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Magic in the ICU

December 24, 2018

This isn’t a Christmas tale, per se. It’s the story of a Mom and how the sense of fun she left her kids’ lives on in them and in her dentures.

My Mom, Marie, died far too young in 1998. I still tear up when I think about what my kids missed in having such a fun Grandma. She passed after heart surgery followed by six weeks in a Cardiac ICU in Colorado.  Kept in an induced coma to give her heart a chance to heal, I wasn’t optimistic when I went to visit.

Moving along, a couple of things to know about Marie –

  1. Mom was a big believer in guardian angels. I’ll never forget sitting down to watch “Touched by an Angel” with her, having her look over at me and say in all seriousness, “I love this show. It’s not at all schmaltzy.”
  2. She cared about a lot of people, including and particularly 11 guys who suited up in Orange at MileHi Stadium, especially John Elway. This explains the guardian angel in a #7 Broncos’ jersey pinned to the pillow in Mom’s room in the ICU.  He watched over her the entire 6 weeks.
  3. One more note about Mom, she’d worn a full set of dentures since she was 45 and hated every minute she had to have them in. Really, truly, hated them.

You already know the middle of this tale, my mother never walked out of the hospital.  And here’s where it becomes a Bekuhrs story.

My sister lived about an hour away and had visited Mom in the hospital often, getting to know the ICU nurses pretty well.  She called them the day after Mom died to thank them for everything they’d done for her and ask about the return of Mom’s guardian angel. The nurse said she hadn’t seen it, but Annie was stopped dead in her tracks when the nurse then said, “I’m so glad you called! The funeral director forgot to take your mother’s teeth. Someone needs to come pick them up.”

“Excuse me? Her teeth?”

“Yes, the funeral home didn’t take them; they’re going to need them.”

“No, they’re not. She’s being cremated, the teeth will just melt.  Now, about that angel…”

“But, we can’t dispose of anything a patient brought in. Someone needs to pick them up.”

“I’ll tell you what, you find the angel and I’ll pick up the teeth when I come by for it.”

Annie and I don’t have a lot in common, but we’re both pretty solid negotiators.  It all worked out, they found the angel and my sister said she’d be down the next day to pick them up.  “And the teeth!” the nurse chirped. I can still hear her grumble…

Next morning, a sunny May Friday, my sister drove the hour to Greeley and made her way to the ICU.  She had a good cry with the nurses who’d been so great to our parents and then saw the teeth sitting discreetly wrapped in tissue on the counter.  The angel was nowhere in sight. Red flags started to fly. Had she been duped?

The nurse was apologetic, insisting they HAD found the angel the day before but it wasn’t there when her current shift started.  Annie was pretty angry, but calmly said, “That’s too bad. Looks like you guys scored yourselves a set of dentures.”

“But, what are we supposed to do with them?”

“I don’t care. Put a little wind-up motor in them and let them clack on your desk through eternity. I’m not taking them without the angel.”  (ß my hand to god, that quote is 100% true)

After a frantic call to housekeeping, the Orange Savior was found, bagged up with my mother’s 25-year old choppers and Annie was on her way.

The next morning was Saturday, and I was preparing for the drive to Colorado for Mom’s memorial service the following Wednesday. One of the most miserable packing experiences of my life – my kids didn’t have anything black. Not yet, anyway.  I was thinking about a Target run and it hit me that Mom really didn’t care about that mourning stuff, and honestly, neither did I, when the doorbell rang.  I looked out and saw a Post Office truck at the curb.

My letter carrier was delivering an overnight-before-10 a.m. package from an address I didn’t recognize in Colorado. Weird, I signed for it and, for once, could not put it aside. I had to open it immediately.  (You see where this is going, don’t you?)

I pawed through a pile of wadded up tissue paper to find a Post-it note that said, ‘A little something Mom would have wanted you to have. Smile’ attached to – you guessed it, the dentures.

Bathos. Utter bathos. I could not stop laughing. At Annie. For Mom. For all of us. Silliest thing that’d ever happened to me, and it could not have come at a better time.  I still grin ear to ear just thinking about it.

But wait, there’s more. We’ve always believed that revenge really IS a dish best served cold, so I waited seven months until putting together my sister’s holiday package.

Yup, I did it.  I got out my hot glue gun, cemented the teeth into a perfect bite, and spray painted them 24KT Gold. I then attached them to a 2” wide red velvet ribbon with a hook at the top added some fake cranberries and cedar spray and called it an ornament.  It actually looks kinda like a bell from a distance. I know this because it’s in the background of every photo that includes my sister’s Christmas tree. Every. Single. Year.

And every year Mom is somewhere giggling about it.


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