My mother – I called her Dot – died two years ago today. The photo above was taken when she was a docent at the Dreher Zoo in West Palm Beach and was displayed at her funeral in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.
Since then, there have been many times I’ve thought: I wish I could talk to Dot about this … or that. Nothing heavy, mind you. Nothing personal either – at least not from my end. Just stuff of mutual interest.
After my dad died in 1995 , I phoned Dot about once a week, usually on Sundays. (We hadn’t lived in the same country for decades.) We chatted most often about politics, books, movies, TV shows.
She was always well informed, and had strong opinions. A lifelong liberal Democrat, she’d loved FDR and thought Eisenhower, Reagan and Bush Jr. were idiots. She was happy to have lived long enough to see Obama elected president.
Some of our last conversations were about Donald Trump running for president. She was revolted that he had a shot.
My sister Janice and I have talked about being relieved Dot did not live to experience the daily disgust of the biggest idiot yet in the White House.
Dot and I would also commiserate on the state of American culture as reflected in the popularity of what she called “nonsense” – some of the books that topped bestseller lists and movies and Broadway shows that were smashes at the box office.
In her later years, I became her maven on what to read and what to watch. I turned her on to such TV series as Homeland and, as her eyesight diminished, sent her the audio book every time a new novel came out by Nelson DeMille or Daniel Silva.
Our conversations generally wrapped up with her asking about my family: wife Linda, daughters Jodie and Lacey – Dot talked to daughter Kate all the time – and, later, granddaughters Annie and Zoey.
These were the things we talked about. That was our relationship. Every time she asked about my health or other matters I kept private, I changed the subject.
She’d tell me more than I wanted to hear about her latest malady – there were many. I’d tell her about my work but not about my more personal writing. I thought I’d save that news until a book was published. The timing never worked out.
I finished my memoir, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, about a year and a half after she died. As the title suggests, the book is mainly about my forty-plus years as a reporter, editor and teacher. Dot and my dad play minor roles in the narrative, not always flattering.
Since she’s been gone, since the book was published, I’ve thought more about the traits we shared: basically antisocial, incapable of small talk, intolerant of ignorance, more than satisfied to make a meal of the meaty bones on a prime rib of beef.
I now wish I had not waited so long to see her for the last time, to say goodbye. And wish I’d given her a less perfunctory sendoff in the final chapter of my book:
My mother, Dot, died at the age of ninety-four. Amazing she lived that long, with all the ailments and all the surgeries. She added to the inventory after moving north from Florida. A broken hip, followed by a broken fibula, finally persuaded her to use a walker. She was nearly blind by the spring of 2014, when she moved into my sister Janice’s house in Tarrytown.
Two years later, Dot got pneumonia and faded fast. I talked with her on the phone. She was barely coherent. But she had been that way before, through other serious illnesses. How can you discern when someone is really at death’s door?
Kate flew to New York to be with her grandma. I talked with her and Janice on the phone. Jodie wanted to go but was waiting for me. Finally, I said, “let’s go tomorrow.”
On May 10, 2016, Jodie and I drove to Tarrytown. We arrived in late afternoon, in time for the final hours. Dot couldn’t speak. Her eyes were closed. Her breathing labored. She looked tiny in the bed. I took her hand. She seemed to respond.
“Ken’s here,” Jan said.
“She’s been waiting for you,” Kate said.
A couple of hours later, I was on the patio having a smoke with Jan when Kate and Jodie came out to say she was gone.
Linda, Lacey, Hugh, Annie and Zoey made it to the funeral, as did other close family. Rabbi Brian flew in from Portland, Oregon, to preside at the service. I eulogized Dot’s toughness. Her casket was flown to Florida and lifted into her assigned place in the wall, beside dad.