Mim and I did bring off the birthday party for Sidney and Ephraim with as much joy as we could muster under the circumstances. Sidney invited a young man to join usRobert was his nameand Robert helped to liven up the conversation by regaling us with antics from his hometown in Ohio.
“Sidney took a brave step by having Robert come here,” I told Mim later. I was tucking her into bed early, after she announced she had a horrible headache and left Sidney to get dessert for everyone. I knew she knew what I knew about Sidney, although we hadn’t talked about it before. Back then Sidney’s relationship with Robert was considered criminal.
“It’s good that he has someone to care for him,” she whispered. “Especially now.”
Especially now. I can’t tell you how many times Mim used that phrase over the next three months. The specialist confirmed in his medical mumbo-jumbo that a cancer that had apparently started on her ovaries had spread elsewhere. There was essentially nothing he could do. You see, basically there was no chemotherapy in 1948. He talked about options for “palliative care,” which meant, frankly, ways to keep Mim as comfortable as possible until she died.
My job was to make life easier for Mim and to grieve afterward. And that’s what I did, except when I couldn’t stand it one moment longer, and then I ran to Hans for my own dose of palliative care.
Mim told Ephraim after the specialist appointment, and by the end of January everyone who needed to know knew. That Valentine’s Day, Ephraim gave Mim eighteen valentines all at once, as a reminder of the eighteen valentines he had sent to her one-by-one back in 1913. I bought her a maroon leather album, and I helped her to make a scrapbook of her favorite invitations and announcements. A typographer to the end, that was my Mim. She insisted I keep at least one fresh cucumber in her refrigerator, and I did that without question. And she refused to go to the hospital.
As February turned to March, Mim began to suffer the daily humiliations of her failing body. We probably did twenty loads of laundry a week. Mim moved to the downstairs bedroom that used to be Paul’s, where the light was glorious in the morning, and we were only steps away from the kitchen and the guest bathroom.
Ephraim, to his credit, stayed stone cold sober. When he wasn’t at the shop, he was reading to Mim, or running errands, or napping in the big upholstered chair by her bed. He brought the jade plant to be with her, and, let me tell you, he was as amazed as I was when the plant burst into bloom.
Paul and Sidney came by when they could. Caroline stopped over with meals. I decorated the walls of Mim’s room with pictures that Benjamin and Joshua and Dagmar drew, and with all the get-well cards that came to the house. Neighbors and friends were kind and helpful. Do I sound like I’m skipping over the details? Well, the truth is that I still can’t bear to talk about this.
One incident still gnaws at me. While we were alone together one morning, Mim asked me to get her prayer shawl from her lingerie drawer and place it under her pillow. I wondered if it had something to do with Serakh, but I didn’t waste Mim’s strength with unwarranted conversation. That afternoon, or maybe the following afternoon (one day folded into the next during those final weeks), Mim told me to take the prayer shawl.
“For safekeeping, Florrie,” she whispered. “Give it to Rachel when the time is right.”
“Don’t you want it with you until…the last minute?”
Her mouth curved up in a slight smile and she closed her eyes. “I have had my visit, dear friend. I’m ready.”
I smoothed her blankets and kissed her forehead. I took the prayer shawl from under her pillow, and left the room, and had a good cry. Did Serakh really come, or had Mim, in her morphine-filled state, imagined the whole episode? I’ll never be certain. I did check in the refrigerator later. No cucumber.
Rachel’s pregnancy took a turn for the worse, and the doctors ordered complete bed rest. Tell that to a mother of two young children. Ridiculous. By then Hans and I had moved to our cottage, but I spent most nights sleeping on the couch at Rachel’s. Sidney helped Hans with the art gallery, and Robert, dear boy, entertained Dagmar and Joshua when their father had to be at work.
April 1st was a Thursday, I remember. Joshua was only four, but he was old enough to know about April Fool’s Day, and he celebrated it with a whoopee cushion that Robert had bought for him. Mim was feeling amazingly well that day, and she was propped up in a chair at the kitchen table when Robert stopped by with Joshua in tow. You would not believe how much fun we had sitting on the cushion and pretending to be embarrassed at the noise. Ephraim came home early, and even he took a turn. I hadn’t heard so much laughter in Mim’s house since the family birthday party in January.
“Thank you, Robert,” I told him, as he and Joshua left that afternoon. “That’s just what we all needed.”
Thursday night Mim lapsed into a coma. She died early the next morning.