Again a few minutes later: “Margaret?”
She was looking up at the ceiling.
“Do you see Marg?” I asked.
“I heard her,” my mother said.
Margaret was her sister, my aunt Marg. Despite the fact that they were outwardly so different and had led such different lives, they had been deeply close.
My mother was eight, Margaret was twelve, when my grandfather died in 1932. They were sent away together to relatives in Baltimore while my grandmother tried to find a way to put the family back together in the heart of the Depression. My mother and my aunt had spoken nearly every day since, until Margaret passed away a decade ago.
My mother doesn’t remember now that Marg is gone. When she is distressed she still calls out for her, just as I imagine she did eighty years ago in Baltimore. She wasn’t distressed now; she looked peaceful. But she heard something.
I walked out of the nursing home later that night and looked up to see a halo around the moon. It reminded me of another haloed moon, one I had spoken of at Marg’s funeral:
Some people are so authentic in our lives that they change us completely just by being who they are. Marg was like that. Many of us probably can’t conceive what our life would have been like without her. I certainly can’t.
Marg was something different for everyone. She was a funloving friend, a lifelong companion, a devoted aunt and loving sister, a tireless caretaker, and any stray or wild animal's best friend. She loved wacky gifts and wayout gadgets. She could fix your boat, your car, or your watch. She was always what you needed, when you needed it. And she was always herself.
For me, she was a guide. We had many adventures exploring little creeks and inlets up and down the Pautuxent in her CrisCraft, or hunting for fossils up at Calvert Cliffs. At night, we would camp out at the Little Beach, light a driftwood fire, and explore the universe, talking for hours about stars and planets and spaceships and alien abductions and anything else we could imagine.
Her endless curiosity ignited mine. When I was seven, she gave me a book on Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Forty years later, that book is one of my most cherished possessions, because it started me on my lifelong adventure of trying to understand everything I could about everything there is. That's how she did it: she changed you by being who she was and sharing herself with you.
When we left the hospital the last night, the moon was full and brilliant as a lighthouse. The clouds were wispy and very high, and there was a crystal halo around the moon. And I thought to myself: there she goes, exploring again, getting ready to guide us on the next adventure.
I stood outside the nursing home and gazed at the hazy moon. “Not yet,” I thought.
I didn’t hear a response. Maybe she did.