By Ellie Devers
my mother got terminally ill with liver cancer, from an excess of
bourbon and rage, I, along with the doctors treating her at the
time, decided to put her into a nursing home.
the end of my mother's life when we both were informed that she
had approximately six months to live, I felt that it was imperative
that we say to each other anything that we always wanted to say.
One of the most important things I was able to tell her was that
everything in this life that I hold dear, everything that gives
me joy and comfort, I first learned about from her.
taught me about literature, and humor, and God and communication,
all the things that I love today.
be sitting next to her and holding her hand telling her that no
matter what, she was my mother and even though we definitely had
some tough times I was very grateful that she raised me all by herself
and that I loved her dearly.
go on and on while she looked at me, stared at me actually, with
such intensity. She had these Buddha-like eyes filled with understanding
and wisdom, the kind of wisdom one is only privy to in the last
stages of one's life. One day as I was sitting there talking for
what seemed like hours, she suddenly began to speak. I remember
holding my breath, waiting for some kind of revelation that would
give my life meaning and then, with moist eyes and quivering syllables,
in a voice so low that I had to put my head down near her to hear
it, she said
how do you get your teeth so white?"
some reason during the last six months of my mother's life she became
obsessed with my looks. This really shouldn't come as a surprise
as we are talking about someone who wore industrial strength tape
on her face for most of her life.
it's important at this point to explain that almost all of her adult
life, my mother wore visible tape on her face as a makeshift face-lift.
No matter what the season, the time of day, or occasion. Not illness,
nor high winds, no, NOTHING came between her and her daily application
of face tape. She often, because of her vanity, would not wear her
glasses, so she had mad dashes of makeup here and there, with absolutely
no attempt at blending it in. She had kind of a Jackson Pollack
way of applying makeup.
of a sudden, this woman who I thought was too weak to form a sentence,
was talking non-stop. "Ellouise, why so downtrodden? There
is a lot a girl can do nowadays to really look beautiful. You are
a celebrity, darling. You must take care of your looks! You
owe it to your public!"
think that doing a couple of feminine hygiene commercials constitutes
stardom, but she was so adamant about it that I started to feel
-- why yes, I am a star! "What a good eye you have,
Mother!" Plus I had reached a point in my life where I realized
that sometimes it is just better to surrender to what is actually
happening as opposed to forcing your agenda on the situation. And
although I did feel that our 11th hour conversations should be more
along the lines of forgiving each other and clearing the resentment-filled
air between us, if my mother wanted to be in a world of lip gloss
and push-up bras, then who was I to fight her?
I realized that I only had a little time left with her and I wanted
to do anything I could to please her.
I started to wear a lot of makeup. I mean, A LOT of make-up. It
started slowly at first, a little concealer here, a dash of eye
shadow there, you know, subtle touches. But it seemed to delight
her so much that as time went on I really went for it. I dyed my
hair as black as I possibly could. I wore highlighting cream on
my cheekbones, deep ruby red lipstick with lip liner, a good sturdy
foundation, I even flirted with the idea of false eyelashes for
it to say that by the end of my mother's life I looked like I was
made up for Kabuki theatre. The aides would come in to give my mother
her medicine and my back would be to them. But when I would turn
around and they caught a glimpse of me, they dropped their trays
and went screaming out of the room. What the hell is going on at
of my mother's last requests was for me to buy her a "good
thesaurus." I loved that about her. Up until her very last
day of life she loved words and would have me look up any word and
test her on it. "SUPERCILIOUS, Mama." "SOLIPSISTIC
She always got it right. Sometimes it took a while, but she always
with my mother by her bed during those final days as I watched her
sleep, reminded me of a much earlier time, when she and I were both
in bed, but no one was sick. We were still living in Bronxville,
and in my room there were two twin beds where my mother and I slept.
My father slept, or I should say slept it off, in the master
bedroom. I think my mother was working overtime to make up for the
mistake of marrying an alcoholic. She was always trying to distract
me from being worried about him. It didn't work of course, but I
really don't think she knew what else to do. At one point in her
continuous quest for beauty and a little magic, she put glow-in-the-dark
stars all over the ceiling. I think she was going for the look of
the ceiling in Grand Central Station with all the constellations
and astrological signs. We really didn't have enough stars for that
effect. We only had enough for Gemini and Sagittarius -- our signs.
such a clear memory of looking up at those glow-in-the-dark stars
when we would be hiding out from my father in our little twin beds.
The lights would be out, but the stars still glowing, and Mom would
say, "Honey, let's meet each other in our dreams. I think a
good way to do that is to have different color balloons and that
way we can identify each other. I am going to have a deep indigo
balloon like the night sky, and on one side it will be indigo and
the other it will be indigo with the beginnings of sunrise; a deep
orange and magenta and just the tiniest trace of yellow starting
up from the bottom of the balloon the way the sun would rise up
over the horizon and within that there will be lightning striking
throughout. Silver streaks of lightning. That's my balloon, Ellouise.
What balloon will you have?"
mom, I was just going to go with yellow."
mother always wanted to make things prettier. I'm sorry she didn't
always succeed. But I loved that she always tried.
At the end of my mother's life, I'd sit by her bed, all dolled up
with my jet-black hair and ruby red lips, and read to her from the
As she gently fell asleep, I'd whisper, "Look for my balloon,
version for easy reading
material is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission