It was a warm spring day when Sylvia finally succumbed to her illness. There were three of us with her at the time since my mother had arrived from Florida the previous week. I was happy and relieved to see my parent. The strain of watching Sylvia die was taking its toll on me, and I desperately needed someone to lean on. My mother was the perfect person for the job. At sixty-three, she was still a vibrant, capable woman with an amazing strength of character. She took over the household chores with a vengeance and spoiled Melissa terribly.
Sylvia’s death was almost anti-climactic. After all the weeks of waiting and the dreadful anticipation, at the end, she just stopped breathing. She hadn’t spoken a word since the day before. At this point, she was being fed intravenously and the nurse was taking care of administering the medication. All I had been doing was holding her hand and talking about everything and nothing in particular. When she finally died, she looked exactly the same as she had a few minutes previously, but I noticed her sunken chest was no longer moving. I knew that her suffering was finally over. The nurse confirmed what we already knew.
We silently shed a few tears, but my mother and I knew that for Sylvia, at least, the pain had passed. For us, the pain would make itself known afterwards, when we least wanted it to appear. When Melissa would participate in a school play, we would think of how much her mother would have enjoyed seeing her wide-eyed and smiling performance. When we walked down to the marina, we would be reminded of Sylvia and the hours we had spent there, and the pain would return. At Christmastime, when we’re opening our presents, we would remember how she had always thrown herself enthusiastically into the spirit of the season. Even just the simple pastime of sitting on the front porch and looking up at the stars at night would bring back the pain, because it would remind us of the evenings the three of us spent trying to decipher the constellations and laughing at some of the images Melissa could find among the stars.
She would be missing all of Melissa’s milestones yet to come; the first lost tooth, her first day of high school, her first date, her graduation, her marriage and the birth of her children. There would be many others in between and, for each one, I would think of Sylvia and the pain of loss would be there. I’d feel pain for myself, and for Melissa, but mostly for Sylvia herself, because I’d know what happiness all of those events would have given her.
For now, we would concentrate on the arrangements for the funeral and, afterwards, I would have to get her financial and legal affairs in order. I would take the time to grieve properly later.
The funeral was a quiet affair. Sylvia didn’t have much family, besides her father. She had an aunt and uncle from out of town with which she didn’t really have much contact, along with a few cousins. They were properly represented. There was a large group of co-workers who came to say their good-byes and a lot of neighbors. Sylvia had been a good friend and neighbor. She had always said it wasn’t just the houses that made up a good neighborhood, but the people and how they treated each other, and she had sown the seeds of friendliness enthusiastically.
My mother, of course, had stayed on for the funeral, but she was only going to remain a few days longer. She was anxious to return to her retirement home and her friends in Florida. She knew I appreciated her coming to be with me, but I she also sensed my need to be alone so I could grieve for my friend and begin my life as Melissa’s guardian.
I loved and admired my mother greatly. After my father had passed away, she had taken the bull by the horns and decided she was going to move south and start over. She built a strong network of friends and became involved in what seemed like every senior’s organization that existed, and that would mean quite a few in her neck of the woods. She even started dating a very nice man, Paul, and they had built a solid relationship. I approved whole-heartedly.
She was a very open-minded, modern-thinking woman except when it came to one subject. My marital status. She couldn’t understand why I hadn’t settled down and started a family.
“You’re such a beautiful girl, Rebecca. You should have men knocking down the door.”
I had heard this comment many times before.
“Mom, it’s not that I don’t date. I do, or at least I did, before Sylvia became so sick, but it just hasn’t happened for me yet. Sooner or later, Mr. Right is going to come along.”
In reality, I had pretty much given up on Mr. Right. As I got older, I seemed to become fussier about the guys I dated. It had been four years since I had had a relationship that could have been described as serious and, in that case, we just became bored with each other.
Since then, most men I saw rarely made it past the third date before I managed to find some glaring fault in their characters. It reminded me of a joke I had heard recently; men are like parking spots – the good ones are all taken and the rest are handicapped. That was becoming the story of my life. When I did meet someone who seemed nice, intelligent, reasonably good-looking and unattached, I assumed there had to be something wrong with him.
At any rate, right now, I had more things to occupy my time than worrying about my love life or lack thereof, and I didn’t need my mother to get on my case about it.
“Don’t worry Mom, I’m sure you’ll see me walk down the aisle someday. Meanwhile, you can think of Melissa as your grandchild.”
“I already do, sweetheart. I love that child as if she’s my own, but I can’t help worrying about the two of you here alone.”
“We’ll be fine, and maybe this summer we’ll go visit you and you can spoil us rotten.”