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  • She's been sounding really good on the phone the past couple of weeks, but today it sounded like she was having one of her bad days. When I called, she didn't think she would join us downstairs for dinner. By the time we got there, she decided she would. She always gets up for visitors. She was having adjustment issues to a new pain patch they're trying. Her blood pressure is low, and she's more unsteady on her feet than she's been - pretty wobbly. But what's bothering her the most is, she's losing words. In the middle of a train of thought, the right word just escapes her. "This happens to us all the time", she hears, but it's not the same. Not like this. This is her biggest fear. "I think I'm going quickly, now", she confides, very matter-of-factly, with no hint of drama or distress. I pick up the cue - look in her eyes - I see hope, and a little glint of adventure there - "Is that what you want, Mom?" I see gratitude and relief in her eyes. I got it. "Yes, it is. I don't want this to be long and drug out."

    Her and Dad are so different, in so many ways. They're as different as night and day, really. But, in this, they are so much alike. When it was time, he was ready to go. His work here was done, and he was ready to get on to the next thing. The next life. Mom hasn't started the count-down, yet. He would close his eyes and count to 3, open them back up, look around, "Oh...I'm still here, huh" with a sigh.

    But, she is ready, whenever it's time. I think she still has a ways to go. I hope it goes the way she would like it to. Minimal pain - mental accuity to the end. That's most important to her. Her biggest fear is the continued loss of those words - the inability to communicate what is on her mind.

    Despite the occasional word search, she was dialed in mentally as we talked about all kinds of things after dinner. Dorothy is still relatively new to the family, so Mom has been letting her in on some of the family stories. She'd told her about the time her new husband, my big brother Jim, had scared the livin' bejesus out of me when I was 10, the famous "Don't Be Afraid" tale, a family favorite. We talked a lot about AA's effect on the family. She talked about her college experiences.

    "Did you really quit college because you didn't like to ride the trolley car to and from Duquesne? Wasn't it also because the family needed you to work, and bring in some income?" She displayed a memory sharp as a razor in her response. "No, it wasn't because they needed me to work. I was just really disappointed with the whole college experience.

    "I was 15 (having skipped a couple of grades in school). This wonderful older Nun had asked me about going to college, and I'd said, "Oh, college is out of the question, I could never afford that." She told me I didn't need to pay a penny - with my grades I could get a full scholarship. But, I would need to learn Algebra. Back then, they didn't teach Algebra in high school, but I would need it to get a scholarship. So, everyday at lunch time, she had me over to the convent, and she taught me two years of college Algebra in that year, 15 minutes at a time, at lunch. She always saved her dessert for me. She also showed me how to apply for the scholarships. She really took me under her wing. I was always most grateful for her. There was no support from my family for college. Dad had dropped out of school very young, but he was the most educated person I knew. Selt taught. Read like a demon (just like Mom). He knew more about more different things than anyone I ever knew. He didn't see the point of college."

    "When I got to Duquesne, on several scholarships, they apparently were expecting me to play basketball. I was very tall - they had a women's team, and someone assumed, because of my height, that I would be a good basketball player. I'd never played! My schools had had teams, but we moved around so much, and I skipped grades and never had the opportunity to learn basketball. Then, my English class was taught by the Men's basketball coach, and he didn't know the first thing about English. It was a huge disappointment. After a year of that, I quit and went to work. Of course, the family did appreciate the additional income."

    She went on to tell about going back to college when she was in her 40's. "As much as I hated it when I was 15, I loved it then. It was everything I hoped it would be, and more. But, I had to convince the admissions dean to let me in. I wasn't sure how that was going, but she perked up when I told her about my experience with alcoholism and AA. I didn't talk about that very much in day to day conversations, but somehow it came up when I was talking with her. She had a dear friend, who went to operas and shows with her, who could not go anywhere without her little paper bag with a bottle of whiskey to get her through the evening. She wondered if I could talk to her. I agreed to, although these types of things usually do not work quite like that. The person has to want to get well. But, I did take her to a couple of meetings. Then, one evening, I was supposed to meet her to go to another meeting, but she never answered her door. The lights were all on, but when she didn't respond, I went on to the meeting without her. Next day, I told the dean I'd tried, but she didn't come to the door. "Oh, you must not have heard - she died last night." I felt badly. I wasn't able to help her with her alcoholism - but, she helped me get back into college!" The smile on Mom's face as she told this tale was radiant. How ironic - she would use her mid-life college education to go on to run the New Jersey state Ala-Call hotline, that would help thousands of alcoholics find their way into recovery from the malady.

    No words went missing in the telling of this tale. She filled her living room with joy and delight, and with a sparkle in her eyes. Here is a woman who's had a most interesting life.
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