Patterico's Pontifications


Barbara Frey, 1938-2023

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:26 pm

This is a tough post to write. My mom passed away last week.

Her obituary is here, and sets forth the basics about her life. This gives you a flavor:

Barbara’s educational journey began at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, New York. She then pursued her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, ultimately obtaining her Masters and PhD from Texas Woman’s University. . . . Barbara made significant contributions as a Book Editor/Copy Editor for Thomas Y. Crowell Publishers in New York, New York. Later, she found fulfillment as a special education teacher for Fort Worth ISD, dedicating 23 years of her life to Jo Kelly School. She also devoted many years to assisting her husband with his CPA business while simultaneously caring for four of her children and often running a daycare. The sacrifices she made to be present with her children will forever be cherished by them.

Barbara sought friendship and community in her places of worship, regularly attending Trinity Episcopal and Holy Apostles Episcopal in Fort Worth, Texas.

Beyond her professional pursuits, Barbara had a passion for various hobbies. She relished long walks, cherished family game nights, and immersed herself in the world of literature. Barbara’s creativity shone through in the imaginative cakes she lovingly crafted for her children. She also found joy in knitting, bridge, and attending opera performances. Barbara approached life with a genuine zest, treasuring every opportunity to meet new people.

Her passing was expected. Early last month, my sisters called to say that she was going into hospice care, and that her caregivers did not expect her to make it to November. (She didn’t.) My wife found me a plane ticket that got me into Bryan, Texas two days later, and I got to spend a few days visiting with her.

When I saw Mom, I was pretty sure I was visiting her for the last time. It helped me pay attention. To ask the questions I wanted to ask, and to say the things I wanted to say. We talked about her family growing up, and what it was like for her to raise us. We joked and laughed and had long comfortable pauses. Mom was tired and slept a lot. She was best in the mornings, when you could catch her awake and mostly alert for 2-3 hours. Come mid-to-late afternoon, she would be worn out and a two-hour visit might yield 10-15 minutes of conversation, with the rest of the time spent with her dozing as I would hold her hand. Even those times felt like something I needed to burn into my memory. I knew the time was coming fast when I wouldn’t be able to do it again, and I needed to pay attention in the moment

A story illustrates something about how those final visits went. You need some background context for the story to make sense. My sisters in Bryan, and in particular my sister Marianne, shouldered the burden of taking care of Mom in her final years. Before she fell and had to be in a facility, Mom lived with Marianne’s family in a special part of the house that Mom had designed and paid for. But there were many, many things to do for her. She had a heart condition and many foods and items were off-limits. But Mom was stubborn. She resisted eating as much as she should and eating the right foods. She gravitated towards food and drink that was bad for her.

Once in hospice, all the rules went out the window. The nice thing about a decision that it’s a matter of time before you die, is that you stop worrying about doing the annoying or painful things you have to do to stay alive.

So one day I was at Mom’s bedside and she said she wanted a Coke. OK, I said. What kind? Diet? Caffeine free? Nope, a regular Coke. OK. I guess you’re entitled. I’ll see if I can find someone to get you one. I walked around looking for her nurse and could not find her. (It did not seem urgent enough to press a button to call someone.) I came back and said I had not found anyone but would look again in a couple of minutes. She said: “There’s a machine in the courtyard.” Oh. OK. I’ll go there. I went to the courtyard, and sure enough: Coke machine. I got her a regular Coke and she starting sipping it from a bendy straw. She was happy. She said: “Marianne is going to kill us when she finds out.” I said I doubted that. That was the point of hospice. She gets what she wants.

Later, my sister Holly joined us, and texted Marianne that Mom was drinking a regular Coke. Marianne texted back: “Tell her to enjoy.” We told Mom. See? I said. Marianne is not upset. She made a face. I asked: Does that make it less fun somehow, because you’re not getting away with something? She chuckled with a trace of guilt and nodded her head.

That’s sort of how things went. It wasn’t gloom and doom. My mom had a sense of humor. Since she passed my sisters and I have found old voicemails from her and traded them. It made me realize how funny she could be, even just leaving a voice mail.

I sent one to my daughter and son. We agreed that there is something about pulling up a voicemail from someone who has died that hits you pretty hard. The context of listening to a voicemail makes you feel like they just left it. That you can call them right back.

