I saw my Mother. I was waiting in a line, an interminable line, to board the plane from Amsterdam to Boston, and I saw my Mother. She was sitting at a table in a small café near the line, and she was eating something, I think. Tears came to me and rolled down my cheeks. “Mother. Mother!” I said. I stared at her, my precious Mother, there at the table.
Then she looked up, to my gaze I am sure, and—of course, I guess—it was not my Mother. The line moved, and we got on the plane and flew home. But I saw her, my Mother, for the only time in the sixteen years since she died.
She was there, I think, to try to be with me, to warn me, to love me and to help me. For when we arrived home at midnight, with our bags on the sidewalk in the dark and the cab driven away, our older daughter, our Susannah, came out of our house—what is she doing here? she should be at home in New Jersey with her family…? She came out of our house, onto the porch, spread her arms wide, and had to tell us that her sister, our younger daughter, our darling Alyson. That our Alyson. That our darling Alyson was dead.
You readers of my blogs have met my daughter Alyson. She’s the one I went to the Grand Canyon with. http://hilarysplaces.com/blog/entry/limited-mobility-a-token-for-the-whole1
I’m only going to write about Als once (we in the family called her Als, which we pronounced “alss”), here on my website, and this is it, so I’m going to share with you what I said at her Memorial service, two weeks ago.
If you said to Alyson, Hey, Als, I feel like going to ride the roller coaster at 6 Flags, she’d gulp and say, Okaaay, when do we go? If you said, Ya know, I feel like taking a nap, she’d say, Sounds like a plan. I will tuck you in.
She accepted everything about you.
This made her a deep and powerful comfort to be with.
Lately she had sometimes taken to calling me Honey (her sister too I found out). There is something so powerfully comforting for your child to call you Honey.
For some years now Alyson had been preparing for what she accepted was going to be her role in John’s and my life as we became elderly. She desperately tried to learn to drive, in order that she would be able to drive us places. Once when we were talking about John’s death (long in the future), and I told her what I would dress him in, she said she had always thought that I would wear my denim caftan (what’s called my sleeping suit in our household), and was that ok? One time I commented that if I had to go to a “home” I wanted it to be a certain place, and she never forgot that and alluded to it sometimes.
I know that the thought that we should die was a source of great terror to her, for we, especially I, were her ballast and her safe place. I am so grateful that she is now beyond that fear.
Alyson was born with rH disease, and nearly died at birth. But she was very strong; the pediatrician who cared for her and Susannah said that Alyson fought remarkably hard to overcome the results of this disease in her very earliest days. Even then she had a determined grit and strength.
When she was a toddler she was so exceptionally gorgeous that total strangers would stop me in the street to admire her in her little stroller. She never lost that beauty, and especially in her more recent days, when she returned to the white-blond of her childhood, I was often stunned by how very beautiful she was, my baby girl.
I am sure you all know that Alyson was a mentally ill person. She had a disease called schizo-affective disorder, which is a kind of catchall term for a variety of symptoms. At its worst her disease caused her to hear voices saying unpleasant and scary things. But through all the years of her illness our Alyson was never lost to us. She remained close to us, and whole to us.
Her Daddy John saw her through some of the worst of this illness. In order to spare me, she shared things with him that she felt would be too much of a burden for me to bear. But he bore those burdens with a loving and devoted heart. When she was living in a halfway house, sometimes she would call in the depths of the night, saying that she needed John to come and “drive her around.” He would get up, get dressed, and drive to the halfway house, in Boston, and drive Alyson around for an hour, come home, go back to sleep, and get up again in a couple of hours to go to work. I don’t know what they talked about on those drives, for that was between the two of them.
Some of you may know that John is not the girls’ biological father. That person is here today and I wish to thank him for supporting the girls and me during my single years, and for his profoundly generous gift of the girls to John as their adopted father.
In all the years of anguish, fear, expense and sadness during which John was Alyson’s daddy, he never, ever, uttered a word of complaint. Instead he was the righteous and upright true man that he is. Alyson adored him and trusted him as we all do.
Alyson was a woman of abundant gifts. She was born with them. As a child she was alert and observant, intelligent in a wonderful quirky way, creatively funny, artistic, strong, and charismatic. People of all ages were drawn to her. Nothing much got by her. When Susannah was a little tiny kid, I could easily distract her from crawling over to the electrical outlet, say, with a toy or whatever. Not Als. She headed straight for the outlet with single-minded determination in spite of my cajoling.
When you hear this list of Alyson’s childhood qualities, you recognize the grownup woman you knew. In spite of the physical and mental outrages that life visited upon her, she never complained, never bitched and whined, always remained cheerful and calm. This made the people around her feel cheerful and calm. She remained charismatic to the very end, gathering friends and even some surrogate mothers to her radiance.
The Somerville police inspector, Inspector Kate, who found our Alyson in her apartment after she had passed, said that she was lying in her bed and looked so peaceful and comfortable. So Alyson gave us peace and comfort even at her passing!
I do not know how I will manage without Als. We had so many silly games we played. John, upon hearing us get started with one of these, would sigh in mock despair and say, And they’re off and running! Now I have no one to play our silly games with. I have no one to call every morning and evening, no one will greet me with a musical and delighted “Hi!” when we come home from being away. No one to listen to me so carefully and lovingly, no one to approve of me without judgment and always with acceptance. We won’t be taking Als for shopping and meds every Saturday. The three of us will no longer be sharing holidays and birthdays in the satisfying way that we worked out together as a tiny family. Nobody will take me to get my tattoo “when I am ready.” No foot rubs any more. No working together in the quiet beauty of Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Who now will hold my hand at the end, and encourage me on my way with “Good job, Mother-Dear! Good job!” the way Als did for my precious Mother at her end?
In spite of Alyson’s many physical and mental afflictions, the wonderful thing is that she reached a fully-realized life. She was all a parent could ever dream of and hope for.
My heart is just broken. Dearest darling precious Alyson, I am so glad that you are now beyond pain and fear. You flower forever in my heart. No mother could have been given a gift as precious as you. Thank you, honey. Rest now, forever whole and beautiful.
I love you.
Thank you, friends and strangers who may read this entry on my website, for your few minutes’ attention to my precious child. Is there someone in your life whom you love but you don’t usually tell them? Tell them! In our family we have a thing we call Keeping Up To Date. It means that whenever any of us is with another family member, and that feeling of love comes into our mind, we tell the person, out loud. Because otherwise how will they know? The last words Alyson and I exchanged were:
I love you.
Debra Catherine Halun Keating 10:16pm, 08/19/2014
I love you too. All of you. May you find peace.
Laramie and Theodore 04:46pm, 09/16/2014
A beautiful tribute to Alyson, your beloved daughter. Such a profound loss for you all. Sending our love to you.