.)
My godmother now lives in a pleasant-enough place in a pleasant-enough neighborhood in Cincinnati not far from my parents, in a building with six-digit electronic locks on the double doors for the safety of all who live there because their dementia or Alzheimer’s puts them at risk otherwise.
I wish that I could say that she remembered me, but that was not the case; my final memory of her knowing who I am goes back to last fall, now, when she still had me and her children and most of her grandchildren still with her in her memory. (I wish that that moment was a pleasant memory, but that is marred by the fact that her two oldest kids — her daughters — were quietly but viciously snarking at one another in front of all of us. It was an interesting dichotomy: fascinating to watch because the vituperation between them was razor-sharp, and horrifying for the supremely abysmal manners they were (ironically) showing in front of their genteel mother.)
My godmother was in good physical health this week, but it was obvious from the lack of cognition in her eyes that she had to struggle this last week to even remember my mom, and I dredged up every question I could muster about her life in high-school and college to see if we could find something from far enough back in time that she could still reminisce with us about. After about an hour of chat and pleasantries as we sat out on the patio with her, my mom promised to call her later in the week and we took our leave.
The drive home was also a revelation.
I thanked Mom for the favor of arranging to see my godmother, and we talked about how my mom manages to be around her as often as she does in the face of her own health challenges right now. (The answer I heard back, between the lines, was about what I expected: the visits are not burdensome, but watching that great vivacious intellect slip away has been hard to see.) Mostly, though, I told Mom that I appreciated the very-grounding experience of being with GodMother while she was still (even that day) viable and chatty and flirtatious, and in command of her wit and mile-deep vocabulary and the very-underrated art of repartee … and she in turn thanked me for wanting to come as much as I did.
Summary: tell your loved-ones how much they mean to you, as often as you can and at the risk of boring them with that information.
Those words are for the moment and for the eternities.
And Happy Birthday, Mom.