In my June 2011 e-newsletter, Balancing Tips, I ran a contest in which I solicited reader stories of how humor had helped them through a time of loss. My personal favorite came from a Worthington, OH woman, Joan Nienkirchen, under the title “Stories Dying To Be Told,” which she quickly struck through and retitled “Dying Stories To Be Told.”
Among her stories, this “biting tale” in three parts from Joan is my personal favorite. It shows how her mom Peg held on to her girlhood feistiness even at the end, when she was dying of cancer. Joan will also receive a copy of Chicken Soup For The Soul: Grieving and Recovery.
Once, when Mom was just a girl, a neighbor came up to her with her crying son in tow.
“Margaret, you bit Johnny!” she accused.
“No I didn’t”.
“Oh, yes you did.”
“Let me see it.”
The angry mother held out poor Johnny’s arm.
“Oh, no,” Mom said. “When I bite it looks like this!” She chomped down, right beside the bite mark, and Johnny wailed. It was undeniable; her bite was completely different.
After oh-so-many years of setting a good example to her children, we discovered she never did like her vegetables. When the last of her children had left home, she happily stopped eating them. She also moved to a very little apartment that didn’t require too much cleaning. And ten years later, she proudly proclaimed her oven was “still a virgin.”
Toward the end, we, her children, took turns flying into St. Louis, each to spend a week tending to her needs. I was so excited to have my turn. I was relieving my sister, Cathy, who is a stickler for rules. The entire week she was there, she had insisted Mom eat all her vegetables! Didn’t she know how Mom felt about vegetables? I was outraged and was determined she would have frozen custard for dinner every night.
Well, Mom was quite ill when I arrived. They had given her a morphine pill earlier that day and would continue until the end. Mom wouldn’t be talking. Mom wouldn’t be eating any frozen custard. Still, I felt like I could save her from the difficulty of it all.
Cathy dutifully showed me the required maintenance procedures. When it came time to give Mom her medicine, Cathy turned to me and said,
“She can hear everything we say.”
I understood. We needn’t raise our voices, just talk, she’ll understand. Imagine my surprise when Cathy then turned to Mom and announced quite loudly,
“We’re going to give you your pill now, Mom.”
I stifled a laugh. Cathy dropped the tiny white pill into her mouth.
Oh, oh, a glitch. The pill landed under Mom’s tongue, and Cathy did not want it there. So, very carefully, she reached her finger into Mom’s mouth, hooked it under the pill, started to raise it out, and chomp, Mom bit down on her finger!
I could barely contain myself. This was Mom, speaking the same language as the little girl who did not like being accused of biting Johnny so long ago. I never was as bold as that little girl, but that night, I loved her.
Copyright 2011 Joan Nienkirchen