The last words she ever said to me in person were “no weeping.” I was saying my last goodbye to her, and we told each other that we loved each other. But I didn’t want to leave. I knew I had to, because I had to catch my plane. So I would start to leave and then walk back and hug her again. I guess I got emotional and that was when she said those words to me.

The last time I spoke to her on the phone, the night before she passed, she couldn’t talk. She could only listen. She was on heavy morphine to keep her from feeling pain from an infection for which she had refused treatment. I told her I loved her and my sister said her lips moved. Maybe she was trying to say she loved me too. Maybe she was trying to say “no weeping.”

When I visited, we had a party for her at the facility where she was staying. She asked for her favorite foods–scallops, to be somehow wrapped in bacon even though she wanted the bacon crisp (?)–my sister Susan’s famous mac and cheese, and corn on the cob. My sister Marianne arrived with the food and realized she had left the bacon at home. I spoke to one of Mom’s favorite helpers, a wonderful woman named Mimi, and asked her if she could possibly get us some bacon. She literally sprinted away and sprinted back. She was back with it in no time. That’s how most of the people were there. They were very kind.

Turns out, with all of that effort, Mom liked the corn the best.

Here she is after the party.

If you ever get the chance to celebrate someone’s life before they die, take it. I could tell it meant a lot to her.

My sisters were at her side a little over three weeks later, on the day when she passed. My sister Marianne told Mom the last words she probably ever heard in this world: “It’s OK to go, Mom. Dad is waiting for you.” Less than a minute later, she was gone.

No weeping.

30 Responses to “Barbara Frey, 1938-2023”

  1. My condolences, Patrick. I’m glad that you got to spend some quality time with her before she passed.

    Kevin M (ed969f)

  2. My condolences as well, Patrick. Your mother has wonderful children.

    BuDuh (ddc422)

  3. Such a sweet sendoff. My husband told his mother the same thing that Marianne told your mom, and within minutes, she too had passed. It’s as if these moms are ready to go home, but need to be assured by the families they leave behind that they will be okay when they’re gone. A mother’s heart to the end. God bless you and your family.

    Dana (932d71)

  4. You were a good son to your Mother, Patrick. you have honored your Mother and Father. Thank you for sharing her photograph with us and allowing us to mourn with you. I can now put a face to her name as I pray for the repose of her soul tonight.

    felipe (79693d)

  5. I don’t know about anyone else’s screen, but on my screen, Patrick’s caricature and his mother’s photo are both viewable, and, they both have the same smile that rises on the viewer’s right. Truly, Mother and son!

    felipe (79693d)

  6. So sorry for your loss.

    JRH (cd22e7)

  7. My condolences Patrick. I’ll pray for you and your family.

    Time123 (2efdd2)

  8. My condolences Pat.

    That is such a precious gift that you were able to say goodbye and thank you for sharing this.

    whembly (265489)

  9. No weeping but I still teared up.
    She did good

    May you be blessed with peace and unexpected joy

    steveg (51f2bd)

  10. What a touching story. She went out feeling loved.

    AJ_Liberty (3c41bd)

  11. My sympathies for your loss. It’s been a over two years since I lost my mom and I still feel the loss. This was a beautiful tribute.

    NJRob (2c309b)

  12. She sounds like a wonderful (and smart) woman who led a full life, and was a blessing to you and your family and others. Having lost my mom on July 4th, 2014, I understand your grief, but cherish your memories of her.

    Paul Montagu (d52d7d)

  13. Sincere condolences, Pat.

    My mom died in 2003, my last year of law school, but I still catch myself, when something happens that would have given her a chuckle, saying to myself, “I’ll have to remember to tell Mom about this next time I talk to her.” After two decades, her absence still feels like a missing tooth.

    So I have no advice for you on how to “get over” your grief. I personally think that maybe one never does. But I can advise you on how to make it more bearable, and that is to indulge your urge to talk about her. Your mother was clearly a remarkable woman. Share that–and her. Your family, even your sisters who spent so much time with her, surely long for that little more of her that you can give them through your recollections, and even complete strangers will hear your love for her and see her in you.

    I can tell you that I talk about my mom often–usually with my own kids–and that helps keep her alive for me until the joyous day when we meet again in the hereafter and I’m finally able to tell her all those anecdotes I’ve been saving for her these past 20 years.

