When my mother left the hospital, the doctor in charge of her case, had told us that they had done whatever could be done, but that now there was no point to any further treatment. She could be discharged, but the end was inevitable. So we went home, to Ridgewood, and as has been mentioned earlier, installed my mother in the dining room, from where she could visit the kitchen and the bathroom on her own. But that was only at first. As time passed she weakened visibly, and the walks to the kitchen, the bathroom, and the front porch ceased. Nursing aides were installed to take care of her, and the death watch began.
It was at this time that my mother told me the story of the crossing of the German border into Belgium. I recorded it on one of those tiny tape recorders, and I think I still have the tape, but the device on which it was supposed to be played has long been lost. We had other talks, but I don’t remember about what, possibly just small talk to make the time pass. There were no revelations or words of wisdom.
The nursing aides were specialists. They had done this innumerable times. They usually brought their own food and sat quietly. One of them spent most of her time solving the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. She worked at these puzzles a long time, but eventually got the solutions, which was considerably better than my feeble attempts. There wasn’t much that I could do for my mother. I made sure that she had ginger ale whenever she wanted it, and Linda prepared whatever food she wanted, which really wasn’t much and consisted mostly of chicken soup. On that last day, I brought her some chicken soup from the kitchen, and she complained about it not being salty enough. I went back into the kitchen and sprinkled in a bit more salt. When she tasted it, she said, “You’ve put too much salt in the soup.” Those were my mother’s last word to me, and I’ve always felt slightly guilty about that. Could that last bit of salt have killed my mother?
My mother’s death was uneventful. During the night Linda and I were called down from our bedroom by the nursing aide. She thought my mother’s end was near, and that we’d want to be there when it came, which we did. When we entered the dining room, my mother was still breathing. She looked quiet, asleep. However, almost overnight, she had turned into a very old woman, her body thin, wasted, her face mask-like. I looked at her, remembering what we had gone through together, and what she had gone through alone. There was nothing to be done now, just watch. After a surprisingly short time her breathing stopped, and then came a final gasp. Gerda Levy, my mother, born in Berlin in 1910, who had led such a difficult life, had died quietly at home on April 15th, 1980.
It was good that you could be there with your mother in her final days. It must have been a great comfort for her.
I’m sure it was. I also liked the idea of being there for her at the end.