The Curtain is Rising
By Leslie Martini
When Covid hit in late February 2020, my mother was nearing the end of her arduous, painful Alzheimer’s journey. As weeks turned to months, I contemplated with agony the pros and cons of traveling to Florida to say goodbye. Ultimately I made the trip, but the decision was excruciating—the fear of not saying goodbye versus the risk of contracting Covid en route, knowing that would seal her fate.
I last saw my mother the day she was removed from her home of 25 years. Because of Covid, my sisters and I were unable to see her in the urgent care facility. She died alone a week later, an image that haunts me.
By all accounts, my mother lived a full life. She worked, played bridge and traveled extensively. Broadway musicals were the soundtrack of her life, and frequent trips to New York City her highest priority. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, she often forgot what she had for lunch, but could rattle off the exhaustive itinerary of her next trip and the litany of shows on the half-price ticket board in Times Square.
By the time she got to the New York City part, her speech became rapid, perhaps a keen awareness that her time was running out.
In the last hours my sisters and I spent with my mother, her lucidity waned. She vacillated greatly between confusion and agitation, blurring lines between her past and her future. Her speech was quiet and slurred. Exhaustion seemed to set in, along with a few minutes of silence before she perked up—rested and ready to announce what was coming next. Her words suddenly became crystal clear, each enunciated with a renewed sense of jubilation. Her trip included Northern California, then Paris and finally New York City where she had tickets for a show. By the time she got to the New York City part, her speech became rapid, perhaps a keen awareness that her time was running out, and she tried getting out of bed.
“C’mon, let’s go! We’re late,” she pleaded.
She smiled sheepishly as she reached for and held out a book on the bedside table- a makeshift theatre Playbill. She told us we’d find our tickets at the box office.
Moments later when the hospice crew wheeled her out into the waiting ambulance, she blew us kisses and said the last words we’d hear:
“Hurry!” she implored! “The curtain is rising!”
She took my hand and looked at me with both clarity and conviction before answering. “I’m not afraid. I’ve lived.”
My mother’s death during Covid shone a spotlight on my own life. I’ll never know just how much she understood, but when I asked her on that last visit whether she was afraid of dying, she took my hand and looked at me with both clarity and conviction before answering.
“I’m not afraid. I’ve lived.”
It has been three months since I lost my mother. In that time, I contracted Covid and struggled with breathing, reduced oxygen and chest tightness. I became fearful and contemplated whether I would survive.
I thought a lot about my mother. I thought about her grit. I thought about her innate ability to live her life. I conjured up images of her plowing through Times Square with her walker, waiting in line for half-price tickets and somehow still mustering the strength to join in on the standing ovation.
In the ten days I spent alone, quarantining from my family, I engaged in ridding myself of clutter. Downsizing was my theme and I took it seriously. I spent time thinking about what mattered most. I spent time trying to foresee the future but somehow, was stuck dwelling on the past.
There were so many things I had put off, so many shelved plans–not just because of Covid, but because life got in the way. I thought about the trips we never took as a family.
I pictured a post- Covid world, one where my grown children would be free to resume their lives. The recurring thought of the passage of time and our empty home filled me with regret.
As I perused through the papers, I recognized the familiar handwriting of my daughter on an attached stickie note, dated 10 years earlier. “Can we go here?
On day seven of my quarantine, I was delving deep into a rabbit hole—a plethora of photo albums, unsorted boxes of photos and a stack of paper-clipped, travel brochures. As I perused through the papers, I recognized the familiar handwriting of my daughter on an attached stickie note, dated 10 years earlier. “Can we go here?” Why hadn’t we taken that trip? It was a dream for all of us.
I examined the brochure’s tattered edges thinking about how much had changed in those last ten years. Not only were our collective lives heading in different directions, but the price undoubtedly had doubled.
I thought about my mother’s loss of memory, how her life was cut short. I pictured her exhaustively researching trips she would never take. I knew that taking this trip would mean dipping into savings. But what were we saving for? What if we never took this trip? Would I regret it? Is it too late?
I often replay my mother’s words about being late and they feel ever so significant to me now. Until the end of her life, she never felt it was too late to live. My mother’s death and Covid upended my life. Both created a new urgency for change.
I made the decision to take that trip in 2022, with my mother in my heart, and Covid in the rearview mirror.
About the Writer
Leslie Martini, bucket age 23, is the author of two children’s books, Matilda, the Algonquin Cat, and Hamlet, the Algonquin Cat. She is co-founder of AllaMartinis.com, a freelance writing and promotions company, and an active member of ASJA, the Society of Children Book Writers and Illustrators, 826Boston and Writers Digest. Her work may be found at www.lesliemartini.com.
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