And to all a good night

Today I put out the six little pieces that still remain of my mother’s old crèche. Baby Jesus and the three wise men are the only survivors of the original set that date back to my childhood fifty years ago.

My mother died three years ago today, after a difficult struggle with cancer. She had "the faith of a mountain!" as she used to boast, and that sustained us both in the gathering storm. Eventually Hospice stepped in, and they were a help, paying home visits while I scaled back my job to part time.

But then one day something went wrong in her brain and she took a sharp turn into picasso land. By then morpheus, and his pharmaceutical namesake, had made inroads as well. But her intellectual energy was still formidable, so episodes could be quite vivid. One minute she'd be lucid, winning at cards, joking with uncanny presence of mind about her illness, the next there was a descent into a house of mirrors, with sordid apparitions and heartbreaking remorse. Then a world-weary humor would return, and tender sunset-hued talks.

Eventually there was an opening at Hospice House, a splendid quiet place in a woodsy setting north of the city. She wasn't quite won over by its prevailing ambience and insistence that death is a "lavender-scented kiss". She was a nurse herself, and unsentimental. We had discussed it candidly long ago; she wanted to die in hospital. So she got her wish, and was soon at peace with the place's lavish serenity. The medical care there was first rate and specialized. They did more for her the first day, than the visiting nurses could have done in all the months at home. But at 88, she was letting go. She was there for nine days, a hospice novena.

She used to say that if there was no coffee in heaven, she wasn't going... only to quickly take it back so that the Lord knew she was kidding. The word "coffee" was the last thing she said to me before she lost her voice. I gave her some of mine through a straw. A look of satisfaction that could have sold a ton of Chock Full O Nuts accompanied her to the pillow. Next night I led some rosary at her bedside, just the two of us. By then she could only speak with tears. Then she slipped off to another realm. I read 'A Visit From Saint Nicholas', our old favorite, to her ear. And to all a good night. She died two days later, on "Mother Mary's Day".

"He's the one who's kneeling," she said of Melchior, "so he's the one who goes closest to Jesus."