I went out to dinner last night with a family I have known for years. We had originally planned on another venue, but ultimately decided upon Ricci's Restaurant - in Greece, New York.
Automatically, when I think of Ricci's, I think of family priorities, simple treasures and community - many of the reasons that Rochester will always remain a special part of my life - whether I live in L.A., Florida or a little village in Italy.
Ricci's is also special because, after my Dad passed away (in 1995), I used to take my Mom there all the time. It's simply offers a warm and "comforting" atmosphere. And the food is pretty good, too.
In any case, after arriving home late (following more visiting at a friend's home), I tossed and turned in my sleep. I'm somewhat of a light sleeper, in general, but last night it seemed it more difficult to rest.
Being at Ricci's reminded me so much of my Mom. And when I think of my Mom, I think mostly of the legacy of love that she left me - and everyone who knew her. And how I make every attempt to have that legacy of love live within me everyday.
When I think of my Mom, I also, unfortunately, think about my last moments with her. And the (false) guilt I experience in recalling my last visit to her apartment, how she wanted me to stay over - how I left - how she called me to come back - how I told her that I would see her in the morning. And how she died the next day, with me never seeing or talking with her ever again. (At least, in this world.)
No matter how many nights and years I was there for her, previously, leaving her that night - when she may have needed me most - still haunts me.
"Herbie J," she began to ask, "Are you going to stay with me tonight?"
"I can't, Mom. I have to go home."
"Fine," she complained. "Then I'll probably die tonight."
That's what she said. "Then I'll probably die tonight."
And she would say that alot - whenever I would leave her.
But admittingly, she said it a little bit different that night.
But I still left her.
And then when I got home, she called me.
"Herbie J - are you going to come back and visit me?"
"Mom," I said. "I was just there - and I was with you all weekend. Nellie (my Mom's dear sweet aid) will be there at 9:30 to put you to bed, and everything will be fine."
Nellie told me the next day that she indeed came in at 9:30 PM on the nose the night before. And that my Mom happily relayed to her the following:
"Herbie J said you were going to be here at 9:30 PM, and here you are."
That's how much my Mom trusted me - and listened to me - all of which increases the bouts of "false guilt" I've experienced in "abandoning" her that final night.
Even though I know in my heart of hearts that I did everything I could for her - for years - while she was "here," leaving her that night - when she begged me to stay, and then opting to go home instead...well, sometimes it's just too much for my heart to take.
As it was last night...when I tossed and turned in my sleep.
But then at one point, I sat up. And I reached for my Mom's green rosary beads that I still carry with me - and keep close to my bed every night. And I prayed:
"Mom - please talk to me. Please let me know that staying with you that night wouldn't have changed a thing...that you would have still gone on to Heaven...where you are now shining your Light. And that it was all meant to happen just like it did. That it was simply you're time to leave this world. Please, Mom...tell me this is how it is."
After I completed the prayer, I felt compelled to reach for my iPhone, which I also keep by my bed. I touched the main control, it illuminated, and there, above the now fully-charged "green bar" banner, was the time:
It was 4:07 AM.
I then checked my messages, on AOL, and Facebook. The last message on Facebook was titled, "Mother to Son" in the subject line, and it was from a good friend who I have known for years. I have copied that message below, though without revealing my friend's identity. Suffice it to say, I have known her since I was a child - and she knew my Mom - and my Mom's heart.
Here now is the message my friend felt compelled to write to me (at approximately 11:30 PM - right when I came home), and which I felt compelled to read only a few hours later (at 4:07 AM - after praying to my Mom for a "message"):
FROM MOTHER TO SON
"I want to share something special with you. My youngest son is very close to me. He is in all sense of the word...a 'momma's boy.' Sometimes I think he feels I'm going to abandon him like his father did. So he constantly asks me if I would stand by him...through thick and thin. I told him that even if I ever became homeless, I would still have him by my side. You can sense how much this means to him by the way he melts into my arms and relaxes.
"We watched 'Oprah' together tonight. It was about people adopting children from another country. It was very touching. Then there was a portion of the show dedicated to the Osmonds. It showcased the entire family. It started with pictures of the two parents...the nine kids...the 55 kids...etc., etc. Donny and Marie talked about no matter how busy and hectic their lives are...they all remain close. And they both said it was a testament to their parents. The legacy they left behind. How beautiful that was.
"Then we watched the end of 'Forest Gump'....he saw the bond that Forest grew with Jenny and his new found sound Forest. And we both cried.
"He is sick so I gave him medicine and put him to bed.
"Herbie J - he told me the most touching thing tonight. He said, 'Thank you, Mommy for loving me and taking care of me when I'm sick. Thank you for holding me when I need you to hold me. For loving me no matter what.' Then he asked me to tell him a story.
"We do this from time to time. I think of a story and make it up as I go along. I tried to combine a little of everything we shared tonight. So I started to tell him this:
"Once upon a time there was a little boy that noone paid attention to. He lived in an orphanage. (that was one of the stories showcased on Oprah). Noone would pay attention to him therefore he never really learned to speak. One day this lady came to the orphanage and notice this little boy in the corner of the room, tied to his bed.
"She went to him and noticed he was feverish. She put her hand on his forehead and looked into his eyes and said, 'Sweetheart...are you okay?'
"He looked at her and was a bit scared as noone ever touched him like that, let alone talk to him. She asked him again and he grunted. Every question she asked he would just grunt. Then she told one of the caretakers to give him something for his fever and left.
"That night the little boy woke up in the middle of the night and said a little prayer to God, whom he had learned about by listening to the caretakers talking to the other children. He asked God to please have the lady come back and to give him the ability to utter more than a grunt.
"The next day the lady came back after working all day. She went over to the little boy and smiled like an angel. She smiled at him as she touched his little forehead and she kept caressing him. She said "Hi honey. I see that your fever is no longer high. I am very happy. I would love to take care of a little boy like you for the rest of your life. Would you like that?" The little boy looked at her and uttered with all his might "YES!". This was the first word he had ever said. Then she said "Would you like me to take you home with me?". Again he uttered, 'YES!'
"So she took him home and loved and cared for him. He learned to walk, talk, go to school, make friends.
"His mother raised him to be a kind, loving, compassionate man. He went to college and became an author. And his mom aged and became ill. And this boy who became a man began to return the favor to this kind woman who took the time to care for him. He sat with her when she was ill, took her for rides in the country and loved his mother until the day she passed.
"My son was teary-eyed when I told him this story.
"And it dawned on me that this child grew into pretty much the man you were with your Mother."
Thank you, my dear friend, for relaying this message to me. Thank you, as well, to my other dear friends for being a part of my Mom's plan - to choose Ricci's Restaurant (when we had initially planned otherwise), which opened my memories to my Mom.
And thank you, Mom - dear "St. Frances of Turri" - for finally putting to rest - for good - any false guilt for leaving you when I thought you would have needed me the most.
I now know you're fine - and that everything happens the way it's supposed to happen.
I will sleep better tonight - and forever - with your shining "night 'Light'" - visible from Heaven - in the hearts of my friends, at Ricci's - and everywhere.