Maudlin Fodder

27Sep10

I just returned from Jupiter, Florida, where my brothers and I sat with our mother during her final days and then delivered her to our father’s side.

We received “the call” Tuesday morning from the hospice folks – the one that says “twenty-four to forty-eight hours.” By that night, we were surrounding her bed, in her home, yakking about old days growing up in Wayland, debating which of her sumptuous French recipes was the superior one, remembering the hijinx, large and small, that we’d all committed, including hers. The hospice nurses seemed nonplussed by our odd cheeriness, but assured us that “hearing is the last thing to go,” and though no one could really know if there is any connection between “hearing” and “comprehension,” we chose to believe there was.

For two more days, our routine continued, watching old westerns, Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, Groucho Marx, Jeopardy, even Judge Judy – the shows that Mom had watched routinely during the past three years, confined to her bed or chair with only the company of her devoted and loving caregivers (when we were not visiting, that is).

When the end came on Thursday at 2:00 p.m., we were at her side. A short time later, the three of us visited the funeral home and together made arrangements. I am quite certain that the funeral director had never witnessed the sort of jocularity we exhibited, and one with no sense of humor might have been horrified by it. But we were just doing what came naturally, according to her own nature and the instructions given to us years before by our father, when his own time was approaching: “Be funny,” he’d instructed us. We were, without effort.

That night, the television blared the replay of the day’s PGA Tour Championship (see below), we grilled two-inch thick steaks to go with the “Morin salad,” and much red wine was consumed – all as it would have been in happier times when Betty and Charlie were with us.

Friday morning, we ate breakfast at the Corner Cafe & Brewery – Conch Fritters Benedict and the beer sampler – and the stories, memories and laughter continued. It was there that oldest brother Chuck (a tax lawyer) opined that this was all potential fodder for short stories. I remain ambivalent, for the time.

For the rest of the day, and the next, during the funeral mass and burial,  that thought continued to distract me, even as I listened to Jim’s eloquent, alternately irreverent and poignant eulogy.

It is true that the loss of a parent, shared by siblings, is a story told a million times, in each instance as original and unique as the characters and their manner of coping with death. Like any story, though, success in the telling requires a narrative distance that is just impossible to achieve without the passage of time. A short while ago, I wrote a short story called The Messenger, which was published in 100 Stories For Haiti. It is fiction, but was written too soon after the death of my father. As someone whose opinion I value highly observed, “you do grief well. I wonder about that.” So do I.

So for now, the only story that will be told is the simplest and truest:

ELIZABETH MORIN Elizabeth (Donnelly) Morin, 84, died Thursday at her Jupiter home after a long illness. Beloved wife of 58 years to the late Charles H. Morin, Esq. Mrs. Morin was an expert French chef, consummate homemaker and hostess, and mother and drill sergeant to three willful sons. Born and raised in Worcester, MA, daughter of Judge James C. Donnelly of the Massachusetts Superior Court, Mrs. Morin attended Northampton School for Girls and graduated from Smith College in 1947. She and Charles married in 1949. Mrs. Morin was an especially avid golfer, winning women’s club championships at Oyster Harbors Country Club, Brae Burn Country Club, and Columbia Country Club. She and her husband moved to Jupiter Hills Village in 1987, but her golfing prowess was curtailed by a stroke in 1992. She leaves her three sons, Charles of Boston, MA, James of Coral Gables, FL and Peter of Scituate, MA; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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29 Responses to “Maudlin Fodder”

  1. 1 Margaret

    Hiarity was part of my mother’s death as well. Someday, if we sit down over a beer, I’ll tell you the story. It’s not so much that death is funny, but there is no need for making somebody’s last hours mournful. Nice post Pete.

  2. 2 Margaret

    sorry that was supposed to be Hilarity. 🙂

  3. Pete, as a nurse, I view death a little differently than most people and have lost my fair share of loved ones over the years. However, like you and your brothers, my siblings and I always find time to laugh and remember the good times. Grieving comes later in a private when I realize how very much I’ll miss them.

    Your mother sounds like someone I would have loved.

  4. LOL, yeah, well… we are (mostly) Irish, after all.

    Thanks, Liz and Margaret –

    No one didn’t love my mother. She was a card.

  5. 5 M M Bennetts

    Bless you. That’s a superb elegy, you know. Honest–the whole truth, as Aldous Huxley would have said. Bless you. MM.

  6. Peter, thanks for sharing that. I can see from your descriptions what a lovely person your mother was, and what a great family she was part of. No one else knows what we need when we’re grieving. I think humor is a great way to get through something that is so tough to experience.

  7. Pete: You struck a chord with me. After my brother’s long battle with cancer, my parents, my other brother and I went out for Jack Daniels on the rocks. The ambulance took him away and my father hugged us all and said, “For Eric, we must go raise a glass.” Half way through our time at the bar, the watch I was wearing, Eric’s for it had an alarm, started beeping. It was time for me to give him his next dose of morphine. But, he wasn’t with us any more. My mother quickly ordered another round and we toasted him. He would have been the first to cheer and applaud that we loved him so much we were free to laugh, tease, and cry. I wouldn’t trade one minute of that family time for about anything.

    Thanks for sharing. It means a lot. Cassy

  8. Lovely post, lovely tribute.

    “What we have once enjoyed we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

  9. 9 Malc

    As a lad MacDonald Fraser used to play golf with his grandmother against her two sons. He recalls an occasion that his uncle shanked into the gorse and laughed about it. Yes, laughed. The golfing granny took her young partner to one side (out of earshot of the two ball-hunting men) to warn, “Georgie, your uncle is a … trifling man.”

