I came in through the front doors like I normally do, or did before Peter died. I saw her in the common area, sitting in her wheelchair, parked by the fireplace not ablaze on the hot summer day. She stared out a window, then darted her eyes around the room as if searching for something. When they landed on me, her face dropped immediately and she began to cry. Her arms shot out to me and she sobbed out, “Oh, my baby. My baby. You’re here.”
I scurried over to her, dropped my purse, fell into her arms and wept, “I hurt Mom. I hurt so much.” She cooed into my ear over and over, “My baby. My poor, poor, baby.” And we stayed like that, for a few minutes – me, knocking on sixty’s door, hugging my mother like I was ten again, and she, in one of her rare lucid moments, comforted me, calling me her baby, like I was ten again. I had not seen my mother since Peter died for many complicated reasons. Some I can’t articulate and others, well, others I can only I feel guilt when I do.
I hadn’t seen my mother in weeks, something unusual for me. I needed to protect myself. See, my mother slides behind a sheet of senility, only peaking out for a few moments at a time now. And even those moments are peppered with the nonsensical and the absurd. So, I was afraid I would have to remind her Peter was dead, or worse, pretend he wasn’t. Out of respect for her and her feelings of frustration, I don’t normally correct her and pretending would be too hard.
My mother told me a week before Peter died, in her confused speak, she wanted to die. She listed her loved one, already dead, and spoke about how much she longed to see them again. Yet she still remained on earth, a shell of her once was and I knew, seeing her would cause me frustration and anger. Not at my mother, but at the reminder of her and all that represented. Although she wanted to leave this earth, she was still here while my husband had died, and it kind of pissed me off. It was actually one of the first questions I asked when Peter died. How can a person who wants to die, with a life fully lived and in poor health, remain, while my husband, who had years left, had not grown old with me or with my children, be taken? How? Seeing my mother would remind me I had no answers.
I really needed my mother. No matter my age, I needed my Mom. And the mother I once knew was now pretty well gone. The mother who always introduced me as “my baby” since I am the youngest of her seven children, is the mom I needed. I knew that mom had died. I knew because I’ve mourned the loss of her a few times now. So if all I saw was this shell of what my mother was now, it would destroy me.
These are the reasons I can express for not visiting in weeks. I know. They are selfish reasons. They are maybe even cruel. I understand how they could be both. Yet, I felt a need to protect my crumbling heart from collapsing completely and the only way to do this was avoidance. And then, well, then yesterday happened.
Heading into the weekend, my thoughts and reasons changed. Maybe because I’m at a better place now and my anger and expectations are lower. Maybe because I just wanted to rip the f-ing band-aid off because never seeing my mom again was not an option. Or maybe because I wanted my mom, in any form. Whatever the reason, I got into my car yesterday, headed out on the three expressways that get me there – another feat – and went to spend some of my morning with my mom. In one beautiful gift of a morning, my mom returned.
Yesterday, my mom was lucid as she held me. She called me what I needed to be – her baby. What’s more, I needed to be treated like I was her baby. She didn’t tell me it was going to be alright. Being a widow herself, she knew she couldn’t lie to me. But she did hold me and soothed me and treat me like her child, a child she knew and remembered. After all the responsibilities I faced lately, and the strength I’ve mustered to put one foot in front of another, it felt good and right to be held and comforted and protected in the arms of my mother.
We sat for the rest of the visit, holding hands. She kept squeezing mine telling me how much she missed me, worried about me, wished she could have been there for me. She apologetically explained why she couldn’t be at his memorial service, which of course I already understood, but knew she needed to say. She told me I was her “mushka” – a Polish, endearing, nickname she and my dad called me – and she wished I didn’t go have to go through this because I didn’t deserve it, my kids didn’t deserve it. And she told stories of Peter. Some of them were true, and some, well, may have been made up. It didn’t matter. What did was they were stories from her place of love, deep love, for Peter, whom she loved like a son.
I left my visit with a promise to return to my once of week routine which pleased her. Walking out to my car, I knew my future visits would most likely not go this well. Still, I held onto what I had in this visit, my first one since Peter died. Perhaps my daughter was right. Perhaps yesterday morning was the reason my mother is still living … so she could come back to me, her baby, when I needed her the most.