Memories of a Mother’s Death

Perhaps I should have noted it then, but in posting my comment on the passing of Martin Luther King and mentioning my mother’s teaching me about the evils of racism, I missed the fact that she died exactly five years before King. As I came to visit her in the hospital that day in 1963, two weeks before my 16th birthday, I nonchalantly walked into the large ward in Hennepin County General Hospital. Covered by Social Security, before the advent of Medicare or Medicaid, she shared space with at least 20 other patients. The reality of poverty’s effect on the quality of treatment is no different today–worse perhaps, in the comparison to routine medical care afforded the insured middle and upper classes. As I approached her bed, the curtain was drawn–a not uncommon phenomenon to enable patients a moment of privacy while taking care of bodily functions. A fellow patient pointed me to a young nurse, saying nothing.

“I’m here to see Mrs. Maberry,” I said.

“Oh, didn’t you know, she passed away this morning,” she tossed off matter of factly and turned away.

I stumbled out the room, unable to speak or formulate a thought. I held it together until I got down the stairs where my uncle and older brother found me weeping on a bench. They had missed me on the way in.

I wish I had been a better son. I wish had had a chance to say goodbye. What I can tell you is this, do pay attention to what the political candidates tell you they will do to provide health coverage for everyone. Things might be fine for you and your family today, but that could change at any time if a job is lost in a shaky economy. Then too, take care to treat well those members of your family, even as you may sometimes find it difficult to get along. Prayers for the deceased are a wonderful daily practice, but they are no substitute for treating the person well while they are still here.