February 26, 2006

Gathering before the storm

My mother and Generous Hyper Woman have been friends since the late 1950s. They were neighbors who rounded up their children to play in the wading pool on hot summer days or who sat in the kitchen with coffee on winter afternoons. And they stayed friends long after the kids grew up and had children of their own. Since Generous Hyper Woman and her husband Opera Singer spend their summers up on the river, they are frequently visitors to my parents’ camp.

A few weeks ago, Generous Hyper Woman went into the hospital for what she thought might be an ulcer. But then her husband, Opera Singer, called my parents with the news. It wasn't an ulcer. It was cancer. The surgeons opened her up and said the cancer had spread too far. They closed her up again and sent her home.

Their daughter Shiny Personality, who has inherited her mother's generous nature, immediately emptied a bedroom in her house, furnished it for her parents, and invited them to move in. And yesterday, she threw a party, inviting family and friends, all of us who have known her parents for years. An anniversary party, she called it, to celebrate the fact that her parents have been married for 47 years.

But we all knew too, that the time for enjoying parties is running out for her Mom.

Yesterday, Shiny Personality’s house was filled with people and food, with talk and laughter. Little children ran around, grabbing cookies from overloaded trays. Elderly aunts kept making everyone eat more meatballs. Everyone who came brought photographs, which we pinned on a big white board. We joked about all the old stories: for their honeymoon, 47 years ago, Generous Hyper Woman and Opera Singer went to Faraway Southern State on a Greyhound bus. Who plans a long bus ride for their honeymoon?

Shiny Personality lives in one of the nicest houses I've ever seen, with big floor to ceiling windows everywhere. The house is high up in the hills, with a magnificent view of the countryside, gold and white corn fields that stretch to piney woods. Outside the windows, high winds and swirling white snow marked the approach of a winter storm.

But inside, things were warm and cosy and safe. We crowded onto comfy furniture or sat on the floor with plates of food, everyone talking at once. Delivery trucks brought flowers from out of town friends, huge lovely bouquets. Shiny Personality kept bringing her mother food, coaxing her to eat something. Cousins ran upstairs to play with each other.

When it was time to leave, I gave Shiny Personality a hug. We were born the same year, knew each other as kids, went to high school together, but do not see each other often as adults, except at weddings or funerals.

"I'll see you –" she began, and then caught herself. "Well, I hope it won’t be soon."


mendi-la said...

Beginnings and ending seem to bring folks together who don't usually gather. I prefer to think of it as a positive thing. When my dad died several years ago, I was so surprised and comforted by the turnout; folks I'd heard of but never met before. I wish your mom's friend the best in the last days and hopefully she will suffer less being surrounded by family.

What Now? said...

How was Generous Hyper Woman during this party? Was she able to enjoy the gathering around her?

jo(e) said...

Oh, she is still well enough to enjoy a party. I think she was tired by the end -- her daughter was smart to hold it during the day when she would have enough energy for it -- but I know she was thrilled to see everyone. Her husband said to me when I left, "This has been great for Generous Hyper Woman. Can you just feel how much love is in this house right now?"

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Wow. That reminds me so much of when my aunt (and second mother, and the mother of my best friend) was dying of cancer, a couple of years ago. She used to work in the Palliative Care ward of our local hospital: she was with them from the beginning, organising their fundraisers, building them this huge and beautiful sunroom for visiting families.

When she became so sick that she was transferred into palliative care herself, it was understood that the whole gang of us would take over the sunroom. People came from so far away to see her one last time, and a local Greek restaurant sent us a constant supply of food (the Greek community was heavily involved in her fundraisers). I took several days off from school, and just spent my time doing puzzles, eating, and talking in that sunroom. Sometimes I'd get a chance to visit my auntie, and she'd give me advice about marriage (Chris and I had just gotten engaged).

It was this long, endless party, where we were all at our loudest and funniest the whole time. That was probably the most beautiful week of my life.

Thanks for reminding me, jo(e).

peripateticpolarbear said...


chichimama said...

That's so wonderful.

My mother had me and my sister very young, so all of her friends through us are aging and dying. It is so heartbreaking to watch the women I grew up thinking of as invincible and wonderful become something else.

I wish I could throw parties like this one for all of them.

kathy a said...

jo(e) -- this was an excellent party! how wonderful of shiny personality to arrange it, while her mom is still well enough to enjoy it -- and to hear all the love that might otherwise have been saved for her funeral.

and -- well, none of us should wait until the funeral to express love and support. take dinner, sometimes. think of specific things shiny and her family might need. end of rant -- there is probably a casserole and support parade lined up by now.

[but sometimes it doesn't happen. one of the things that made my dad saddest about dying of cancer was that some of his friends just dropped out -- they didn't know what to say or do.]

Friday Mom said...


ccw said...

I hope it isn't soon, either.


Phantom Scribbler said...

What a beautiful post. Reminds me of the last gatherings we had for my aunt. Makes me wish we'd had them somewhere with a lovely view!

listmaker said...


Yankee T said...

Sounds just perfect. You are part of a wonderful community.

Sue said...

My mom's best friend had breast cancer back in the mid-60s. I remember that when she was diagnosed, people would whisper the word "cancer" or call it the C-word. The fear around cancer was such that folks didn't even want to say the word.

Mom's friend died in horrifying pain with no chemo and few friends around her. Mom stayed with her to the end, long after so many others had stopped their visits.

As tragic as your friend's situation is, I can't help but smile at a room full of well-wishers and friends saying by their presence "We're with you" -- we've come a long way.

liz said...

Big hugs.

halloweenlover said...

I hope it isn't soon also. That sounds like a WONDERFUL party. So very much love in one house.