Monday, October 24, 2011

Tenacious G: The Last Leaf

When I was in secondary school, I read a story by O Henry called The Last Leaf. The gist of the story was this (and forgive me if I get any details wrong; I read it more than 40 years ago):

A sickly young woman and an old painter lived in the same building. The old painter felt discouraged because his life was coming to an end and he had never painted a masterpiece. The young woman was discouraged because she didn't seem to be getting over her sickness. One day, she told the old painter that she was convinced that she would die when the last leaf fell off of the vine on the wall across from her bedroom window. The winter came and went, but the last leaf on the vine never fell. She took it as a divine sign that she would get well, and eventually she did. She wanted to share the good news with her friend, the painter. She asked someone in her building where he was. She was told that he had caught pneumonia painting a leaf on the wall across from her window and died. She realized he had finally painted his masterpiece—for her.

Tenacious G: The Last Leaf
The "last leaf," today, often refers to the last person of a generation who has not died. My mother, aka, Tenacious G, was lamenting to me the other day that everyone she talks about these days seems to be dead. I know that makes her feel sad, as it would anyone.

The day after she made that remark, I received a phone call from the son-in-law of the man she resided with for over ten years after my father passed away. They were very fond of each other, but when Michael fell ill, they had to split. He rejoined his family in Atlanta and Mom stayed up here with us. Michael called her every day for three years, until he became too ill to call her anymore.

The phone call from his son-in-law, Bill, was to tell me that he had passed away. Michael was 93, had lived a long life, but bone cancer finally took him. Bill said he had been on a morphine drip and passed peacefully. The family in Atlanta felt it was more appropriate for me to tell Mom.

I was going to see Mom the following day, so I wondered how to break it to her and how she would react. She asked me to take her to the Halloween Store so she could buy a wig for a costume she had recently purchased, then I suggested we visit a park in the area to enjoy the lovely day. We sat down on a bench, both of us watching a beautiful pair of swans on the lake—and I told her.

"Oh," she replied. "I knew he was very sick. At least he isn't suffering anymore." I thought there might be tears, but instead she was philosophical about it. I was surprised but relieved. I guess at this point in her life, she is accustomed to loss. And she and Michael had been separated for several years, so perhaps she had already grieved the passing of the relationship. "I've lost them both," she added, referring to my Dad and her boyfriend. And that was it.

One of the swans that failed to capture my mother's interest.
We sat there for a while and then she said, "The swans aren't doing anything at all. I'm bored. Let's go. I want to get back and try on my wig."

"Okay," I replied.

Mom was never one for sitting around. Nor has she ever been the type who indulged in feeling sorry for herself. Impatient, she was already on her feet and heading in an unstable gait toward the car. It was time to move on to the business of living.

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