My Mother, Ibby Bell, moved to Newville, Pennsylvania in 1989. Greenridge Village has many educated, traveled, interesting and friendly residents. Mother fit in and enjoyed their companionship and her own independence. The first eight or nine, were really good years. Her cottage at 31 Cedar Circle was charming. It had more room than my flat in San Francisco. What a luxury --- with two car garage, plenty of closets ---even an attic. I had to take a month’s leave from work at Neiman-Marcus to help Julie and Mother make the move. Lots of people helped; but Julie laid the groundwork. It was a special time to share with Mother. Moving from the old house was, I think, the most physical labor I’ve ever done. It was fun to set up her new place, to make the final decisions about what went where, which rugs to use, which pictures to hang, and so forth.
We hadn’t realized until the flood of Hurricane Agnes how much china and silver Mother actually had. Most of that went with her to Greenridge Village. In January 1997, we four children spent a week with Mother to distribute her possessions, when she moved to assisted living. She had already made the move; but kept the cottage two more months to allow all of us to be there. I think it was difficult for her to give up her things; but it was gratifying that she was able to make or, at minimum, approve the decisions.
The last six months were very hard for Mother. Julie agonized over the move to extended care. In order to delay it, we made arrangements for Mother to stay in her room at assisted living by having three shifts of companions around the clock. Eventually, even that was not satisfactory. When Mother made her final move, she misinterpreted the change and thought that care was being taken away, rather than extended. In reality, it partly was. Her isolation seemed more complete.
Even so, some of the old spark remained. Near the end, Mother laughed to herself and said it was just like the Lion and the Wolf. Cynthia called me from Florida to ask if I knew the reference. I said it sounded like an Aesop’s Fable. I looked around and found a book Sherry had given me on Fables of La Fontaine with illustrations by Dore.
Within its pages was Mother’s fable of The Lion, the Wolf and the Fox: “A Lion, sickly, weak, and full of years,/Desired a remedy against old age.” Ibby no doubt remembered it from the French!
Mother was a complex, conscientious, dogmatic, frightened, dedicated, stubborn, scholarly, rigid, vulnerable, disorganized, sentimental, opinionated, righteous, wry, considerate, determined, isolated, judgmental, courteous, timid, strong-willed, brittle, self-effacing, kind, inquisitive, lonely, sincere, intellectual, controlling, wealthy, stingy, principled, absolutist, thrifty, extraordinarily generous, manipulative, frustrating, shy, artistic, tender, tyrannical, talented, sweet, sporting, maddening, delicate, decorous, idiosyncratic, diligent, loving and supportive woman. To the end she was a fighter.
Above all, Ibby was a golfer.
Mother departed this life at 1:28 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on March 8, 1999 --only three days before her 87th birthday. At her side were her eldest and youngest children. She died holding a #10 iron, her favorite putter. All four of her children spent the last two full days with her and slept on the floor of her room that final night.
Earlier we read our own verses from a poem Mother had written about us children back in 1951 when Julie was twelve, Sherry nine, Cynthia four, and I was two. Each verse began: “I love you Mother....”
Cynthia played Massenet’s Meditation from the opera Thais, as Mother had requested for her to do at her memorial service. That was a piece Cynthia had studied with her teacher Mr. Malsh. And years ago Mother made me promise that I would sing the aria Gounod’s Repentance (O, Divine Redeemer). That was difficult for me to get through, but I did my best. Mother had selected that anthem when she was very close to death with pneumonia as a sixteen year old. Fortunately, it wasn’t necessary then and Mother lived another full and vibrant seventy years. Cynthia played and I sang at the principal memorial service at Grace Church in Harrisburg on Saturday March 27, 1999. That allowed time for relatives from out of state and others out of the country to attend. Afterwards we went to Woolrich to bury a lock of her hair.
As a nurse, Mother donated her body for research at the Hershey Medical Center. We reclaimed her ashes a year later for internment at the plot in Woolrich.
On the morning after her death, we had a brief witness to the resurrection celebration for Mother in the garden court at Greeenridge Village for all her helpers and the many friends she had made there.
For most of Mother’s life, she was rather isolated and estranged because of her hearing problems. She was always busy with her hands -- with needle-point, knitting, drawing, sewing, cooking, and, of course, golf. (She never was much of a gardener, though. She never learned how to prune.) Mother was very active in church and civic volunteer organizations. She had many acquaintances and colleagues, but very few real friends. Her hearing isolation and her own eccentricities contributed to her loneliness. (And during the final years she was legally blind.)
But Mother spent the last ten years of her life at Greenridge Village, where her natural and cultured idiosyncracies evolved into delightful old age charm. She fit right in and developed many deep and authentic friendships-- in some ways, really for the first time in her life. She was truly loved.