Every evening, before I left my mom in the Chestnut Hill care facility, I asked what I could bring her the next day. She’d get on the internet and browse menus from the nearby restaurants. By the time I went to bed each night, she’d text me her order…it usually included “add cheese” and “wheat bread if they have it, if not, white is fine” and “if they don’t have it in BBQ flavor, then forget it and just bring me a chocolate shake from McDonalds”.
As time passed, she’d say “I don’t know what I feel like”, much like the standing at the open refrigerator door, having just gone to the market, not quite sure what you feel like eating.
In the beginning, I naturally took her flowers, we chose to have lunch from a restaurant she liked, like Panera or the Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes just a McDonalds chocolate shake would suffice, which I’d pick up on the way at the exit right before Route 9. The Shake Shack became a regular frozen custard/french fries take out meal and I’d finish mine in the mile long traffic at rush hour, heading back to where she was staying.
The last few weeks Mom seemingly got frugal. “Don’t spend your money on me” or “Use my credit card for whatever you want, I will have eggs on toast here….a smoothie”…and it wasn’t long before I realized that she really just didn’t feel like eating anything, as those eggs and that smoothie went untouched.
Her demands the last few days suddenly got stronger. Her breathing was weak and she barely spoke when she was awake. I’d put my ear up to her mouth to hear her breathe out “An everything bagel. Toasted. Cream cheese…one side. Jam on the other.” When I brought it for her, she had changed her mind and it was a “Subway veggie sandwich with provolone, all the veggies, no peppers, no hots with honey mustard dressing”. I sent my guy out to find the local Subway, and was VERY specific in a text to not leave anything out - or add anything. He came back with it in ten minutes, she at three bites, which satisfied us both.
The weekend before she passed away I missed a Sunday. When I left the day before, I told her I would see her early on Monday but I didn’t think she heard me, which was okay, as I felt the natural guilt of needing a day. I hoped she wouldn’t realize the gap.
Through that day she kept looking suspiciously at her Kleenex box and pointing, asking, “what kind of cake is that?”, over and over.
“Would you like me to bring you cake when I come again?” I asked. She nodded like a child. “Chocolate”.
A stop at the Wegman’s bakery section two days later produced the most amazing looking piece of chocolate cake in one of those crystal clear plastic containers, the layers were perfect, the moistness was apparent, it seemed perfectly right for Mom. A gorgeous bunch of supermarket tulips accompanied the cake when I walked into her room that morning.
She grimaced, rolled her eyes at the cake and said “why would I want that?” and then promptly asked for another “everything bagel, toasted, with cream cheese on one side and jam on the other”.
She asked again and again, while her eyes were closed, why I brought that chocolate cake.
“Because you asked for it”.
Eventually she blurts out “yeah, BUT THAT WAS TWO DAYS AGO!”
I guess she noticed I had missed one.
Spending my time there, reading out loud in hopes she could hear, attempting to feed her with a teeny spoon, I also cleaned all the imaginary spots around the room that she would “notice” when her eyes opened for a few minutes. She’d point and gasp out “clean that”…”there’s dust there”….”pick up that corner”, “move those flowers to the other side” and “make the bed”, even though it had been made more perfect than I ever could have done by one of the sweet nurses who cared for her.
The nurses wrote down everything she ate and I’d report how many bites she’d take of the treats that I’d bring in, the salads, the shakes. They’d nod and write it down, as if even the enormous amount of non-nutrients were a feat. I would uncover what she covered with her napkin, trying to hide that she wasn’t eating from them. “They keep track of everything” she said, paranoid. “Why do they do that?”…I didn’t have the heart to tell her they kept track of her bowel movements too, how long she was up at night and how much she slept during the day. I felt like I was “telling on her”, which I was in a sense, and she’d glare and mutter “what are you saying behind my back?”
On a Tuesday, the car broke down on my way to see her, stalling out three times as I rerouted myself to the repair shop, where it broke down for the final time, transmission fluid draining out in their parking lot. Then I “broke down” in their waiting room while waiting for a ride to rent a car, so that I could go see my mom. The guys who ran the place walked in and out, eyes averted, but handed me coffee on their way by - a napkin to mop my face.
I was two hours later than usual and called the nursing facility and let them know. I stopped for a Panera smoothie, bagels, cream cheese, jam and chocolates, hoping something would satisfy my mom. She hadn’t woken again the day of the chocolate cake debacle and had stopped her texting last minute food requests a week and a half before. I sat with her in silence that day, her food sitting untouched on the revolving tray in front of her.
As I gathered my things to go later that evening she woke, alert, recognizing it was me, and then softly described the cookies she wanted. Chocolate. Marshmallow. At the market. Bakery. It was like that game of Taboo and I kept guessing. The final word “Nana” brought it to my attention that she was asking for my Nana’s favorite cookie, Mallomars.
When I left that time it was the first in all those months that I felt it would be the last time I’d see her. The nurses were lined up on my way out the door, reaching out while I cried, walking out of the building by myself to my rental car. But, on my way home I picked up a box of Mallomars.
The next morning, my bag was by the front door, ready to go to Chestnut Hill, Mallomars resting on top, when the phone range at 5am. My mom’s favorite nurse was on the other end, letting me know that she was holding her as she was taking her last breaths.
I kept those Mallomars hidden in the cupboard for a few months before sitting down one night on my couch with my mom’s handmade quilt over me and the box on my lap, eating them one by one. It wasn’t a significant date, it wasn’t a monumental moment, I just felt like Mallomars right then.