My Mother's Masterpiece; A passing Peace of Poetry with Brushstrokes of Beauty - July 10, 2019

My mother was big with food. It is one of the extraordinary ways that she showed her love. So much so that growing up hardly a night passed that she did not cook a homemade meal for us and would apologize for ever defaulting to 'soup and a sandwich' or ordering pizza. Over the course of this week, in hindsight, I can see that I have gone through almost every meal she ever made for us through the graciousness of strangers as they were almost all serendipitously donated to the hospice and SECU house that we are staying at. Everything but a Pu Pu Platter.



My mother was a beautiful woman. One's whose beauty I didn't truly realize until now. Two nights ago, on July 10th, at 10:18pm, she finished her masterpiece brilliantly with brushstrokes of vibrant play, profound vulnerability, and endless unconditional love.


That night at 6pm Aliza, my uncle and I went out for a birthday dinner to celebrate the day and give my sister, Kristin, some much needed and important quiet time with Mom. Kristin has been my mother's daughter, parent, caretaker, partner and everything for the last 10 years. When we left them she was peaceful, but her breathing had noticeably slowed. We would be back in a few hours. An amount of time that now feels like an eternity and holds value and weight to me that can no longer be matched by any weight of gold. Moments like these make me wonder what I have been doing with all my time.


When I was a kid my mother used to take us out to this one Chinese restaurant in Boston that had this huge Dragon that hung from the ceiling. It was epic. When we were there my friends and I would always get 'high' after drinking countless tiny cups of heavily sweetened hot tea while feasting on Pu Pu Platters. We loved the platters because it gave us samples of everything that we loved and in the middle, tucked away in this little black cauldron, was a blue flame that would burn vibrantly for the duration of our stay. It captivated me. I had not seen one in probably 35 years, but on this day I wanted one.


My mother was big with food. It is one of the extraordinary ways that she showed her love. So much so that growing up hardly a night passed that she did not cook a homemade meal for us and would apologize for ever defaulting to 'soup and a sandwich' or ordering pizza. Over the course of this week, in hindsight, I can see that I have gone through almost every meal she ever made for us through the graciousness of strangers as they were almost all serendipitously donated to the hospice and SECU house that we are staying at. Everything but a Pu Pu Platter.

There were two restaurants in town that had Pu Pu platters. One was the fanciest one in town. An Asian Fusion Sushi restaurant Called The Bento Box. I know my mother would not have it any other way. So with dinner and a lovely bottle of wine, we celebrated my mother, this giving life birthday, and family as we continued to catch up and reconnect the dots of our hearts through shared stories, our varied pasts and creative ideas.


The last time we had a family reunion was in 1998 at my grandmother's funeral. I thought it was ironic then that it took my grandmother's death to fulfill her greatest wish to have the family back together again. That's all she ever wanted. I know her heart broke at the separation that existed in our family. The only one that didn't make it was my mother, yet I know that she too also just wanted her family to be together. To see, support, love and be accepted by one another. For whatever reason, she separated herself from her family since 1982. The only other time that we had a family reunion in my lifetime was then, at her brother Joe's wedding. The man that was now sitting across from me at dinner who, after 37 years, made the courageous leap to come down here to see his beautiful sister. The only thing that separated us now was a Pu Pu Platter. After dinner, We sat outside on the rocking chairs and watched the sun begin to set before heading back to see Mom and Kris and celebrate with cake.


On the way back I got the call from my sister that mom was slipping away. When we got to the hospice the front door was locked so I ran around to Mom's back patio and walked in to discover my sister holding my mother's hands as she laid in bed, her blood pressure 52/20 and her pulse unrecognizable to the touch. Her short soft shallow breaths were separated by pauses so long that each one seemed like her last. I discovered in these moments that time stops in the presence of love. I bent over, held her hand, kissed her forehead and heart, delicately combed her hair and traced her face with my fingertips again telling her how much I loved her.

I watched as everyone took turns saying, "see you soon". I believe that people leave this place at the perfect time and that they do it when their painting is finished. Mom still had a few brushstrokes left on her masterpiece and I felt certain that there was no way she was going to leave until she was done. Defying all science, Mom was holding on.


My sister, at Mom's side, holding her hands, looked at me and through tears said, "What's left? What haven't we done?"

