She sat there, her shock of grey hair peeping out from the back of the wheelchair which has now become part of her being. I maneuvered my way to her back table, smiling at the other residents and saying passing “I know”‘s to the staff who commented, always comment, on my strong resemblance to her. Their observations are a source of pride as I think of her, still, as this beautiful woman I have hero worshiped all my life.
“Hi, Mom,” I said as I bent down to hug her body, smaller than her once-was strong and solid frame.
“Hi,” she responded with an ignited light in her eyes. “I’m so happy to see you. Your in-laws were just here.”
“My in-laws?” I asked and pull back my head in surprise. “Really?”
“Yes,” she said with a smile, the gentle warm smile I known since youth. “Peter’s mother and father. They stopped in and said they were on their way to…” She names the small town my husband grew up in near Central Illinois.
My in-laws have been dead for quite some time. I barely knew Peter’s father. He died a year before we were married. And his mother, my gentle and beautiful mother-in-law, died over ten years ago. During my private moment with Peter’s lifeless body at the hospital, I said aloud to him, “I hope your parents greeted you first.” He loved his parents, especially his mother. To have them in the afterlife with him – a belief I still hold onto from my youth – was a comfort to me…still is.
“Well,” I said, learning long ago to roll with my mother’s state, “I hope you had a good time.”
“We did. We did.” She got a long look in her eye as if recapping the real-to-her visit. “They’re such nice people.”
I sat down and we talked. It was a jumbled conversation of what she believed to be true. She grew agitated about something her own reality told her she needed to do and which I knew was impossible. But, I spent time reassuring her, it will get done. In the midst of her drummed up reality, she asked how ‘her girl’ was doing. Her ‘girl’ was my daughter’s dog, Lily, who comes to visit with my daughter when they’re in. Her smile grew with the recollection of Lily. For a few minutes, our discussion centered around the dog and all her antics, which made my mother laugh. Then she returned to her world and with the insistence of getting done that improbable task, and my promise I would see what I could do.
With her calmer, she ate her lunch, her gaze focused out the window ahead of her. I stared at her, wondering what was in her head, where she drifted off to, and when she would let go of the agitation she held as she struggled with reality. We sat like this, in the silence of our own thoughts, for long beats. After a time, she looked and asked me what the “little guys” were saying now. Not certain if she meant my kids, now in their early 20’s, or her great grandchildren. When I asked for clarification, she just smiled and said yes. I assumed she meant her great grandchildren, so I gave her some antidotes of what I knew from the last time I saw them, one more recently than the other. She followed for a while until she drifted out the window again.
As she shoveled in one more mouthful of her food and then pushed the plate away, my mother asked, “and how is Betsy and Peter?”. I didn’t correct her. I stopped correcting my mother with reminders of Peter’s death a while ago. It didn’t matter, and really, she didn’t have to know. So I nodded and said they were doing fine. She smiled and picked up her coffee with shaky hands and took a sip.
When she leaned forward to grab her cup, I rubbed her back. Her eyes hooded and she cooed out “that feels good”. I said I was glad and continued doing it. When she told to me that I didn’t have to keep doing it, I asked if she wanted me to stop and she whispered, “no, please don’t.” And for the next few minutes, I rubbed my mother’s back like she did to me when I needed to be comforted, when I needed to be settled down from an all-confusing world.
I left an hour and some change after I got there. Before I did, I kissed her forehead and smiled down at her. I told her I loved her and she said, “yeah, but can you see if…” and her concern went back to the task she wanted me to complete. I told her, “sure, Mom. I’ll see what I can do.”
On the drive home, thoughts exploded in my head and the shrapnel landed in my heart. My mother was not there anymore. She has some good days, but for the most part, age has taken her from me. She has taken my hero at a time I needed her to put on her superwoman cape and I mourn her. And although she left me, I know I now have someone I can do my best to return the comfort and reassurance she gave me during my lifetime. Only, sometimes, it’s too hard.
Every time I see her, it’s hard. Not just because I see the absence of the strong, brilliant, example of a woman, of a mother, but because it reminds me, all the time, how unfair Life is, Death is. Peter died an extremely healthy man while my mother remains in a shell she doesn’t want to be in anymore. How fair is this? And this is the reason why my two a week visits to her has been chiseled down to once every two weeks, sometimes longer. And why guilt crashes into me causing me more pain and agony. I want to see her more, yet Grief holds me back.
As I get onto another expressway, I smile which turns into a laugh. My mother’s mind may be muddled at times, yet she is clear on her two importance. One, she remembers, always remembers, Lily and those positive emotions a dog can give. And two, she never forgets Peter. Whether it be “that farmer boy you married”, or “your husband” or “Betsy and Peter”, she remembers him and she does because she loved him, she loves him. And I think, how great that I married and lived with a man my mother approved of so much, she can still has a part in her mind just for him. It is then, I gain some peace.