    Loved your simple account, Pete. Loved your golfing mum. And it’s true. You do grief well.

  10. Ack, you guys choke me up.

    Malcolm, Betty told me a story of one of their golf outings in Ireland at Ballybunion. It seems she’d found one of the more treacherous pot bunkers, and after twice failing to extricate herself, she looked skyward. Her caddy, a wizzened old codger, said to her, “oooo, don’t be lookin’ to Him fer help. Even he couldn’t get oot o’ there.”

  11. 11 krisyankee

    Laughter can bring people together, ease pain, and heal hearts. May the laughter of you and your brothers continue to bring you together with your parents. A wonderful post.
    Kris

  12. My condolences, Pete.

    I, too, relate to your post — in its humor and its love. When my father died less than a year and a half ago, that first day and indeed the first week were spent with my mother and siblings amid laughter, reflection, joy, and even more laughter. Oh yeah, a lot of barbecue and beer, too. It was as he’d have liked it.

    I’m a huge believer that a close family can get the most out of life and death. That closeness helps keep the emotions on an even keel so we can sail more smoothly across the rough seas. Keep laughing and writing, and laughing while writing.

  13. Okay, thanks a lot again – but what about this narrative distance crap?

  14. Deepest condolences, Pete. Laughter is indeed the best medicine. And–after I long life well-lived–what better tribute than to remember the fun, happy times? As a mother, I would want nothing less from my children when I pass.

  15. Pete, Your mother was fortunate to have her sons at her bedside to help usher her out, and you were blessed to be able to be there for her.

    You and your sibs performed magnificently.

    As far as narrative distance, I kept a journal when my mother was passing in 1998, then put it away for a few years and wrote a about it with passion and perspective in 2004. It took that long to get close to healing.

    My thoughts are with you.

    • Thank you, Mary – superb advice. Dunno if I can wait that long – I got that sentimental bug, you know.

  16. What a lovely post, Peter. I’m so sorry for your loss but so admire you for not giving in to the depression than can come, and instead, celebrating her life, remembering the happiness. Thank you for sharing. It’s made me think, and has been an inspiration for my day.

  17. Appears I’m blessed with a bunch of quality friends, too. Huh, something else to wallow in!

  18. What a great story (coming from a talented storyteller)!
    Things were as they should have been.
    Three sons enjoying and cherishing the memories your mother (and father) gave you.
    Live. Love. Laugh.
    It’s what makes us who we are.

    Thank you for sharing such a private moment.
    My deepest condolences.
    Big kiss and hug (like it or not).

    CW

  19. 22 Sue Marnitz

    Pete, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your mom sounds like a great gal.

    And that was really well-written.

  20. Pete,

    My condolences for the death of your mom. As a Hospice volunteer, I have the opportunity to observe the impact of death on families. Those who can be in the moment, remember the good times, and support each other during their loss have (in my opinion) such an advantage over those who try to control, manipulate or change things.

    Your story is lovely and I thank you for sharing it.

    Kay

  21. I’m sorry for your loss, Peter – it sounds like she lived a good life, and was well loved.

  22. 27 Anne Howard

    Hello, Peter, I only just looked at your site.
    I am sorry to hear about the passing of your mum, who sounds like a great lady. I can empathise with the hilarity. When my dad died, we held the wake at his favourite pub. It was a very casual affair and people enjoyed themselves which is what he would have wanted.
    About the writing, the emotion will flow better, closer to the event, then you can refine the writing later.

  23. 28 peter morin

    peter,

    we are truly sorry and shall miss betty, just as we miss charlie—who is in our prayers every night—and that is not just a “throw-away” statement—susan and i try to practice our religion. i just read the obit. to susan, and it brings back many, many very fond memories to both of us. you had a great set of parents!! absolutely no doubt about that.

    and charlie did so much for me, and was such an influence over my life. there is no way i could ever repay him for all the things he did for me—and thus for our entire family.

    i am glad you can deal with betty’s passing (and charlie’s) with the equanimity you are displaying. we should all be remembered with happiness and laughter by those who love us.

    ironically, our daughter betsy was married the day after betty died. Dear Lord, i can remember Charlie and Betty being present at betsy’s christening on a sunny Sunday in September, just three months after betsy was born—and then bouncing betsy on her knee while betsy was in her christening dress. i have to go find the photos of this event and the following reception at our home.

    betsy’s “binding” took place in big sky, montana, on the banks of the gallatin river. i have to admit that it was a rather unorthodox wedding. the wedding proper was a small affair, on friday; and the big reception was on saturday, with a much larger attendance. apparently this has become the “way” of doing the “destination weddings”, something i had never heard of til now.

    as i recall, you have a daughter who is approaching marriageable age. i will send you a longer email about such events. you may need to prepare for it—i certainly did.

    we did ask for a package of materials on the house. we are not golfers, but remember that i went to undergrad. in Fla.(that’s where i honed those tennis skills that charlie hired me for–i was actually on a tennis scholarship), and several of our friends have retired in the SE Fla. area. and it’s tax free. so there is an attraction to us beyond golf—and i actually enjoy being located on a golf course. why not? it’s a pleasant view.

    again, all of you have our sympathy and our love. the entire Morin Family occupies a very very special place in the hearts of the Treadway Family. please share these thoughts with jay and chuck.

    jim and susan treadway (yellowlab2@mac.com)

  24. Pete, dear
    My deepest condolences on your loss…but that we should all go surrounded by such love and laughter.
    Bless you
    Jill


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