On Sunday November 21, 2020, five days before my father took his last breath, a nurse from Village Nursing Service showed up at my parents’ house to conduct a routine check. She concluded that his condition was questionable, and decided to call my mother into the kitchen to tell her the news.
“Mrs. Brown,” she began, “I am sorry to tell you, but your husband has a low pulse and about four hours to live.”
My mother, shocked, said, “Tell me that again.”
The nurse replied, “Mrs. Brown, I checked your husband’s pulse, and he barely has one. I give him four hours to live.” My mother accepted the news and escorted the nurse to the door. After gently closing the door, she lost it. With tears in her eyes, she started calling the whole world, with me first on the list.
I was in my bed asleep when the phone rang. I knew the only person that would call me at that hour was my mother. I grabbed my phone, noted the time--6:03 am—and said “Hey Mom, what’s up.”
She told me, “Your father is not doing well. The nurse says he only has four hours to live.”
Immediately, tears started flowing. I didn’t ask any questions; I told her I was coming right over. After hanging up, with tears running down my face, I got on my knees and said the Lord’s Prayer. I closed my appeal with the sentiment, “God, your will be done.”
I got up off my knees and went to awaken Kaylynn. To my surprise, she was not in her room. I found her in the kitchen fixing herself something to drink, and told her, “We have to go to Grandma’s house. Poppy has four hours to live.”
She cried, “What?” and started bawling uncontrollably. I hugged her and comforted her. Once she got it together, we got dressed and left the house.
We arrived at my parents’ home and were greeted by my mother and the home attendant on shift. I hugged my mom as tears continued to roll down her face. I said to her, the home attendant, and Kaylynn, “Would you mind joining me in prayer?” They agreed, and we held hands around the bed, surrounding my father. I put one hand on him and began reading various scriptures, including a few Psalms.
After the prayers were said, the day was filled with a revolving door of visitors coming to pay their last respects. I couldn’t stop crying as I sat by my father’s bedside holding his hands.
Four hours went by, then six, eight, and twelve. My father was still alive. I had made a commitment to stay by his bedside until the time came. For the next four days I stayed up around the clock, waiting for my father to die. My heart was racing like it was in NASCAR, and I was exhausted beyond comprehension.
Two days before my father passed, I told my mother I was going to file a complaint with the service. The distress they put the family through was unbearable. My mother counseled that everybody makes mistakes and encouraged me to leave it alone. “In these hard times,” she said, “everybody needs their job.”
I was adamant about following through on the complaint, however, and contacted the company. The story behind my frustration will become clear momentarily: this was the second time that Village Nursing Service had done this to us.
Back in February, another nurse had come to check in. At the conclusion of her visit, she called my mother into the kitchen and repeated the now familiar words, “Mrs. Brown, I am sorry to tell you, but you need to start making preparations for your husband.”
We were wound up and emotionally distraught trying to plan my father’s funeral. Of course, he ended up living another nine months. I said, “I am not letting it go this time.”
A brief aside: there is more to the Village Nursing Service saga than meets the eye.
Back to my father’s final hours.
The day before he passed away, Thanksgiving Eve, I sat next to him and listened as he continued to wheeze and struggle to breathe. I thought to myself, “My father is about to make his exit. What item of his would I like to hold onto in memory of him?”
I immediately recalled his record collection. Listening to music was my father’s favorite pastime, and he always included me in this passion. In the late sixties and early seventies, he worked as an amateur DJ back in Jamaica under the name Sound One. He amassed a solid collection of vinyl and 45 records of hit artists like Bob Marley during this period.
I said, “I have to get my hands on those records before my siblings do.” I made a plan, and that same day, I went quietly into the garage and began digging. I found so many treasures hiding under years of dust.
1. Three large Rubbermaid bins filled with my father’s record collection. Bingo! But there was one bin missing.
2. A brown genuine leather vintage suitcase, with clothes my mother wore when she was treated for breast cancer.
3. The Holy Bible, Kings James Version.
4. Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia.
5. Marcus Garvey: Anti-colonial Champion, by Rupert Lewis.
6. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling.
7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling.
8. Foundations of Marketing, by Louise E. Boone & David L. Kurtz.
9. New Standard Encyclopedia, by Standard Educational Corporation.
10. An old Chess game.
I also spotted something I hadn’t seen since I was 9, concealed under a pile of books. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I moved the books, and stood there in shock, admiring a painting I thought was discarded many years ago. For some reason my parents had never put it up in any of our recent homes. I packed what I could into the car, including this most magnificent painting, and dropped the loot at my apartment.
Rewind to the year 1977, when my mother was a young immigrant fresh to the United States, looking for work. She eventually found employment as a nanny, taking care of three kids, a dog, and a parrot for a wealthy family in Westchester, NY. One year into her role, the lady of the house was doing some spring cleaning. She set aside a few things for my mother, including the following:
1. A mink coat.
2. A collection of designer bags, one of which one was Chanel.
3. A bunch of designer shoes and clothes.
4. The painting I found in my parents’ garage the day before my father’s death.
That painting has been in my family for over 40 years. It measures 43 inches wide by 31 inches tall, with a solid wood frame. It features a black suede backdrop. On the black suede backdrop is painted in gold a great castle accompanied by tall golden pine trees. As a little girl, I would sit for hours looking at the painting and daydreaming. I was mesmerized, wondering if one day I would get keys to the palace.
Fast forward to January 2021, a month after my father was buried. My mother called me up at 5am one morning. She often called early when she wanted to spend the day with me, breakfasting at IHOP and browsing the aisles at Walmart. When we returned from our adventure, we called for a pie from Original Pizza. After we sat in my kitchen chatting and eating for a bit, I abruptly stood up to retrieve the painting from my room.
I said, “Mom, look what I found in the garage. I thought this painting was long gone.”
She answered, “I knew it was in there. I just didn’t have anywhere to hang it, so I kept it stored away.”
I said, “Do you know that it’s my favorite painting? I was so happy to find it. I haven’t seen it in three decades. What’s the story behind it? Who gave it to you?” I had never asked her about the artwork in all these years. She shared with me the tale of the Westchester family’s donations, adding another detail I’d never heard before: the origin story of my middle name.
“The lady of the house used to have a lot of paintings in her living and dining rooms from the French painter Claude Oscar Monet,” my mom said. “Seeing all his paintings in and around the house, day after day, I fell in love with his work, and his name. I told myself if I ever had a daughter, she would share the name Monet.”
I was blown away. I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t until three months before my 40th birthday that I finally learned the story behind my middle name.
I share my mother’s love of art. Over the years, I’ve frequented MoMA, the Guggenheim, and my favorite, the Met. The Met was my go-to destination for appreciating human creativity. I would always spend a little extra time with Monet’s collection, not knowing the story behind our connection.
One of Monet’s most admired works is pictured above. The piece comes from his Haystacks series, created in the late 1800’s in Giverny, France. In 2019, the painting sold for over $100 million, setting a new record.
As a great lover of stories, and a yarn-spinner myself, I was fascinated to learn this secret about my identity. It took my father’s passing to come by it—perhaps a parting gift from beyond the grave.
Photocredit: www.imgur.com via Pinterest. Claude Monet - Haystack, end of the summer, Morning (1891)