I had no inkling that the year would end as it has. January was a bit slow with some little show of snow and my birthday spent with my class from the Capital Speakers Club at the Rodarte exhibit. I spend hours looking out of the picture window in the Garden Room, watching the antics of the squirrels and the birds and occasionally other wildlife.
One day as I was sitting at my computer looking halfway to the outdoors over the top of my screen, a sudden movement caught my eye. Suddenly I realized that a hawk had plummetted out of the sky, grabbed a small wren just as it was lifting off, airborne into the sky — the sudden forward motion, fast and deadly that collided with the bird registered in my brain. Then the hawk changed direction abruptly, wren feathers flying and shot upward once more skimming the roofline of the house as it flew north with the bird of prey clutched in its claws. That was dramatic. We also often saw five deer, a beautiful red fox, and an opossum — lots of action around the bird feeders, which we carefully restocked, sometimes several times a day.
February included visits from my sister and her sons for our Mother 101st birthday. We had a sedate, seated dinner party here at the house. Almost all were family, but just about 24 people as I remember. Mother was confused about what the people were doing here. She could not grasp that it was her birthday until she saw the two birthday cakes in the shape of Barbie Dolls dressed in ball gowns, one blue and one pink lit with candles and set before her. Then Mother understood it was all for her. She enjoyed it.
March and April flew by with flowers peeking through the wintery earth. Trees began leafing out finally after the explosion of spring flowers encrusted on them and the bushes. Forsythia, some pale and some almost psychedelic adorned nearly every corner. There are so many of them in the yard, and over time, they have become enormous. The pink crabapple creates a beautiful foil to all that yellow.
In May, my sister flew in to see our mother, along with her children. Amid a rush of activity to make sure everyone had accommodations. A party at my brothers’ house to celebrate her insignificant birthday allowed Mother another “party,” which always pleased her. June and July left me time to swim in the pool and practice gratitude with every stroke of my arms. This place is a miracle in the city, which is, after all, the capital of the USA. The space around me, the quiet, the blue sky above the encircling bands of trees and bushes are certainly not typical. Two and a half acres of ground make Underoak a fantastic place to live. Gracious and charismatic, the rooflines intricate and charming, there is not another house like it anywhere in the city. I have been so fortunate to live here once more. It has been easy to be grateful every day. The place exudes peace and tranquility. And everywhere, it is beautiful. Mother was in Newport all of July, with Dede. Thus leaving me free and alone in DC and occasionally able to spend time in the Virginia countryside.
August brought me to Newport for what I suspected would be my last visit. That house is magnificent, and it’s location perfect. The generous proportions and high ceilings and ubiquitous French doors leading to the outside come together to make the best house in Newport for comfortable, elegant, good living. So many beautiful parties have graced those rooms, and so much fun was had. Many generations of my family have spent part of their summers there. And it looks like that will continue under a different branch of the family. One of my children already has his own house near the sea and perhaps others will as well.
For me, it is the end of a very long chapter of my life. Newport has been a sort of albatross about my neck for long enough. It will be fun for me to find a place for myself to spend some time in the summer. Certainly, Newport will not be the place.
This year I brought mother home after mid-August. She was exhausted. She was one of those people who could rise to the occasion, especially if it included a party and dressing up. Friends and music and perhaps dancing brought a big smile to her face. But she did not know people whom she was with any longer. Her friends were nearly all dead. So her guests were often children or grandchildren of her generation. She could fool them, though. She was so gracious and so good at pretending to know people; she knew every trick to make a guest feel as if she did know them. I watched her do it countless times. She batted those blue eyes and said something like, “Oh Good! It is so nice that YOU have come. That makes the party special!” or one time when a guest thanked her for asking him, she answered, “Oh! I would never have NOT invited YOU!” (As if that particular guest was the star of the party)
So home we came with caregivers dogs and mother in a private plane. It was rough on her. She was so tired, and she strained a muscle while she was being carried off of the aircraft by the pilot. It seemed the easiest way to have her disembark, but it turned out to be a mistake. Of course, some people might say that taking a 101-year-old woman to Newport was a mistake in itself. She did have fun. But to have fun, she had to pull herself together, ignore any aches and pains or confusion. And that took energy. Energy that she simply did not have any longer, and it showed. She slept and slept when we arrived in Washington, DC.
She recovered during the rest of the month and was better by Labor Day. And we had a couple of cocktail parties, using the beautiful yard as a backdrop even with the tree nothing but a dead trunk without its branches. People loved being outdoors, and the feeling of a spacious yard is unusual in Washington. It is amazing that my mother has outlived that giant Oaktree and also the company that her grandfather started, which has merged with another, making it the largest company of its kind in the world. But no longer the same company just as the tree is no longer the living canopy that graced this yard for almost her whole tenure here.
By October, when my sister came back for a visit, my mother was extremely thin. She was refusing food. She smiled less and less. It became harder to get her to laugh where it once was automatic. Three times she fell sound asleep in a restaurant where we were having dinner with friends, And I remember thinking, “What will I do to entertain her if she cannot go out?”
I saw it but did not see it. Mother was living her last few weeks. By mid-November, she was so weak she could no longer sit up in a wheelchair. She lay in bed for about six days, partly waiting for my sister to arrive. Since she had been here in October, it seemed crazy to Dede to come back so soon. She thought I was overly dramatic when I said: “You need to come now.” But she came on Friday night. Mother died on Monday, November 18th at 7:05 am, three days after Dede arrived. It was a peaceful death and full of love.
We rushed a bit to get a funeral arranged by Thursday afternoon, so those who had flown in from Europe and California could return without making another special trip. The closure of a funeral is healthy. The service was satisfying and joyful. And now Mother is at peace and so am I.
Thanksgiving came in a blur a week after the funeral. It was lovely for me to go to Charlottesville. Surrounded by love, I spent Thanksgiving with all three of my sons and many of my grandchildren.
December rushed in with the presents and parties and sending out Christmas Cards for Mother. My last act as her “caregiver.” People have enjoyed those cards. And I am proud of them because they are my Christmas gift to my amazing one of a kind mother.
May 2020 be as eventful and productive. But certainly, it would better with less sadness than this poor old year we are leaving behind.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Copyright©. 2019 Bonnie B. Matheson