Mom's House

Many of you can picture it, because you have been there. You have experienced the warmth, the elegance, the smells of her delicious cooking. The meticulous organization that was an extension of the pride she put into everything she touched. As you walk into the foyer of mom’s house, and gaze to the left, you would see the hand carved walnut furniture she would tell you with pride were wedding gifts from her father’s factory in Lebanon. Walking up the 2 steps into the living room, you encounter the many Lladro porcelain figurines, Waterford crystal, middle eastern rugs, and other ornate objects that she collected during her travels with our late father. Entering the dining room, depending on the occasion, you may find a table covered end to end with serving plates, filled with delicious foods of many cultures, and each being delivered by the love and care of our mother. During the more intimate occasions, you would find place settings with stacks of beautiful plates painted with intricate designs, sitting on gold chargers, and flanked by rows of gold or silver flatware with little crystal rests to lay your utensils between each of the many courses. She would decorate any gap on the table with flowers, freshly polished silver candleholders, and little crystal knick knacks that served no other purpose than being a flashy geometric prism that made you feel a heightened air of sophistication. Passing from the living room into the kitchen, you would find her rushing around, finishing the last of the preparations. Typically as the first guests would ring the doorbell, Armen, dad and I would wait to let them in so she could run upstairs to get dressed.

It was our responsibility to greet each of the guests, take their drink orders, and serve hors d'oeuvres. In the later years, I’d take on the responsibility of playing some of mom’s favorite music. Maybe Alabina, Gipsy Kings, Dalida, or some classic jazz compilations to add to the already warm environment that she wanted her guests to be transported into. Shortly after, you could hear her return, by the sound of her heels down the steps, rounding the corner and appearing with a proud smile as she observed the start of the wonderful evening, in this environment she orchestrated. She would greet the guests graciously in their native tongue, accompanied by hugs or kisses to the cheek. And she would always look people in the eye, not only out of respect, but with sincere care for their well being. As guests continued to arrive, and the house filled with the voices of many joyous conversations, mom would return to the kitchen to start serving the various courses. For much of the evening she would switch between the background and foreground, having short but meaningful conversations with guests, then running to the second refrigerator in the garage to unveil yet another course. Each course was prepared by her or with the help of one of the many friends or family that generously volunteered to assist her in the commonly multi-day prep for the single evening. Guests would fill and re-fill their plates, blissfully indulging in the dishes she would endlessly deliver to the table. As their bellies would fill, it would be time to arrange another table, this one full of desserts. Mom would sometimes make simit pudding and auntie Silvia would often bring unarguably the best knafeh bil jibne. The friends and family that attended would leave satiated not only by the foods they consumed to excess, but with the love she imparted on each person that entered this environment.

I’m describing an aggregate of easily over 100 events that took place at her home over the years. Each required so much energy, planning and effort. But she didn’t think twice about hosting a single event, whether there was an occasion we were celebrating or not. For the bigger parties, you didn’t see much of her, but you could hear the sound of her heels mixed into the hum of the conversations and the sounds of forks and knives against the plates. Bringing people into her home was her source of joy and happiness, and that was the fuel that sustained her. She was the core and the trigger of the chain reaction that radiated her love to everyone in proximity: a nuclear power plant of altruism.

Her home has felt different since she was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And even before that, it started feeling different when our dad was first diagnosed with brain cancer. That was when Armen and I both were confronted with a reality that our experiences to this point had been insulated by good health. Many of the people that loved our mother and father so dearly joined us at his bedside as he took his last breaths, in her home, succumbing to the brain cancer he battled for 9 short months. In fact, it was here, in this very church, 25 years ago, that we said our goodbyes to our beloved Nick Khadiwala.

Over the last decade, as mom’s health slowly declined, her home is where we wanted her to be. The place that was her instrument to deliver love. As all that was familiar slowly became foreign, and new memories were no longer possible, this was the place that was deep enough in her mind to keep her feeling safe and comfortable. And it was Rozie, Mimi, and Betty who kept her dignified. Her 3 caretakers have been saints to our mother as they closely observed her slow decline. Earlier this year, as she moved from her bedroom into a hospital bed in the living room, I sat with Rozie while we watched mom peacefully sleep. Her eyes welled as she told me how much she loved our mother. How she had become like a sister to her, and how she didn’t know how she would deal with the emptiness when our mom was gone.

We’ve recently started the process of organizing and cleaning out her home. It sits empty, yet full of all these things that she brought to life. Memories of her are imbued in the dusty objects, in the walls, the hardwood floor speckled with divots from her heels. A responsibility that falls onto the next of kin is to determine what to do with all her belongings. It’s been so emotional going through all that she accumulated. She found so much value and beauty in each individual item. And she arranged these items in this home, to create an environment that she filled with love, that she spread to each person she invited in. There are many lessons that we have learned from our mother, but finding happiness in other people’s happiness is the most prominent.

It’s important to step away from this imagery and these memories to acknowledge very directly the love, care and respect that not only her caretakers have shown our mother, but the devotion that my brother Armen, my sister in law Jameela, and my godmother, auntie Silvia have quietly committed to mom’s final stage of life. Over the last decade, while still possible they would bring mom over to their homes whether there was an occasion or not. And they would frequently visit her at home, courageously smiling as they greeted and sat with her. Recounting stories about their shared world that were impossible for her to retain. I want to thank each of you for the devotion you have each shown mom over the years.

Her last 10 years were so hard, but full of love, respect, and dignity. I am grateful that she has transitioned peacefully out of this life, no longer captive to the burden imposed by this disease.