The call came as I was helping my dad get ready for my mom’s funeral.
“Can you find the angel that Darren gave momma? I want to put it in the casket with her.”
It was my sister Angie. Her husband Darren bought little stone angels for each of us before he succumbed to cancer three years ago. The inscription on it says, “I will never leave you …” Mine is on my dresser at home, right next to my change dish.
“No problem,” I answered. “Do you know where she kept it?”
“It’s either in her purse or in her jewelry box.”
“I’ll find it,” I said before hanging up.
We had to leave for the funeral in a little more than an hour. Plenty of time to find the angel and help daddy.
Mom’s purse was where she always kept it, next to the end table that sat between her chair and daddy’s. There was just an empty space where her chair had been, a casualty of moving a hospital bed into the living room as her cancer worsened. The hospital bed was gone now.
Mom always kept her purse nearby, just in case something happened. One of my favorite pictures from my wedding is of my parents dancing. You can see momma’s purse strap on her shoulder.
The purse she had now is a lovely Coach purse that my youngest sister Chuty bought for her last year. I went through all of the compartments.
She kept things in it that she might need one day. There was balled up tissue. Lots of it. No telling what it was used for, but if there was still some use to something, momma held on to it, just in case.
There were pennies and nickles and dimes, a few quarters. Various scraps of paper. A couple of ink pens. Her ID and her wallet.
Momma hadn’t driven in decades, but she kept a set of keys in her purse, just in case. And cough drops. There were a dozen or so cough drops in there. Sugar-free.
Momma never went anywhere without cough drops, even after the nurses told her to quit eating artificial sweeteners after the cancer spread to her liver. We found even more in the compartment of her walker, where she also stashed the chocolate candy the nurses told her she shouldn’t eat, too.
Momma smoked most of her life, only quitting after her heart attack seven years ago. She had COPD and was on oxygen since the heart attack, taking breathing treatments three or four times a day. But she always blamed her cough on allergies. Cough drops made her feel better.
No stone angel from Darren in the purse, though.
My dad pointed me to momma’s jewelry box on the dresser in their bedroom. Sitting on top was the As Seen on TV hearing aid I gave momma for Christmas.
Her hearing was failing her for years but she wouldn’t see about getting a hearing aid because Medicare doesn’t pay for hearing aids.
When I had to upgrade from one hearing aid to two about four years ago, she wanted me to give her my old hearing aid. It was a form-fitting, in-the-ear model, built using a wax impression of my ear canal.
“It won’t fit your ear,” I could hear me telling her and wishing now that I had given it to her. (This may come as a shock, but I can be a know-it-all, sometimes.)
“Plus,” I continued in the conversation running through my memory, “it’s programmed for my hearing problems, so it wouldn’t really help you without changing the programming.”
This past Christmas, I picked up an As Seen on TV hearing aid model that she saw on TV and said she wanted. I gave it to her for Christmas. I have never seen her smile that big before. I have a picture of her opening the present. I’ll cherish it forever.
Did it help her hear better? I doubt it, but she kept it on her jewelry box which made me smile and softly cry at the same time.
Darren’s stone angel was just inside her jewelry box. I picked the angel up and put it in my pants pocket. I put the jewelry box back where momma kept it and started to put the hearing aid on top. But in a last-second decision, I pocketed it, too.
I finished helping dad get dressed and just before we left the house, I took some of momma’s cough drops out of her purse and put them in my pocket.
We got to the church with plenty of time to spare. I handed Angie momma’s angel as we entered the church’s side door. The funeral directors brought momma’s casket in and opened it for the family viewing.
Momma was beautiful. She was wearing the dress my sister Wanda gave her when mom and dad renewed their wedding vows in the same church almost four years earlier for their 60th anniversary. Her hair dresser, Lori, did a great job on her hair and momma looked 30 years younger without worry creasing her brow. My mom was a notorious worrier.
Angie put the angel under momma’s clasped fingers and kissed her.
As I leaned over to kiss momma, I tucked the hearing aid and cough drops under the edge of her pillow.
“Just in case,” I whispered as I kissed my mom goodbye.