At that moment I heard my mother's voice in my head say, "You haven't let me go yet." She was right. We had only told her that it was okay to leave. She didn't want us to hold on, but instead be inspired by this the power and beauty of these moments. Of life. To remember and feel what is underneath all the stories that have ever kept us apart or from anything else that we ever cared about.

So Joe, Kris and I put our hands together over hers and her heart and let her go in the only way that we knew. It was beautiful. We cried, Kristin left the room to give Mom space and let go and Joe and I stepped away. A couple minutes passed yet she was still with us. Kristin returned only to find her swan song still playing vibrantly to the beat of her soft shallow breaths and pregnant pauses. There was more.

I heard the name Rumplestiltskin go through my head. I wasn't sure, but in moments like that, I didn't think I could make that shit up. So I pulled up Rumplestiltskin and started reading. First asking myself if is this really happening. Doubting myself, I looked for clues in the writing to justify my actions. Was I wasting some of the most precious moments I had ever experienced not to mention everyone elses? I was just hoping that there was something to this. Down deep I knew that this couldn't be an accident. When I stopped looking for clues and just read to her, this old tale of times long past, an image of when we were children came to me. I saw our mother reading fairytales to us as we fell asleep. Times I had forgotten. It was my favorite thing growing up. My sister joined in, swiftly pulling up Snow White and we read together. Kristin did the narration as I read the various character roles with different accents. We were reading her to sleep as she had to us so many times before while, at the same time, reminding us how to play. Again. Together. Something we had not done since we were tiny children. How did we forget that? How to play. It didn't matter. We did it and she got to see it. To be a part of it. Together we told her the tale of a princess of the greatest beauty in all the land that the world never saw, but instead only read about. A princess that, in the original version, never got her prince out of fear. A woman who never knew or saw her own beauty. That woman was my mother. It was us. She was talking to us in the only way she knew how. As the story came to an end, her breathing began to slow so much so that time felt as though it stood still. Yet my mother was still holding a brush.

Another inspiration came in. A poem I performed called 'Fiddler Jones' from the Spoon River Anthology. An Irish character that I crafted at William Esper under the tutelage of the great Suzanne Esper. It was a groundbreaking piece for me then about a man who lived his life to the fullest. It's last three lines are:

"I ended up with a broken fiddle—

And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,

And not a single regret."

When I performed it in class I thought I nailed it. Then Suzanne looked at me and said, "How old is Fiddler Jones?" I said, "He's 104." "Can you imagine what it would be like to live your entire life, 104 years, and not have a single regret?" In that moment I fell apart. Then she said, "Now you're ready. Do it again."


I believe my mother was telling us that she did not have a single regret and at the same time reminding us not to have any either and that the purpose of life is to play. To have fun and share our gifts and hearts with the world. To play with others.


I realized that my mother had never seen my expression or creations as an actor, dancer, director, choreographer or teacher. I often saw her as absent not realizing that from all her emotional and physical trauma growing up she just was not able to or know how to show up for me and consequently I didn’t know how to show up for her, which is why she would empower others to do it for her. For me. She wanted me to have the best experiences possible. She didn't realize that all along I just wanted her. I don't think I knew it either.


So I shared Fiddler Jones with her. For the first and last time I shared my craft with her. It is only now that I am realizing why I chose it then and now.


Unbeknownst to my mother, at her mother's funeral, her other brother Tom, read the Irish Blessing. Our family lineage is deeply Irish on my mother’s side. As my mother was taking her last few breaths my sister looked up and asked me to read that same Blessing to her. When she was fading away the following words fell over my lips as tears streamed on to the ground and her brother Joe, Kristin and my love Aliza surrounded and celebrated her with unbelievable gratitude, love and presence.


Mom, May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

She was gone. Her brushes now rested quietly over her heart. Her masterpiece was complete. It was perfect.

You did it Mom. You did it.

I love you. Forever and Always. Your Son, Richard H. Handy "Rich"


To all of you: Thank you all for your prayers, support and love. I read all of them to my mother and I could tell from her reaction she loved them. It was priceless. For all of us. I also want to thank my sister, Aliza, my mother's therapist/best friend Tisha Jones and uncle Joe for being such loving pillars through the whole process. You are all incredible.


I attached photos of her late best friend Reece, Tisha, my mother our family and a video I found yesterday from her 70th surprise birthday party that warms my heart. These were moments that I think my mom was happiest.


With love and gratitude, My soul

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