Chick Wit: Mother Mary, down but never out

Lisa Scottoline (right) with her mother, Mary, and daughter Francesca Serritella. Mary is in hospice care at Lisa's house. (April Narby)

I am very sorry to have to tell you that Mother Mary's health has taken a dramatic and unexpected turn for the worse, so this won't be a funny column.

Except for the fact that she is at her funniest when times are darkest.

She's been newly diagnosed with advanced lung cancer, has moved up north with me, and has entered hospice care at my house. Mercifully, Brother Frank, Daughter Francesca, and family and friends are all around her, and she is resting comfortably. So comfortably, in fact, that the hospice nurses, who are saints on wheels, cannot believe it. One nurse asked Mother Mary if she was having any pain - and she pointed to me.

So you get the idea.

She sleeps a lot, but when she is awake, she loves to have visitors. It hurts her throat to talk too much, so she writes on a wipe-off erase board, and you will be happy to know that most of what she writes is unprintable here.

Not even cancer can trump profanity.

Whatever she writes is funny and brilliant, and her mind is sharper than it's ever been. Some friends visited her recently, and she remembered the name of a lawyer they both knew some 50 years ago, though they could not, at a fraction of her age.

Me, I can't remember where my car keys are.

Maybe I should tell Mother Mary and she'll remind me.

Please don't think my tone herein is inappropriate. This has always been a column about family, the ups and downs, the laughter and the tears, and I think it's appropriate to have both here, maybe even in the same sentence.

I would guess if you're a fan of this column, and especially of Mother Mary, that you have a great sense of humor, and the Flying Scottolines have always handled disaster with humor. In fact, catastrophe is our middle name.

That's why you pronounce the final E, to make it Italian.

I also know that many of you have gone through this heartbreaking journey yourselves. If you have, you already know that hospice plunges you into a world different from any other, filled with irony and incongruities.

You will get a delivery of a shower chair and a commode, which will be the only furniture delivery you don't get excited about.

You will open the refrigerator and it will contain potato salad and morphine. Only one of these is organic.

You will find yourself granting every wish of your mother's as if it were her last, because, well, it could be. We have all been running hither and yon getting mango sorbet, Bud Light, Entenmann's plain doughnuts, and mashed potatoes with gravy. I had a fight in Whole Foods over the last jar of puréed pears baby food, which was for my Mother Mary.

You haven't lived until you've bought baby food for your mother, depriving a nine-month-old.

Take that, baby. Try the carrots, you selfish little thing.

We are alternately happy and sad, getting along wonderfully or bickering. I don't worry about this. In fact, I think it's par for the course. If you're not irritable at a time like this, you lack perspective.

I never sweat the small stuff, but this is clearly not the small stuff. I've spent my life dismissing minor annoyances because they aren't a matter of life and death, but this is a matter of life and death.

Trust me, we're sweating it.

Yet we persevere, because we have no other choice and we're lucky to have this one. We ask the hospice nurses how long we will have Mother Mary with us, and one nurse says something truly profound - that people die the way they lived.

That's good news with Mother Mary.

She's a fighter and she's fighting. When the priest arrived to give her last rites, she sent him away.

Actually what she said was, "Never!"

So she is not going gentle.

She cannot spell gentle.

She even insists that I go on book tour, since I have a book out this week, and though I am torn, I will obey her. She doesn't want me to act like the end is near, or it makes her feel as if it is, and I understand that, too. So in another irony, because she comes first, I'm going to listen to her and do my job.

By the way, I showed her an advance copy of the new book that daughter Francesca and I wrote, which is dedicated to her. She was thrilled to see it, and the book will be out this summer. I'm betting on her to be with us this summer, too.

Because here's the one thing I truly believe:

Mother Mary will be with us forever.


Look for Lisa Scottoline's new book, "Keep Quiet," in stores now. Also, look for Lisa and Francesca's columns in their newest collection, "Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim." You can write to Lisa at