Updated: Nov 21
I turned sixty today. My mom Lilia, who all those years ago brought me into this world, turned, instead, away. At ninety-three, she was so very tired. Commonplace pleasures: soups and trees, bridges and bees, morning sun no longer soothed her. The strength to behold and bewitch, with her lively imagination and her ready laugh, her friends, or her grandchildren, had gone.
Her fluent English, tempered over three decades living in New York, had vanished. I imagine French and Spanish packed up earlier, though we didn't see them leave. Up through this past summer she would often ask me to buy her a newspaper. Less than a year ago she was excited when I managed to procure a series of small paperback short stories she'd taken an interest in. In June she hand-wrote a three-page letter to a friend and former teaching colleague on Long Island we'd managed to reconnect her with.
Then, around mid-September, shortness of breath seemed severe enough to warrant a call to emergency services. Two calls in fact, and after the second (and a short hospital stay) things unravelled pretty quickly. My daughter Tekla, who lives in Belgium, came to visit. From early October Lilia's decline was steep, but she was able to remain at home. This past week we moved her bed close to a fireplace, for warmth. But she was not eating anymore, and could hardly get through half a glass of water, so from yesterday there was a subcutaneous drip: useless (in hindsight).
The flip side of longevity is that your posse shrinks to a very few souls as you soldier on in a world that's less and less like the one you came up in. In the last days, it seems, you can scarcely make out where you are.
I found a note the other day, written in the weeks since my mom's handwriting had lost its flow. Only a few lines long. Starting in the top right, in the third person, "For Lilia"
...followed by a verse which would not have seemed out of place in Poesie, the slim volume of poetry she had proudly published in her mid-forties (though the tone is now darker):
I'll be here in my home
seeing my nighties, slippers
and robe (red)
undergarments (in a box)
Allusions to an arrival, a departure, images conjuring comfort, conjuring home.
Postscript, November 17: Lilia is buried in the tiny cimitero della Romita. From Poggiosole the winding, unpaved road leading to the cemetery is about 800 meters up the Strada Romita, in the direction of the via San Vito di Sopra. In the below image it's just visible between the cypress trees on the horizon.