Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Lavender Soap (and Nine Other Gifts)

1) The sliver of lavender soap in my mother's soap dish. I hated it because it looked gummy and dirty in the faux alabaster soap dish and she always saved the damned slivers to stick onto a new bar of soap. I could never understand why she wouldn't use my lovely Green Tea hand soap that squirts hygienically out of a dispenser. The last time I saw her wash her hands she hadn't bathed for a week and could barely stand up at the sink but she patiently swirled the lavender soap between her hands and then rubbed the lather carefully between each finger before rinsing every bubble away, just the way I imagine a doctor washing up before surgery. Then she smelled of lavender.

2) A black comb. When her speech was slurred and her eyes could no longer focus on me, she kept repeating, "I'm very uncomfortable. I'm so uncomfortable. I'm very." Each time I answered her. "I promise, the nurse is coming with medicine. I will make you feel wonderful."(Once she answered, "I hope so.")


During the hours of waiting for more and more medicine to kick in (the nurse warned me that once she finally did fall asleep we wouldn't talk again because there was no waking up), as she suffered in understatement, she kept scratching the back of her head. The steroids made her head itchy, so I asked her if she wanted me to comb her hair. She said yes, so I combed her hair and stroked her scalp while she continued saying, "I'm very uncomfortable."

Her lips were cracked from having been on the breathing machine so I asked her if she wanted water. When she said yes, I poured ice water into a styrofoam cup and inserted the straw between her lips.

3) A styrofoam cup.

4) Ten bottles of medicine. Pantoprazole, Furosemide, Pravastatin, Amlodopine, Dexamethasone, Fluoxetine, Ondansetron, Albuterol, Lorazepam, St. Joseph's Baby Aspirin. Because we thought they would make her better.

5) Her shoes. A pair of brown leather Liz Claiborne loafers, size 7, from T.J. Maxx, at least five years old. For the last year, she only put them on for doctors' appointments, maybe two or three times a week. My mother owned no socks; even in the winter she didn't wear them (she also preferred a sweater to a winter coat). But when I dressed her, I knelt by her bed and pulled a pair of my socks onto her feet. Afterwards, she'd always seem surprised when she confided, "So cozy!"

The empty shoes are molded exactly to the shape of her feet. They sag like a soufflé and there's a little bulge where her pinky toe pressed.


6) Her prosthesis. She'd always hated it because it was heavy and hot against her skin. I used to bug her to wear it whenever we went out, until getting dressed became too exhausting. She'd had the same prosthesis for over 30 years but she didn't wear it at all for the last six or eight months. My mother had only one breast but no one, not even the nurses, seemed to notice; every time her blood was taken, I'd have to remind them to use her left arm because she'd had a mastectomy on the right. The prosthesis is still inside the last bra she wore, before we knew it was the last.

7) My daughter's ankles. They're knobby as hell, exactly like my mother's.

8) The song the dryer plays. Any time my mother hummed I would get embarrassed and my mother used to hum this particular song to my kids when they were little, though we could never remember the name of it. Something classical. I'd start laughing as soon as she began to hum, and that made her sing louder. When we moved in with my mom two years ago, I bought a new dryer and it plays that song when the clothes are dry. By then, she didn't remember the song anymore.

9) Blackberries. Breakfast was the only meal she ate reliably. She lost her appetite by lunchtime, and often threw up by dinner. But breakfast was golden.

On her favorite tray (black plastic inlaid with wood and brass in the shape of fish—my father had picked it up from a thrift shop in Edgartown decades ago):

Coffee with foamed milk in her favorite mug, with a tiny pinch of sugar, rye toast with a little whipped cream cheese and slices of lox or rare roast beef, and a dish of mixed berries.

My mother liked raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries, but I always made sure she had plenty of blackberries because they were her favorite. She was going blind and had lost her sense of taste, but the flavor of blackberries reached her, and she found them beautiful to look at, those jeweled purple berries, especially in a blue and white bowl, beside a slice of bright salmon.

10) Armenian հայերեն. At the funeral home, one is asked routine questions about the deceased so that information can be entered on a form—date of birth, place of birth, level of education, and so on. It's unlikely that anyone will ever again ask for my grandfather's name or my grandmother's maiden name. I wrote them down for the mortician on the back of a price list ("hairdresser $75, shroud [linen] $85, shiva candle $10, scattering at sea [at our convenience] $175 and up"):
Haroutoun Sanossian, Pailadzou Tutunjian
My mother, Roxanne (Araxie Sanossian)
From back left, my grandparents, Haroutoun and Pailadzou