Note: This is a piece written as a hotel employee. Thanksgiving. A while ago.
I remember now, in retrospect, the first phone call I received from her daughter
Donna a few weeks back. She was reserving a room for her mother, who was
seriously ill and was coming to the area to visit family for Thanksgiving. Donna
wanted me to assure her that her mother would not present her own payment
method for the hotel room on her arrival. And Donna was sure she would insist
on doing so. Sounds so familiar.
I am on duty on the Friday morning when the phone calls started coming
in. “Please connect me to the room of Ruth L…she is somewhere on
the 5th floor”. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but there is no one registered by that name
in the hotel.” Try again. “Perhaps she is registered under my name..Donna
M.” “Yes , she must not have changed the room to her name when she
arrived. I’ll connect you”.
Five minutes later…same request…this time for Donna M. And again…a
few minutes later. This time, the tone was a bit more frantic. Since there was no
answer in the room…Donna is still unaware of her mother’s room number…or
her whereabouts…but it is clear that she is worried. Perhaps she was at breakfast.
I really didn’t think any more about it, until Donna showed up in person in the lobby. This time, she asked for her mother, we rang her room, and she was off …to Room 524. They had connected.
Within the next hour or so…. 3 more ladies, perhaps in their 30’s, all a bit
overweight, seeming anxious and preoccupied…came to call upon Room 524.
It is now about 11:45…check out time for hotel guests is 12 noon.
When she arrived at the desk to close out her account, I had to choke back
the tears. I tried to do my job, to remain professional, while making a minor
adjustment to her bill regarding some long distance phone calls. The 4 ladies
who very much looked like her daughters, as indeed they were (the resemblance
was uncanny) stood behind her in dutiful silence, as life-long obedient daughters
had been trained to do. As I watched her complete her business, say good
bye and parade her 4 adult children out of the hotel lobby, ever in charge of the
situation….I understood. This was a farewell visit. A chance to say good bye.
Capital G….Capital B..Good Bye. She was about to die.
Ruth was about 60 years old…maybe late 50’s, about 5 feet 6 inches…a bit
shorter and rounder than her overweight daughters, very abrupt, one could
say almost rude in her demeanor, a queen bee. One who was accustomed to
getting her way. When the bill arrived under her door, she was quick to notice that
the credit card which was showing was not in fact the one she had given us upon
check-in. She was unaware of our communication with Donna, which we were
asked to keep confidential. This one time, and there probably were not too many
in her life like this, she gave in. Donna could be allowed to pay for her hotel visit.
She knew there wouldn’t be too many more times to give her children permission
to be kind. Her time on this earth was limited…she just didn’t know how limited.
Somehow, I did know. And I didn’t make the connection right away. But
for sure, she was dying. She was wearing the tell-tale sign, the cloak of
Chemotherapy, the head scarf, tied like the “babushka” of olden times…knotted
beneath the chin. Reminiscent of the old Slovak ladies I remember at 7 am Mass. The ones who recited the Mass in their native tongue, a Czechoslovakian dialect that I remember my Grandmother using around the house.
And here was Ruth, face without benefit of makeup, worry lines accentuated,
pale, almost grey in color, no obvious sign of hair under that floral scarf tied at
the chin. Physically frail…but still in charge. Saying good bye to her 4 adult
daughters in the lobby of the Hampton Inn. Maybe for the last time.
At that moment, my heart broke a little. I ran to the back office and asked to be
relieved at the front desk. John was quick to comply, not understanding why, but
not stopping to ask questions.
Through my tears, I glanced at the desk calendar for perhaps the first time
today. And paid attention to the date…November 29. My mother’s birthday.
Had she survived her own cancer more than 20 years ago, she would be 77
today. She also raised 4 daughters. She too would have insisted on paying for
her own hotel room. The difference here was being that we never had a chance
to say good bye. She died in her sleep in the hospital after 2 years of physical
and emotional agony. Cancer.
Ruth was an angel sent to remind me. I thank her for that. She will never
know. Or maybe she already does know.
Donna called us late that evening to claim some reading glasses her mother
had left in the room. Ruth passed away in the car on the way to the airport. God
bless you, Ruth. Go in Peace.
And Happy Birthday, Mom. I miss you more than you could ever know.