The other morning, I scraped an orange’s deep shiny skin with a nifty zester. A waft of citrus exploded as the oily skin moved back and forth along the coarse bumps on the metal plate, raining sprinkles onto a scone dough in a mixing bowl, covering it with orange speckles. When I breathed the scent, my mouth watered, inviting me to take a bite of the fruit’s flesh.
At that moment, my senses of taste and touch and smell awakened me to a single point of memory when my mother discovered a flicker of comfort,
And of how she showed me, despite the remaining agonizing days of her life, there still remains some good, and how this can be found through the simplest of connections,
From an orange.
Nestled in a small plastic bowl, a quartered orange was the only food item among an egg salad sandwich cut on the diagonal sitting in the middle of a gray plastic plate, a clear cup of yellow Jell-O, and a bowl of cream of broccoli soup, my mother would seek from her lunch tray set in front of her while sitting in a wheelchair. Despite her worsening sight, she’d spot the fruit bowl and free the bright segments from its wrapper, grab each quarter’s ends and bite into the dripping pulp, swallowing hard and fast to welcome more. “Mmm, it’s good, so cold,” she’d tell me while licking her lips.
We were overcome with relief in that instant, she of her ability to find an appetite, though it only for an orange, and for me to see a glimmer of enjoyment in her darkening world.
My mother always revered food. She would find complete satisfaction in having iceberg lettuce with her thousand island dressing, a bit of water cracker with a slab of Brie cheese, and a double chardonnay in a single chardonnay wine glass. So when I would see her bypass all other food on her lunch tray, except for the orange, its coldness and citrus she could taste, my mourning of her because she no longer desired food, eased.
I popped from my chair sitting opposite her, to a bedside table behind her to search for tissues to wipe her sticky fingers. I pulled the drawer open to see a small square white box with a plastic cover, uncluttered among an emery board, a Sharpie pen and an address book. Inside the box was a rosary, the one of mother-of-pearl beads I had given her many years ago from a trip to Rome and the Vatican. Giving her a piece from the Vatican, the beads in the purest of holy white, was like giving her a front row seat to be with God upon her death. It was tangible, for her fingers to roll each bead between her fingers and her hand to feel the indent of the cross lying in its palm. And without her rosary, she couldn’t settle into a connection with her God until the strand was in her hand.
Despite five other rosaries—among her purse, wallet, nightstand, and jewelry box—discovered in her apartment when I had moved her out the previous month and into a nursing facility, the “white one,” was requested along with batteries for her hearing aids and lighted magnifying glass.
I understood her sense of urgency, for those were connections to her abilities to hear and to see and because without them, she would sure to be excluded from her narrowed world and her thoughts of everlasting life with God.
After she stacked the spent quarters back into the dish, I wiped a trail of juice remaining on her wrist.
And then I sat.
I cried inside.
When her last weeks stole her taste, advanced her loss of sight, and her hearing, my inside tears were not a moment of sadness, but of hope and comfort, of and for her. That she could forget that her body had lost its senses and its abilities to breath fully, to walk, to function, to keep faith when she had questioned it.
And how despite at the end of one’s life, we can be reminded of the good of it, if but for a few moments, through
An orange and a rosary
This summer was generous in offering full sun, a cloudless blue, and heat and humidity my mother welcomed after she’d plunk her straw hat on her head, slip on her Jackie-O sunglasses, and a couple of tissues to tuck inside her sleeve before I wheeled her to a backyard to enjoy it all. A polite heated breeze immediately greeted her upon the opening of the automatic door. She’d inhale as best she could, tip her head back to catch as much air as she could, then exhale in delight. We’d find a shady spot to settle . . . and then not speak. I’d survey the overgrown trees and the dried earth and a few pink roses and then to black tinted sunglass lenses to see her eyes behind them taking in what I had also viewed. I didn’t want to disturb the seemingly conversation she was having from her survey, and further comfort from sinking lower in her seat. I wondered what she was thinking. Was she wondering when she would die? Was she praying to die in her sleep? But it was not for me to ask. Her thoughts were private.
She would take a fuller breath, as much as her failing heart would allow, exhale the stale air from her lungs and softly say,
“Being out here, makes everything right with the world.”
I cried inside again.
Because of an orange to the tongue, a rosary to the fingers, chirping birds to the ears, and a hot breeze to the face, that my mother could find comfort in cold pulpy citrus and a prayer in each smooth bead held between her fingers and a rightness with herself and the world until her death on October 12 of this year.
Orange and a rosary,
There is life for the mind, the body, and the spirit.