    I’m sending you love in this hour of sorrow.

    Barry Jacobs (56f9e2)

  14. May her memory be a blessing.

    Mattsky (59d4c5)

  15. Oh, no. I’m so sorry, Pat.

    I’m really glad you got to have the time with her before she went, and I hope you are able to find some peace and comfort in your memories of her.

    aphrael (71d87c)

  16. I am tearing up as I read your post, Patrick. You know I have been through this 2.5 times—I know what is going to happen soon to bring it to 3.0.

    I was so tired and unhappy and conflicted throughout the process with my mother. So I sliced time into the thinnest possible bits. That way, I could put bad situations into perspective, and I could savor the good ones over and over again.

    I am from a small family with much dysfunctionality. Years ago, when my father made the Call, I flew down to Orange County. My brother was very upset when he met me at the airport that night, and suggested we visit the next morning. I said no, let’s go right now.

    My mother was in and out. We had many, many problems as I grew up, but none of that seemed to matter. I was wearing one of the vests that she started making me when she was diagnosed with cancer.

    Sleepily, she said “Who made that vest?”

    “Someone who loves me very much,” I replied.

    “It could have been better made,” she replied (typical Mom).

    “That’s true for everything and everyone, Mom,” I replied.

    She smiled and I kissed her cheek.

    Mom died early the next morning. I think she was waiting to say goodbye.

    Patrick, on the day of your posts about your father, I toast his memory. Could you please toast my mother’s memory today, and my own?

    God bless you and your family.

    Simon Jester (c8876d)

  17. Will do, Simon.

    Patterico (bf120c)

  18. My condolences, Patterico.

    nk (bb1548)

  19. Those of you who write such touching remembrances of your parents should know how helpful they are to many of us who understand that we will soon enough be in your shoes. Thanks.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  20. It seems like there is a lot of bad, or sad, news this fall. Or close to that.

    Sammy Finkelman (b434ee)

  21. I’m so sorry. And glad for both you and your mother that you had something beautiful. Really puts things into perspective.

    Dustin (2d08c0)

  22. It seems like there is a lot of bad, or sad, news this fall. Or close to that.

    My parents have lost four good friends in the last two weeks. I think this is just what happens when you reach your 80s. My father, soon to be 88, has pretty much lost all of his close friends from his younger days with the exception of one or two who aren’t really in good enough shape to get out and about any longer (thankfully, my dad can still make the rounds to a certain degree). I suppose there is some benefit to being the last man standing, but it can also be very lonely.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  23. And the onset of the holiday season always adds an extra layer of melancholy to this sort of thing.

    JVW (1ad43e)

  24. I’m sorry for your loss.

    Nic (896fdf)

  25. My condolences also, and am so glad for you that got to spend the time with your mother that you did. And am glad for her that you did.

    Twenty-three years ago I was at my brother’s side when he died from a brain tumor, in Vancouver, the final days onset much earlier than any of us thought. I got up there first, but my mom and sister were coming from Virginia. David was in a coma and unresponsive, but I kept telling him: Mom and Karen should be getting on the plane now, they should be halfway across country, they’ll be landing soon. Fifteen minutes after they walked into the room and he heard their voices one last time (coma or no coma), he peacefully stopped breathing. Fortunately your mom could communicate with you, but she probably appreciated every minute you spent with her, and that last phone call, even more than you think. All the best to you and your family in these times.

    RL formerly in Glendale (7a2d64)

  26. I am sorry for your loss. No matter how “prepared” you were, I know you will miss her for the rest of your life. But what a beautiful, accomplished, loving, and glorious person she was!

    DRJ (268439)

  27. What a wonderful post, Patrick. I shed tears reading it.

    I suspect your mother is one of the reasons you write so well.

    norcal (df604a)

  28. My condolences on your loss. My own father died during the pandemic at the age of 93, but I could only Zoom him towards the end from abroad. Be grateful for those last moments.

    Golden Eagle (c9dec2)

  29. Just seeing this now, so belated condolences.

    Twenty years later I remain immensely grateful for the gift of saying goodbye to my dad, and of blessing him to let go of his earthly pain and burdens. I pray your mom’s sendoff gives you similar solace over the years.

    lurker (cd7cd4)

  30. I’m so very sorry. She sounds wonderful.

    MayBee (401182)

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