A few weeks ago on a Tuesday evening we took Mary's mother, Harriet Thackrah, to Shuttleworth Park for a ball game. The Mohawks were offering one of their many crowd-pleasing promotions, with veterans getting in free. Not only that, but they got to use the brand-new Veterans Deck with a great view of the game midway down the right field line. And not only that, but scurrying staffer kept bringing free food and drinks to the vets and their families. I confess that, though I paid the full senior price of admission, I took full advantage of the treats.
Harriet leaned forward in her wheelchair and fully enjoyed every minute of the game. At 93 her step was a bit slower than the old days, but her mind as sharp as ever. Afterwards, when we snuck her back into the Wilkinson Residential Health Care Facility, she turned to me and said, "I had a really good time."
I guess I qualified as her favorite son-in-law. That may not always have been the case, but I climbed up a notch when the other one, inspired by a touch of Jamesons from the Irish American club, mistook one bedroom on Church Street for the other late one night and snuggled in with our mother-in-law.
The weeks pass and now, seventeen days after leaving for the hospital, her final wish before she drifted into the coma is fulfilled. She is coming home. The word had gone out at the Wilkinson facility, and some twenty staffers greet her when the elevator doors open, including some who had gone off-duty. She returns to the familiar surroundings of her room and is made comfortable. It is as she had left it, the pictures of her parents and her children and grandchildren and her great-granddaughter, our Laura. Her own personal artwork and knick-knacks. The geraniums perched on her windowsill overlooking the valley, all lovingly cared for in her absence, and tucked between two of them a slim volume of Sonnets from the Portuguese.
Flossie returns from the Philadelphia area and the two sisters take turns managing the watch while their brother John sets off from Wilmington, NC with his son Ian. Jamie is with us this month and Anna and Laura come up to see Babci. Louisa and Diego will be coming Friday and bringing Flossie's daughter Zoe from Boston. Groups of us wander from time to time to the nice sitting space at the end of the hall with the window view, and the magazine rack with Babci's retired issues of Smithsonian Magazine and Opera News.
Barely more than 24 hours pass and though Harriet occasionally lifts her head a little and squeezes a hand she has stopped interacting with the outside world. Mary arranges the ear phones so that her mother can follow along with the luminous mysteries of the rosary. Just about every member of the staff who has ever been in contact with her stops by. Two of the girls, on their day off, come in to wash her hair.
The sisters change shifts again, and again and now as 11 PM passes on Thursday, Mary's turn now, it becomes the Holy Hour, as Father Gulley used to say, that very special time when the door between heaven and earth opens to receive a new saint. At 11:47, while the nurse and aides are about to shift her in the bed, she breathes her last. "Open the window!" says one, so that her soul may swiftly rise to heaven on the night breeze. She carefully takes the clock off the wall and stops it.
We get the call at home moments later, as I'm bringing the dog in from his bedtime ritual, and I join Flossie and Jamie in the short ride. The night watchman is waiting for us and lets us in. Outside the room a cart of goodies has been sitting: fruit and pastries and drinks, hot and cold. They give us as much time as we need, and as much space. We are among friends.
She has seen a lot in her 93-plus years. Woodrow Wilson had been president when she was born, the man who issued an Executive Order banning African-Americans from the Civil Service. She had seen her immigrant family rise from mill workers to college grads and teachers and even a college professor. They had weathered the Great Depression and she had joined five of her brothers in the service during World War II. She raised a family and a generation of Amsterdam school kids.
On Saturday morning we said our final goodbyes, and a grateful nation presented our granddaughter with the flag of our country that had draped her coffin.
Harriet Foltman Thackrah's service had ended.