The Quarter

On May 12, 1994, I was teaching a class in Strategies for Crisis Intervention and Prevention.  Instead of business attire, for this class I wore sweatpants, a sweatshirt and had my hair up on top of my head in a ponytail scrunchy.  I referred to it as my Lhasa Apso look.  I was called out of the class to take a phone call from the nursing home where my mother was in hospice care.

Come at once.  This seems to be the end.

My mother had been invalided with massive strokes since 1975 and then contracted lung cancer after a lifetime of heavy smoking.  The cancer metastasized and she spent the last six months of her life in a nursing home, receiving pain meds when needed and oxygen. She refused medical interventions.  This was not the first time that I got a call and hurried to the nursing home.

My mother considered herself a member of the “upper crust” of mom nyt weddingsociety.  She spoke like a lady and never cursed or used bad language. Cursing was something a “woman” did, not a “lady.”

Until her first stroke in 1975.

When I went to the hospital after the stroke, my mother told me to go get her cigarettes. They had, of course, taken them from her.  Her face was distorted and she couldn’t close her mouth.  So smoking would have been an issue anyway.  I gently replied that I couldn’t. She told me that she was my mother and I had to do what she said. It was very difficult to understand her speech, but I figured it out and tried to calm her down.  She then screamed “Goddammit get me some fucking cigarettes!”  I almost fell over. This former debutante, whose marriage was the center of the front page of the society section of the New York Times in June of 1941 said “fuck you” to me.  And she spent the next 19 years of her life cursing up a storm.

I rushed to the nursing home, and it was obvious to me when I entered her room that this time could very well be the end.  She was sitting completely in an upright position with the oxygen mask on, but her breathing was extremely labored.  She tried to take the mask off and I knew she wanted to say something to me.  My eyes welled up as I leaned over and put my ear right up to her mouth.  “Your hair looks like shit.”  I thought oh my God, the last thing that my mother is ever going to say to me is that my hair looks like shit.  Then she gathered one more breath and said “I love you.”

An Episcopalian nun came in and said a prayer at my mother’s bedside as she took her last breath. I felt for a pulse and there was none.  The nurses came and said she was gone.  They said I could stay with her for a while.  My father had not arrived in time, so I needed to call him.  In 1994, the nursing home had pay phones in the hall, not phones in the rooms.  I grabbed my purse and realized I had absolutely no money with me.  No quarters.  I had switched purses and my money was in my other purse.  Because of the shock, it didn’t occur to me to ask the nurses to let me use their phone.  In a panic, I turned my bag inside out.  Then I had a thought.

My father always left money for my mother.  They brought carts with juice, books and little gifts around and he always made sure she had money for a little treat.  I realized that I had to find a quarter in my mother’s bag to be able to call my father.

So as my mother’s body lay in peace in her bed, I rifled through her purse.  As I was looking for a quarter for the pay phone, my eyes furtively darted back and forth between the bag I was searching and the open door.  Crushed that she had passed.  Scared someone would catch me.

Taking a quarter from my dead mother.

 

About Barb Knowles

The things that are important to me are family, friends, teaching, writing, languages and using my sense of humor to navigate this crazy world. Please join me on this blogging adventure...
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57 Responses to The Quarter

  1. kellyann1979 says:

    I remember this now ! Great title too

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Melissa says:

    Wow. What a story…
    Pure talent.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. annieg421 says:

    Yes it is but you did nothing wrong. You needed to contact your father.
    I thought itvwas really funny when your mum said your hair was shit. I really laughed out loud.
    Keep up the great blogs. I love reading them 😃😃😃

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Almost Iowa says:

    My grandmother was a war-bride, raised in England. Over the years, she lost most of her accent but in the nursing home, her Alzheimer disease brought it flooding back and she reverted to a catty English school girl.

    Once when we came to visit, my grandmother asked who my mother was. When my mother told her, my grandmother whispered to us kids, in her mean school-girl voice, “I never liked her.”

    Mom laughed. Now it is her turn to suffer from Alzheimers but in one of life’s tender mercies, she seems to be enjoying herself.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. George says:

    This was both funny and sad at the same time. Great story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you, George. You are 100% correct. Experiencing it was funny and sad at the same time. And it happened exactly as written. I’m sure my mother was looking down yelling “DIDN’T I TEACH YOU NEVER TO LEAVE HOME WITHOUT MONEY!” Thanks for the comment.

