There have been times in my life when I knew I was living inside a blessing. A chapter so unique I knew I’d always look back and say “WOW, what a remarkable time!”.
I’m living in one of those chapters now. But let me give you the backstory first.
Mom and I have always been best friends. I was the last of three kids, lagging five years behind
my sister, and seven behind my brother. So when they were off to school or sports or friends I was still at home.
Mom and I had all sorts of adventures. We took long walks in the wilds of New Jersey (there still were wild places then, if you knew where to look). We helped a woman rescue a huge uncooperative turtle from the middle of a busy highway. It took three of us to pick it up, put it in the back of the station wagon and return it to the wetlands where it belonged. Good deed done for the day.
As the years went by mom became my confidante. She listened to the dramas of my elementary, then junior high and high school life. She offered gentle, wise perspectives for me to consider, rather than expounding her opinions down my throat. One of her many gifts, to listen with compassion without needing to solve the problem.
We played hooky together. On a beautiful spring day that was too nice to sit in school, mom called me out sick. We hopped in the car and drove to the beach. We walked the surf, collected shells, grabbed a burger at McDonalds and then headed home in time to make dinner for the family. The next day mom’s excuse letter to the school explained that I was sick… sick of school. They never called to question her.
Over the years life took me on adventures far from home. Climbing the corporate ladder for a while, moving away to chase the dream. Calling weekly, coming home several times a year. Wonderful visits to reconnect with family and scratch things off their to-do list.
Eventually dad passed and mom carried on alone in their home. A fall landed her in the hospital and brought me home for three months. During that time we agreed the house had become a burden rather than a sanctuary. In a few short weeks the house was sold and she was the newest resident in an independent living community nearby.
That was eight years ago. She’s 93 now and shocked that she’s still alive. (That’s her gentle humor.) Polio visited her when she was small, taking some strength away from one leg on its way out. The doctors told her she’d never walk again. Hoo boy. They didn’t know my mom. Like hell! I don’t know how she managed it but oh yes, she’s walking. Still walking. OK, she uses a walker these days, but so do many folks at 93.
She’s still quoting the works of Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam word perfect. She has a poem for every occasion and people look forward to hearing what she’ll come up with next. Her index finger goes up, her arm stretches out and up in a gesture of proclamation. Her eyes gleam with mischief, head tilts and out comes the poem. I am often greeted first thing in the morning this way as she rolls out of bed. “Wake! For the dawn has scattered into flight…”. What a mother! What a joy. She cracks me up.
Mom has some great stories from her earlier life too. Like when all the boys were at war and companies needed women to take their jobs. She and my aunt were chemists for Exxo (now Exxon). Two jokesters, those two. Tongue in cheek, they wrote a patent for plaid paint, explaining how the molecules would align in a certain way to create a plaid pattern just with normal brush strokes. Their patent application made it all the way to the patent office before they finally had to ‘fess up and call it back.
Mom’s mother’s parents were bakers, originally from the Alsace-Lorraine region, near France. Both died when grandma was very small and she was raised by her three sisters. Some of the recipes from the bakery have survived and are now family treasures, Vanilla Nut Ice Box cookies was one. (Does anyone remember what an ice box was anymore?) Baking must be in the genes. Mom was a fabulous baker too.
But she doesn’t cook, or bake, anymore. Her tools of the trade sit quietly in her kitchen cabinets. Her world has compressed, condensed, distilled down to the essentials. Hundreds of books, from Shakespeare to biblical analyses to Asimov and lighthearted cat adventures, fill her many bookshelves, now quiet artifacts from an ever curious mind.
Bags of yarn now sit unused, where they once made sweaters for each grandchild, then great-grandchild. Handmade with hours of love. She focused on smaller projects as the years tumbled on, knitting comfort dolls for traumatized children, and doll dresses to raise funds to help others. Her hands are moving sculptures, shaped by those knitting needles. But the knitting has closed shop too.
Such a full life. Good times, lean times, tough times. And at 93 she is pleasant, funny as hell and a joy to be with. She never let the tough times win.
For a year I had a niggling thought that it was time to come home to be nearer to mom. To help make her life a little easier, more comfortable and pleasant. To help my sister, who watched over mom faithfully while I lived elsewhere and mom was more independent. It took a while to make that choice, put my life on hold and move 2000 miles home.
And then it was time. Something inside said, “The time is NOW… GO!” And I did.
A job showed up, conveniently at the place where she lives. An apartment materialized, only two miles away. And here I am. None too soon. Two days after I arrived she was in the hospital. CHF, congestive heart failure, unchecked and uncontrolled. The other side of not complaining. No one knew of her daily struggles. The over-full trash can, dirty clothes hanging in the closet, ancient food in the fridge, all silent testaments that something was terribly wrong.
Her body was full of fluid because her heart could no longer pump it all out anymore without some help. So common in the elderly, I’ve come to find out. She was a pretty sick pup. It affected her breathing and stole her mental clarity. It took a while to get the right combination of medications to stabilize her, but now she’s doing ok.
We have our routine. Mornings we breakfast together and I help get those dang compression socks on. Oh, and feed the cat. Bless that little KitKat, mom’s beloved companion. Someone to talk to, to keep her company, to give treats to. Maybe too many treats. But KitKat isn’t complaining.
Then I go to work and she goes about her day. Which, far as I can tell, involves a lot of napping. After dinner I come back and tuck her into bed. Short little visits, twice a day. Perfect for both of us.
This is what I mean about living inside a blessing. Knowing that this time in both our lives is just a chapter, but an important one. Knowing that one day I’ll show up in the morning, but she will not. Knowing that when that day comes it will be ok. Sad, but ok. Meanwhile, we treasure our time together. After being gone for almost twenty years it’s nice to hang out with my first best friend.
I find myself asking, “How will I be when I am her age? What attitude will I choose when my body and mind are not what they used to be?”. This time with mom makes me face the reality of my own elder years. It affords me the opportunity to begin to carve the lines of kindness and compassion that I see in her into my soul now. To gratefully receive the lessons my mother continues to teach me through the grace and beauty of her life.
I AM truly living inside a blessing.