Sunday, October 21, 2018

Thank you-thank you

I know this is supposed to be a humor column, but indulge me. It is a me column, really, and sometimes me has a bad week.

My mother-in-law Sindy died Monday night, holding hands in bed with her daughter, my wife, asleep at her side. She was 77. The hospice nurse woke Jen up to tell her that her mother had left the building, the city of San Diego, the planet. 

She did not leave me, though. When Sindy's other daughter Robin closes her eyes, Sindy is there. When my kids hear granny's name, she has not left. She is still offering up fudge-sicles, lollypops, breakfast crepes, any fantastic snack she found at Costco. Right about now she is saying to God, "Oh my God, you gotta TRY these..." And laughing at herself for what she said, and to whom. 

She loved her sweets. "I'm a kid," she would often say. "I'm just a kid." 

Sindy sounds like the name of a cheerleader, but her name was really Sinclair, and how cool is that? It is a family name, a surname, rekindled out of respect, no doubt. You don't call a girl "Sinky," though, and "Sin" was certainly off the table, so "Sindy" it was. There is no record of her ever leading a cheer. 

Sindy was an identical twin. Her sister Sue was born shortly after her, and Sindy, of course, never let her forget it. The pecking order starts in the birth canal, and does not end until the pecker and the peckee have pecked their last. 

They were a lot alike. They were rescuers; of animals and of people. They liked bright colors, tie-dye, rainbows. To open their closets was to feel like you were witness to the costuming wardrobe for a Skittles commercial. 

There are pictures of them as girls, pre-tie dye, dressed alike in church clothes. What parent in the 1940s could have resisted dressing twins alike? 

One wonders what their little sister, Barbara, who came along a few years later, first made of the Sindy and Sue Show. Those twins had some escapades, famous now in family lore, like the time they stole bunnies from a neighbor's garage, and had to return them and apologize. I always loved Sindy's face during the story, guilty, but also as entertained as if the heist had been perpetrated by her best friend, which, I guess, it had. 

Sue died in June, after a horrendous bout with cancer. They say twins have a special bond, and losing Sue seemed to take the fight out of Sindy. Sindy had been battling lung cancer herself for a couple of years, holding her tumors at bay with chemicals. 

"I smoked for 40 years. What did I expect?" she would say. 

She decided to stop taking her unpleasant drug therapy not long after Sue died. 

"We came into this world together and maybe that's how we should go out," Sindy said. 

My wife took an extended leave from work and spent the last two months caring for her full time, with help from hospice care and Barbara. 

Sindy was not perfect. She had the flaws a human has, and beat herself up about them sometimes, more than she should have. But one thing the long goodbye allowed was hearing from so many of her friends of her acts of kindness over the years. She feared Hell, having been raised Catholic, but was able to see from her friends in the end, I think, that the check-marks in her lifetime "plus" column far outnumbered the "minuses." 

She could be a bit obsessive. She had an entire closet of movies, DVDs, perhaps a thousand titles. She filled her house with sea-themed objects. Every wall and most flat surfaces, has seahorses, coral, shells, mermaids, dolphins. For years she patiently hand-painted colorful tropical fish and gave them away. Her Christmas tree always looked like it belonged to Poseidon. 

In the last year she began collecting glass and metal singing bowls, which give off an otherworldly tone as you run a wooden mallet around the rim. She spent many hours inside that hum. They brought her some measure of peace. 

Sindy always loved my homemade gingerbread men, so the last time I visited I brought her a batch, knowing she would not make it to Christmas this year. A couple of weeks later I was on the phone with my wife, and she told me Sindy had just eaten the last cookie. How she had made them last so long I do not know. 

"Thank you for the cookies," I heard Sindy yell off in the distance. "Thank you-thank you."

The double thank you was a Sindy trademark. Jimmy Durante had "A cha cha cha." Jack Nicholson had "You can't handle the truth." When I think of Sindy years from now, I have no doubt it is this catchphrase which will come to me first.

A ton of friends and family visited and called those last two months, so she got what a lot of people don't, which is to say goodbye and know it is goodbye. A lot of Yahtzee was played, a lot of laughs were had, good food enjoyed. Jen cooked for her a lot, and once she even said, "This is so good. You have to give me the recipe before you go," before remembering that Jen would not be the one doing the going this time.

She lasted longer than I expected. Each week I would think well, this is the week, and then four weeks later, well, this must be it, but no, and this went on for so long that when Jen finally called to say she had died, the first words out of my mouth were, "What happened?"

No, this is not a humor column, but as it celebrates one 77 year dance, celebrates a girl, a twinny, a mischief-maker, a mom, a wife, a cat lover, a granny, a dolphin/mermaid/seahorse tchotchke collector, there is humor enough. 

"Thank you-thank you" Sindy. You were just a kid.