My mother, Mary Katherine Markel, died on January 11, 2008 at 7:10 pm in the Amsterdam Nursing Home, 1060 Amsterdam Avenue, New York 10025. She was 88. For approximately the 10 years before she died, she was a victim of the most horrible disease I can think of, Alzheimers. In the beginning, it was not too bad, and we all coped. She lived alone in a condo in Southold, Long Island. Then my brother, David, moved in with her. We hired a woman to come in during the day to cook and clean and take her places.
On weekends, one or the other of her children would go to Southold to be with her. For me, this meant a 2-hour train ride from New York City. I would ride the Long Island Railroad with a a steely resolve for the weekend ahead. Get Mary to take a shower. Get her dressed in the morning. Make her oat bran muffins. Keep her interested in staying awake. Take her out to dinner.
Mary Katherine Markel
We waited until August to have a small memorial service for the family. We scattered her ashes in Peconic Bay on the North Fork of Long Island. It was a perfect morning. Her children and her brother, John, the only other surviving sibling out of 10, climbed in to an aluminum dingy called "Fairytale" and rowed out from the shore. We each tossed a bit of Mary in to the sea. Back on the beach, David sang her favorite song, "Moon River."
This was my eulogy to Mary.
Beautiful, smart, intellectual, funny, quiet, generous, stylish, private.
Early memory. She, reading Alice and Wonderland to Susan and me as we sat on a corner of the couch at 291 Glen Avenue in Sea Cliff.
She read only the most erudite literary magazines: Harper’s, Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker.
Except when she didn’t. Murder mysteries.
Intellectual ahead of her time:
She loved Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, memorably described by Pauline Kael, the New Yorker’s film critic, as a “beautiful pipe dream of a movie.”
Maker of Rock gardens, woodland gardens, cottage gardens.
Planter of Mimosa tree, peonies, and myrtle.
Surreptitious transplanter of lady slippers.
Shopped only at the best stores once she could afford it.
We all know what she thought of B. Altman. We lived at Miracle Mile.
Little black crepe de chine I appropriated for college.
Powder blue Anne Fogarty with its matching blue petticoat.
(The girls played with it.)
Measured by what she gave me, and I thank her:
She made a magic childhood by the sea.
She ironed plaid cotton dresses for me to wear to school.
She gave me lessons in painting, ballet, piano and even horseback riding.
She gave me love of words and reading.
She gave me red carnations every year for my birthday.
Two days before Mary died, I visited her in the nursing home. She was in bed now, and of course, she had not recognized us for perhaps 2 years or so. I sat next to her, and in a soft voice, I thanked her for all the things she had done for us and for me. For the ballet lessons, the piano lessons, the painting lessons, the horseback riding camp, the beautiful clothes from Best and Co., the love of reading, the days at the beach, the beautiful childhood in the postcard-perfect village of Sea Cliff, the gardens she had made. When I had finished thanking her, I told her I loved her. Then a miracle, or what I consider to be a miracle, happened. Ever so imperceptibly, she moved toward me and kissed me.
On the morning of January 11, which is my birthday, the nurse called and said that Mary would die that evening. She had had a stroke. I called my brother and two sisters. We all met at the nursing home. We sat with her all day. In the evening, the time between her breaths got longer and longer. Then they stopped.
Thank you. I love you. It's never to late to say it.