I didn’t know we were going to have this visit today, my mom and me. I wasn’t expecting it but it is a blessing to me – an uncomfortable blessing, but a blessing just the same. It’s been 44 days and 18 hours since she passed from this world.
I’ve spent a lot of time with her since then but I just wasn’t expecting her today. First, as I was flipping through my volumes of photos searching for a particular one, I saw her joy and excitement in the tiny thumbnail of an image of her in her hospital bed. She was so animated and happy that day as my brother sat next to the bed holding her hand. They smiled at each other and their shared glee at the presence of each other filled the room. With no more short-term memory, her day was filled with joyful surprises each time she looked at him and recognized him anew. It was such a happy day.
Then I got a reminder on my phone that today was her follow-up appointment after the stroke that put her in the hospital that time.
“I should turn those calendar reminders off,” I thought to myself as tears welled up in my eyes for the umpteenth (a favorite phrase of my mother’s) time today. I thought about all the things that remain scheduled just like they still need to happen – all the follow-ups and various appointments, eye exams, podiatrists. They are all on my calendar – even if they are not on anyone else’s. I was seized by an enormous sense of emptiness at the thought of removing them. No, I want to keep them. I do. I want them to slap me soundly in the face, to ambush me, to jump up and scream at me, “Your mother is dead!! Don’t you know that? She’s dead.”
She is. She is dead to this world that I still have my being in. She is not here anymore. No more phone calls, no more confused conversations mixing up histories and characters, life stories and anecdotes. No more tales of when she was young, long before her fears and torments had their way with her – stories of struggles, rivalries and comaraderie with older brothers and a younger sister and stories about an adored baby brother. Those were the stories she recalled and loved to tell. Over and over. I miss them now.
In the hopital, she never told stories about her own children but she loved to brag about how we are all hard-working, productive members of society and that we were her legacy. It would be at about that time that she would take the hand of one of us kids – seems there was always a kid close by – and look at us as if we were an angel sent from heaven. Then she’d squeeze that hand. In the middle of a demented jumble of ideas and thoughts and stories, this seemed real – really real. I miss that.
Before the dementia took up full residence in my mother’s mind, she could be harsh and unyielding when she wanted. She was very regularly unhappy or dissatisfied with someone or something. I spent my youth trying to figure out if there was a pattern to her anger, a trigger that I could recognize – some warning – but in my youth, I didn’t. Either I was always too slow or her anger overtook her too rapidly but by the time I was aware of her anger it was a fury. So my strategy was to simply fly under the radar and dodge my mother’s outbursts and I did for the most part but the price of total avoidance is isolation and we were never close.
I didn’t seek her out. I stayed away from her on purpose. I didn’t share with her and I kept her at arm’s length. I did that. But I loved her ferociously and I knew that I did even when I casually and matter-of-factly explained our relationship to anyone, “We never bonded,” I’d say. “It just didn’t take. You know, we’re just not close.” Deep inside me, I knew that none of that mattered – I loved my mother.
And one night on the phone she talked about love to me. To me. And she told me how much she loved me at great length during every conversation we had after that. The dementia softened my mother’s heart and I melted in the wake of it. It is fair to conclude that between 7:30 and 8:00pm eastern time most nights for the past several years, my mother and I were taking about 15 minutes out of our day to simply tell each other how much we loved each other.
The conversation went like this:
Mom: I’m your mother and you’ve got to do what I say so take good care of my kid!
Me: I’m your kid and I love you so you have to take good care of my mama!
Mom: And I love you so you take good care of my kid!
Me: As long as you take good care of my mama.
… And repeat as many times as it takes to fill 15 minutes or so.
That’s what I was doing a year ago tonight, two years ago – 6 months ago. Today, I can still say 5 months ago – but not for long. Everything changed when she fell during the night of May 7th. Time marches on. My grief will be with me always, reminding me how much I love my mama, how important she was to me. I will always welcome it.
Thanks for spending the day with me, Mom. Please come back soon.