Evelyn, Mike’s mum, passed away in early 2012. She was in her 80s and had suffered from dementia for the entire six years I’d known her.
Despite her memory issues, she was a lovely, vibrant woman. She had silvery hair, large, expressive eyes, and an easy, hearty laugh. I occasionally caught glimpses of the woman she was before the disease gained its foothold. She’d be feisty and funny, and I could picture her overseeing a household of boys and one adopted girl as well as the assorted cousins that would come over for Sunday dinner.
When I first started dating Mike, on the weekends, I would bring a big suitcase over to the house he shared with his mum and his brother Patrick. Along with clothes and toiletries, I always packed several Z Bars for me and Evelyn. She loved the chocolaty, kid-friendly nutrition bars as much as I did. Maybe because we were both kids at heart. I’d make us each a cup of tea and perch on the arm of her easy chair while we sipped and munched and shared stories. I’d rub her back, and sometimes, if I’d had a bad day, she’d rub mine and tell me it’d be okay.
When Evelyn couldn’t be left alone anymore, Mike and Patrick were faced with how to watch her 24/7 when they both worked. Unfortunately, she made too much money for assistance but too little to pay for the type of nursing home facility that can take care of dementia patients. A godsend came in the form of one their cousins who lived in California. Collette, a stay-at-home grandma, and her family were able to take Evelyn in, and they were close enough that we could still easily visit. I would send Evelyn homemade cards with photos and news from our crazy life. When Mike and I got married in 2009, one of Collette’s granddaughters brought Evelyn to Vegas so she could be there to celebrate with us. One of my most treasured photos is of Evelyn with her own three granddaughters. She’s in purple; the girls are wearing satin sheaths in varying jewel tones, and they’re all beautiful.
Once Mike got his pilot’s license, we would fly from Vegas to California, pick Evelyn up and take her to the bookstore. She loved Danielle Steel, so we’d buy her the author’s latest installment. It didn’t matter if she’d already read it. She wouldn’t remember, so it’d be new to her regardless. After that, we’d take her to dinner and have those heartbreaking conversations where the same questions were asked over and over again. When we would leave her to return home, she’d cry and beg to be taken home to be with her boys. We would explain, but no words could take away the sadness in her eyes. I felt so badly for Mike at those times. It was crushing for him to see her like that and to have to leave her behind.
After Evelyn passed, we went through her things. I found all the cards I’d sent her, all the gifts I’d given her like the picket fence picture frame and the box with the bold flower print that once contained lemony tea bags. She had saved it all. I bawled like a baby, and I still do when I think about it.
Mike’s dad, for whom he’s named, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in 2003, and it was Evelyn’s wish that we reunite her with her husband of over 50 years. It took more than a year for Mike’s, Patrick’s and their older brother Raymond’s schedules to sync up, so we didn’t make it to Arlington until late September 2013. Before the ceremony, we toured the cemetery. We talked and walked and marveled at the history of the place. The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns was particularly moving.
Finally, the moment came for us to bid Evelyn a final goodbye. The chaplain’s ceremony was short and as heartfelt as he could make it for someone he didn’t know. Raymond had brought along a picture and a small elephant to be buried with her. Elephants were another thing Evelyn and I had in common. She collected them, and I still do, although I’ve yet to find a place for all of them in the RV.
Before we left Evelyn for the last time, I touched both the photo and the trinket at the gravesite. I am so grateful to have known this amazing, beautiful woman and so honored that she allowed me the privilege of loving her son. Rest in peace, Evelyn. You will always be in our hearts.