For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been engaged in some home improvement, specifically, updating the kitchen in our condo. When we moved in, the vintage 1994 cabinetry and appliances looked quite up-to-date compared to the 1980’s stuff in our old house. But within a year I decided it would be nice to modernize with new countertops and stainless steel appliances. It would refresh the look and use of the kitchen for me to enjoy, as well as be a good investment for resale purposes.
I started talking about doing this way back in 2014. (One thing you can say about me is that I never move too hastily when it comes to home improvement!) I remember my mom being super excited about it, and she’d nag me gently ever so often. “When are you going to get your new appliances?” she’d say. She even slipped me some extra money in my birthday cards one year. “Put this toward your new kitchen,” she wrote on the inside of the card.
Somehow I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm I needed. It seemed wasteful to replace appliances that all worked perfectly well. I was confused by all the different patterns of counters, and should it be granite or quartz? Finally, one of my friends gave me the nudge I needed. Last month she replaced her appliances at a locally owned business, and took me there to meet the young woman who was her salesperson. I chose one of everything, and they were all installed a week later. I’d been looking at countertops off and on in Home Depot during the two years I’ve been dithering over this project, and had already chosen the pattern I wanted. So yesterday I placed the order, and in about three to four weeks it will be installed.
But my mother was the real impetus behind the decision to finally get this done. Since the sale of her house in September, there was a sum of money left in her personal checking account that I thought would probably be close to the amount I needed. What better way to spend it than finally complete the kitchen remodeling? In her mind, the kitchen was the heart of a home, the place where a woman spends the majority of her time. It should be beautiful.
My mother loved a beautiful home, loved to keep a “pretty house,” as she called it. One of the hardest things she dealt with in her old age was the inability to maintain her house to her own standards. She worried and fretted about it a lot, especially in the spring. “This old house is just a wreck,” she’d say. “But I haven’t got the energy to do anything about it."
I’ve been reading an old book I ran across quite by accident, a memoir published in 1980 by a woman names Toby Talbot. It’s called simply, A Book About My Mother, and it is the author’s tribute to her own mother who has recently died. Talbot and I had very similar relationships with our mothers -extremely close and connected in every aspect of our lives. But Talbot’s mother, who was also elderly and infirm for some time before she was hospitalized, died during the night when Talbot was not with her. Talbot was crushed.
“To be cheated out of being with her at the last moment!” she writes. "Not to have had a last contact, a word, a glance. For her to tell me one more word, to tell me that ultimate intimate infinite message. For me to say one final word. To provide her with a last comfort."
I feel the weight of Talbot's pain, and count myself incredibly lucky for the opportunity to be with my mother not only the moment she died, but in the hours and days leading up to her death. She had been gently preparing me for a long time, and in those last days we spoke clearly and frankly together and she appeared to be without fear.
So it was that a few days before she died I was sitting beside her on her hospital bed, holding her hand. “Mama,” I said, “I know what your heaven is going to be like."
She smiled at me. “You do, do you?” she said.
“Yes,” I told her. “Your heaven is going to be a beautiful house that never gets dirty or old. It will have a huge kitchen with everything you need to cook or bake whatever you want whenever you want it, and you never have to clean it up. It will have acres and acres of land so you can give a home to every homeless dog or cat that needs one."
By this time we were both crying, and I could barely finish the rest. “It will also have a special room just for me, filled with books and the finest piano ever made. And someday I will be there with you and we will take care of each other forever."
One year ago today my mother left us and went to that Beautiful House. And though I’m not a deeply religious person, I’ve come to rely on my belief in the Beautiful House - it has sustained me during the long, sad months just past. There were times in the earliest days of loss when I wondered if I could wait to get there, when I longed to just GO now. But lately I’ve felt that urgency fade into a more peaceful sense of assurance. Not just yet, I think now, but someday. In the meantime, it comforts me to think of her in heavenly house, cooking and baking and caring for all the animals she so loved.
Waiting for me. Getting my room ready for me.
Meanwhile, I have a house to make beautiful here on earth. I think she’d be happy to see me finally going about it.