For years, she had been the picture of vigor and energy. But she looked rather wan at my brother’s wedding that spring, and most of us had a vague realization that her time was coming. A few months later, the phone rang. My sister Judy said that Mom was terminal and would pass very soon, and to come home immediately.
A few days later I was back in the upper Midwest, in that modest little house on West 7th Street in the old river city, and family members were arriving from across the country and around the world to pay their respects. Each day, family, relatives and friends arrived in an almost steady procession for their audience with Betsy Jean. With great facility she variously greeted, calmed, dispensed advice, and gently established peaceful closure.
My mother insisted on having us pore over her large library, antiques, treasures, and mementos built up over many travels and a long life now approaching eighty-four years. As each treasure found its appropriate home and caretaker we were once again walking the hallways and corridors of our lives together and looking again at the experiences that helped make us who we are.
My mother had been the cord holding the family together, but now we would gradually disperse. Relationships would change. We were to become more scattered.
Just a Few of Us at the House
Mom quietly slipped into a coma. My siblings came and went from the house as their schedules permitted, most having to carry out family obligations. Then on Tuesday afternoon, with just a few of us at the house, I was out front playing my harmonica when my brother Tom’s wife Kelly came out and told me that Mom’s breathing had changed. I headed immediately into the house and into the bedroom where she lay.
And there we were, Tom, Kelly, my sisters Andrea and Ruthanne, and myself, surrounding the bed. As we stood around the bed, I felt unease that I should be among the few gathered here at the moment of her death. Here was the old Matriarch. I was the thirteenth born, somewhat aloof, generally far from the center of family life, and one who had struggled a great deal.
Yet here I stood among just a few of us, watching her depart this life that afternoon in the sun-drenched bedroom of the house on West 7th Street in the old river city. I had recited some evening prayers over her bed the last evening or two, and at this moment, my final thoughts were “Good bye, Mother. Journey well. And may God bless you.”
A few moments later, at 4:18 in the afternoon, she stopped breathing. Knowing not what else to do, I jumped on a bike and rode down river a good ways.
Cyril Ignatius Kendrick grew up in the Upper-Midwest, earned a doctorate in sociology from Virginia Tech and is a college professor, a Catholic, and a devotee of great music.