by Marlene Willard
writer, Say Please mom
'Be grateful you have a sister," Mom said after the toddler pulled my tiny sunflower plants from their makeshift planter box. "Be grateful you have a sister and brother," she said when I had to baby-sit while my friends went out.
I did not come to realize the validity of her statements until many years later. When we all married, had children, and gathered at Mom's for bagels or brisket; when our children became friends; when we all lived in the same town; when we always had someone to talk to. Then I knew, Mom was right.
In her last five years, my mother's physical condition deteriorated. Her macular degeneration worsened until she was legally blind. Her osteoporosis resulted in back fractures that made walking risky without a walker and an infection in her prosthetic hip required a daily antiseptic cleansing and dressing change. It was hard for her to chew, and the foods she so loved became impossible to eat.
But we were all there for her. She spent the winter in Florida, where we had an aide for her most of the day. We'd visit several times but the most special was always when we went there for her birthday. We had omelets in the morning, piña coladas at sunset, and dinner at a fine restaurant. We rode in the golf cart with my brother in the Keys and once, when we got stuck with Mom's car, we all rode in a giant tow truck, laughing like teenagers. Only my siblings could share this with me.
Mom's "be glad you have a sister and brother" became most prophetic in these last years of her failing health. Each of us had our specialty in dealing with the situation. Dan, the businessman, handled all things financial; Laraine, the counselor, tended to all things emotional and spiritual; and I dealt with all the paperwork and medical forms. We had become quite a team and grateful that we worked so well together.
My sister and I each held Mom's hand as she took her last breath at age 91 on Aug. 26 last year. I could not have shared that moment with anyone else.
Now, it was a year of firsts: first Thanksgiving without Mom, first Passover, first birthday, and first Hanukkah that I did not phone her to ask how many onions to use with 10 pounds of potatoes for latkes.
As I set the table for Passover recently, I realized something was missing. Each year, Mom sent a beautiful floral centerpiece to my sister and to me. With tears in my eyes, I called the florist she used. I told them she had passed away. They knew what she always ordered and we'd have them in time for the first seder.
"What do you want your sister's card to say?" asked the florist.
"Mom would want you to have this," I answered.