      Like

  6. So sad and sweet Barb. A lovely post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Joseph Nebus says:

    Oh, gads, that’s such a magnificent and sad and funny scene.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you! Of course, seeing someone so ill and then dying are always difficult. The strokes were because she refused to take the medicine she was prescribed for reasons I’m not going into right now. And the cancer because she refused to stop smoking. I think she had given up. But the way it played out had very funny moments. I knew at the end that this was all funny in a crazy sort of way. I had a vision of her above me looking down saying “DIDN’T I TEACH YOU NEVER TO LEAVE HOME WITHOUT MONEY?” Thanks for your comment, as always.

      Like

  8. Inira says:

    At times like that you have no idea what you’d do or how you’d feel so no reason to feel guilty. Love the story

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Oh I don’t feel guilty at all. It was of course, very sad. But very funny too. It’s part of my story and it helps that there were so many funny aspects to it. Thank you for your comment, but I don’t feel guilty at all.

      Like

      • Inira says:

        I hope that one day I look at the funny side of my dad’s death. It’s still too fresh right now but I wana eventually be in the space that you’re in

        Liked by 1 person

      • Barb Knowles says:

        I’m sorry for your loss. When my father died, I don’t think anything funny happened. Of course the change in my mother made her say funny things, but the totally crazy thing was desperately needing to call my father, not having even a quarter with me. Anyone walking by her room would have thought I was stealing from her. Even at the time I thought it was crazy. Thank you so much for not only reading my blog, but for your wonderful conversations.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      I said to my girlfriend at work the other day “Did I ever tell you the funny story about when my mother died?” She just looked at me and said that’s not a question I’ve ever heard.”

      Like

  9. mitchteemley says:

    Such a sad-sweet-peculiar memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. If it were anyone else, I might have thought that this story was made up. Knowing you, however, it all makes perfect sense…Another excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. luckyotter says:

    Bravo! This is wonderful, tragic and funny. I can definitely relate. My mother always thought of herself as upper crust too (she was only middle class), but she always cussed.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Devastating. Not the last memory you would want to have with your mom. However, bet your mom would have saw the humor in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Amazing memoir. This, folks, is how it’s done. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you for following my blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. jan says:

    Such a powerful, moving and well-written story. After my father’s death I remember how strange it was to handle his wallet.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ellen Hawley says:

    My very Victorian grandmother, after her first stroke, was sitting in bed with her nightgown rucked up around her waist. My mother reached over and pulled it down and my grandmother said, “Oh, I don’t care about that anymore.”

    Strokes do seem to change people.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. patty Dann says:

    What an extraordinarily powerful piece of writing.
    Vivid, heartbreaking – beautiful and heartbreaking work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      Thank you! While it was a horrible time, obviously, I could still see the dark humor in the fact that I was stealing money from her purse. It’s strange how we react to stressful situations.

      Like

  18. lorriedeck says:

    This is a great story about an awful time in your life. My mother, I’m sure, would also find the time to tell me my hair looked like shit. I laughed out loud at that part because that’s what Mom’s do. Ours, at least.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Carrie Rubin says:

    The things we do when our minds are otherwise occupied. What a surreal moment that must have been for you, but in your situation, I think we’d all have done the same. Great piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Ann Coleman says:

    This is such a powerful story of loss and of the ridiculousness of the human condition, all at the same time. Sometimes, all we can do is laugh through our tears. Thanks for sharing this, Barb…it’s one of your best!

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Pingback: Your Favorite Personal Post | saneteachers

  22. Oh, wow. I think this was a great post that should have received traction. What a comical thought, someone might see you stealing from your mother, yet so understandable. I’m glad she was able to amend her last words.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Barb Knowles says:

      A big yes to all of the above! It was surreal at the time. I saw the dark humor and was afraid that I would laugh out loud. You know the hysteria from shock that can be right below the surface? I hope you are submitting a favorite blog post here, too. Thank you for you comments, as always.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Pingback: Here Are Your Own Posts! | saneteachers

  24. Hi Barb, I’d say “Great story,” but I know that to you, this isn’t just some beautiful piece you came up with. I’m pretty sure that to you, this was real life. So instead, I want to say, thank you for sharing this specific event in your life. I found it very captivating.
    Hugs,
    Beatrice

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Evelina Campbell says:

    This is sad and funny at the same time. It’s almost that last typical reminder of the individuality of that person as a person…if that makes sense. Thank you for sharing, I feel inspired by this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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