That’s what my mother-in-law said during her final hours. It was one of the few loud and clear remarks she made during the last few days of her life. And she said it with gusto.
“My boy. My baby,” she said earlier when Mike moved out of and then back in to her line of vision and took up her small, small hand into his, so large and callused. She also said, “I’m so happy, now get me out of here,” and the one no one wanted to hear, the dreaded, “I don’t want to die.” I cringed at that, wanting to be spared hearing her truth in that moment, but I didn’t argue either. She meant it, and I respected her enough to hear it, and simply hugged her a little tighter.
Those statements, those distilled fragments of speech from a woman who never previously lacked for words, remain alive in the hearts of those of us who heard them, never to be forgotten. Some might comfort, one may haunt. But “To Hell with It All,” that one resonates for all of us; that one sure has struck a chord with anyone, whether they were able to make it to her bedside to hear it for themselves or not– it seems that near or far, anyone who had ever really known this family finds comfort and even amusement in those words.
She, I’m told with enthusiasm, got that particular remark from her mom, the original “To Hell with It All” Queen.
“Grandma said that all the time,” her progeny state, smiling broadly. “Loved her,” and “She was so cool,” and “She wore Go-Go Boots, and took us everywhere.” I just heard yesterday, from a trusted family member, that she fully expected my husband to become a priest. Clearly, she was a woman of great vision and optimism. Also tough, and, based on the Go-Go Boots, I think sparky, too.
You have to divorce yourself from the training wheels you started using back when you were five in order to handle the idea of death, particularly the death of a loved one. Training wheels will not let you tip over. Not out of the heavenly clouds. Certainly not to tumble “down there.” Yet, as in all things here on planet earth, we learn that once we drop the platitudes and pretense, we humans can pretty much muster up the courage to face anything, which is more than good, because, guess what? Pretty much anything can and does happen. And in the end. Yup.
There are lots of similar references, someone somewhere in something famous uttering the ultimate “F-You” to the universe, but I think my favorite has always been from the original Star Wars… Han Solo’s “I’ll see you in Hell!” has never gone stale for me. Hearing that line for the first time, delivered by a young, crooked smiling, and irreverent Harrison Ford, while still in the thralls of youth and feverish devotion to life, gave me an unexpected thrill. Han was going to handle things. What a moment.
And that, for me, explains why such a sentiment is so freeing. If you can keep your chin up when death stares you in the face; when you know, and everyone around you knows there are no training wheels for this ride, and there isn’t a chance of winning this particular race…well then, you truly are free. Pretty obvious? Yes, of course. But not everyone, not even close, is brave enough to say it out loud. At least not this side of silver screen.
So, Phyllis, I salute you. And your mother before you. Just had to let you know.