Monday, May 09, 2011

My Mom

Okay: this post showed up on Google Reader on Mother's Day but I pulled it because I couldn't get the spacing right. But some things are more important than spacing, so here it is.

It's been two year since I wrote this. Since then, my Mother's house has been emptied and it is rented to strangers. She doesn't remember much about her house these days, and that is a good thing. And what she does remember is all good.

Going Home
My mother’s eyes glisten across the room. Cat green and softened by age, they look at me pleadingly.

“Do you think I could go home?” she asks in her most genteel voice. She raises both hands in front of her, the way politicians do during a heartfelt speech, as if to confirm she is reasonable and solid. Her eyes shine and deepen.
“I know I can’t be alone,” she says, “but could we find someone to live with me?”

Often I am slow to answer. Always her eyes deepen and her voice is hopeful, not at all forceful. “Could you tell me why not?” she asks cautiously, politely.

The youngest of sixteen children, my Mother first came to America from Canada and walked into a classroom where she did not know the language or the country.

“Mom, we could take you home for a weekend. You could see your friend Dottie, and Marie next door. You could sleep in your bed,” I pause and smile, “but you have to promise me you’ll come back.”

She grins. “I might not,” she says.

“Mom, if you hold on to the kitchen counter when it’s time to leave I will call the police.” I grin.

She grins again. “No, I know,” she says. “Besides, what would I do there by myself?”

This fall, my mother returned home. She cautiously pushed her walker up the front steps and stepped into her hallway. “Oh it’s good to be home,” she sighed. From room to room she assimilated the unfamiliar walker into the familiar landscape.

She opened her kitchen cabinets, showed me where the pot was for tea, and sat at the kitchen table as if she had never left. As if she had not since learned to walk with an assistive device, as if her loss of memory meant nothing.

She looked ten years younger. She acted and spoke masterfully, guiding her hands effortlessly toward the right dishes and acting surprised when something seemed out of place. Then she looked at my dog Stella, who had come along for the weekend, and said, “Karen, how long have I been gone?”

"Over a year," I tell her.

"Did I leave my dog alone here all that time?”

We are all silent before I respond. "Mom, this is Stella. My dog. You know Stella,” I said.

She shook her head sheepishly. “Of course I do,” she said. “My memory’s getting worse. But my mind is still good.”

I slept on the couch so when she woke up she would not be afraid or unsafe. Four times I met her in the dim hallway and she breathed a sigh of relief when she saw me.

“Where am I?” she asked. I said, “Mom, you’re in your own house.”

She shook her head. “I must be pretty confused not to know that.” Even in the darkness, her eyes sparkled. Four times she kissed me goodnight and asked if I needed a blanket.

My father and grandfather built this house and my parents lived in it for 63 years before my father died. My mother always said she would never leave it alive and she almost pulled it off.

But she fell one summer day in her front yard and broke her hip. By the time the rehab folks met up with her, she was too frail and too confused to get anything close to an endorsement that she could live alone. She moved in with JB and me for a few months and finally, reluctantly, she took up residence in a furnished room in a sweet local rest home ten minutes away.

I took my mother home that weekend knowing it risky. She was doing her best to accept the rest home. “You know I’m not a complainer,” she told me regularly, but her eyes told the whole story. She would never adjust. She could not remember anyone there. She was the literal stranger in a strange land.

Her first morning home, my mother smiled at me. “You won’t believe this,” she said, “but I’m not going to mind going back.”

“How come,Mom?” I asked.

“I don’t know”, she chuckled, “But we probably shouldn’t question it.”

And indeed, she didn’t mind going back. She spent two days sipping tea at her kitchen table. She had coffee cake with Dottie and hugged Marie for the first time ever, and she continued to tell JB and me where to find things. For these two days my mother ruled the universe.

Then she returned to her furnished room and settled in. She started playing solitaire again. She asked me to order cable TV. She read the newspaper. She complimented the food.

“Mom,” I said, “How come you’re happier since we went to your house?”
She looked confused. “I don’t normally complain do I?” she said.
A few days later I asked my mother if she remembered going home.

“Not really,” she smiled, "but I think I enjoyed it.”

Yes, Mom, you did. If you want we’ll do it again in a few months.”

“We’ll see,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “It’s kind of a long ride, isn’t it?”


  1. Gulp, this really made my eyes water. What wonderful memories to cherish- for you- till you forget them too...Wish I had such good memories of my mom, alas no!

  2. Kj, Beautiful post. You and your mom seem to have weathered all of this very well, I hope we can all be so lucky :-). Kisses to your mom. xoxo

  3. joss, thank you very much. our times were not always good, but we have had the luxury of forgiveness. i am forever grateful for that.

    annie, thank you very much also. yes, we weathered. that is a good word. and now, i know my Mom is winding down. i am both grateful and sad.

  4. Winding down. Feeling both grateful and sad. I feel this within myself in small degrees. I see it largely in my parents....wonder at the line between tick-tock. Beautifully written!

  5. god bless you, kj. that is the ultimate gift you can give an aging parent - time, attention, and helping them accomplish something they cannot do on their own. your mom is blessed to have you as a daughter. you are blessed to have each other.

    the most beautiful mother's day story i have read.


  6. just wanted to tell u.. ur post made me smile a lot.. it was a sweet post.. very well written..

  7. What wonderful memories, kj. I was completely drawn in; I wish I could meet your mom. She sounds to me like an elegant refined woman...

    It amazes me how the aged can suddenly come back to today and make it seem like no time at all has passed.

    This was beautifully written, dear kj, lovely post!

  8. A beautiful post....from the heart!

    Like all Mums and Daughters, you have had your ups and downs.....but, what really counts is how you both are NOW....together. You love your Mum...and she loves you. I know -saw it in both of your eyes! Nothing can ever take that away.


    ♥ Robin ♥

  9. Your Mom is a treasure, kj!! I loved reading this post. I hope once day you will write a big, fat book about her!xx

  10. Your mother sounds like such a dear woman.
    Thank you for writing this.
    I feel like I know her now.
    Happy Mother's day to you and to her.

  11. I, too, had a lump in my throat...not from sadness but for the love that shone through in your post.