When he was a kid, Bill Wright spent a lot of time at Children’s Hospital. He’d wake up after a surgery, groggy, his mouth dry, his eyes heavy. But whenever those eyes opened he saw the same thing: his mom.
Marge Wright didn’t drive at the time, so getting to the hospital meant taking the bus from her home in Malden to the old Everett Station. She’d take the Orange Line train to Haymarket, then a Green Line trolley to Longwood. Then she would sit all day next to her son’s bed.
She never complained. And neither did Bill.
The doctors advised Marge and Frank Wright that their son Bill was too sickly to play sports. Marge and Frank Wright smiled and nodded and signed Bill up for Little League. The doctors said contact sports were absolutely out of the question. They signed Bill up for youth hockey.
As a kid, Bill Wright loved to take things apart and put them back together. He was inquisitive, a built-in excuse for his siblings, Frank Jr., Kathy, and Mary Ellen.
“If something was broken, we’d say, ‘Billy did it,’ even if he didn’t,” his sister Kathy said.
It was no surprise then that Bill Wright found his niche as a machinist working with MIT inventors at Arthur D. Little, now TIAX, in Cambridge.
He remained close to his mother, and they’d egg each other on to try new things. Marge Wright learned to drive in her 50s. As he approached middle age, Bill Wright took up the fiddle and became quite good at it.
And when, seven years ago, Marge Wright’s body began to fail and she went into a nursing home in Melrose, it was Bill’s turn to sit at her bedside.
Even as her body declined, Marge Wright’s mind remained sharp, and she smiled whenever she saw her Bill come through the door.
About two months ago, 52-year-old Bill Wright started feeling lousy. A diagnosis was elusive, and when it finally came, last month, it was devastating. He had a particularly aggressive cancer. The doctors told him to get his affairs in order.
As heartbroken and concerned as they were for their brother, Bill’s brother and sisters worried about the effect his sudden failing health would have on their mother.
Marge Wright had served in the Marines and was as tough as they come.
She lived through a flu last year that wiped out many of her friends at the nursing home. But losing her son was another matter.
Two weeks ago, Bill Wright’s brother and sisters took him to see their mother at the nursing home and they had dinner together. It was obvious Bill was fading.
When they were all leaving, Bill took his mother’s hand and said, “Okay, mother, take care. I’ll be waiting for you on the other side.”
Within a few days, Bill could no longer walk and his siblings brought him to the Sawtelle Family Hospice House in Reading.
Last week, Frank, Kathy, and Mary Ellen were keeping vigil over their brother at the hospice when they got a call. It was Marge Wright’s nurse.
“Your mother has taken a turn for the worse,” the nurse said.
Bill Wright had earlier twice asked Frank not to let their mother die alone, and Frank thought the plea odd, because of course they would never let their mother die alone, and in any case, she was doing fine at the nursing home.
It was as if Bill somehow knew.
On Saturday night, Frank Wright was sitting at his brother’s side in Reading while his sisters were 5 miles away in Melrose, sitting with their mother.
Bill died first. Marge died four hours later.
They will be buried together, Bill in an urn tucked into his mother’s casket, at a cemetery not far from the house in Malden where Marge Wright once hugged her young son Billy, just home from the hospital, and told him he could be anything he wanted to be.
Kevin Cullen is a Boston Globe columnist.