I complained about Chris to her that day. We sat in her sunroom, drinking strong coffee and she said, “Anne, my dear, Chris was a spoiled baby, a spoiled child, a spoiled teenager and a spoiled man. He is the reason Matt and I kept going after Mr. Archer died. We raised him together and gave him everything he wanted. He grew up feeling very entitled. He grew up thinking he didn’t have to work for anything. You, my dear, have made remarkable strides with him. A couple more years and he will be a human being.” She reached across the coffee table and gave my hand a pat. “I have watched the two of you grow up together. You were so young when you married him. In many ways, Chris was very young, too, even though he is ten years older than you. Try to be patient with him.”
“Patient, you say? He is seeing a woman he works with.” I blurted out the issue between us. I meant to keep it quiet, feeling somehow that I failed him. If I was a better wife, he wouldn’t need the company of another woman, right?
The woman who spoiled him terribly gave me a sad smile. “He is not perfect, Anne. Christian Matthew Archer Junior is as flawed as his father.” She took a dainty swallow of her coffee that she served to us using her Royal Doulton’s Old Country Roses coffee set. “I think the two of you need to spend some time together. You have a daughter who became your sole focus when Trip died and now she is nearly ready for college. That’s just a couple of years away. You and Chris both forgot to love each other because you both hurt so badly over the death of your son. Things will be alright. You’ll see.” The cup rattled on the saucer when she set it down, possibly the first sign of frailty. A sign I missed at the time, so wrapped up in my own hurt and anger.
That day Lillian gave me a handkerchief so I could wipe away tears. We spoke of only pleasant things after my grand confession. We walked in her garden and she told me how she cares for her roses. She showed me the new birdhouse she built from scrap lumber and her well-used power tools. She pulled some offending weeds away from her roses then made me promise to see her the next week.
I kept my promise by sitting by her side in the hospital room. Lillian, the glue that kept my little family together, slipped away from me while I held tightly onto her hand, never opening her eyes.
The monitor beeped loudly and a nurse entered the room. She checked Lillian’s vital signs, turned off the monitor, then told me the doctor was on his way.
A man who didn’t look old enough to drive entered the room, checked Lillian’s vitals and then announced she had passed. He squeezed my shoulder and said, “You can spend some time with her.” He walked out of the room just as Chris walked back in.
Chris watched me for a moment, then drew his own conclusion. “I was outside smoking when she died. Smoking. A thing she hated because it killed my father.”
“Don’t beat yourself up, Chris. There’s no way you could have know she would die right then.”
Chris looked down at his mother, said, “You’ll have to take care of this. I just can’t,” and he left the room. He left me alone to deal with her remains. He left me alone to face the hurt on my own. Just like always.