'There is really nothing you must be.
And there is nothing you must do.
There is really nothing you must have.
And there is nothing you must know.
There is really nothing you must become.
However, it helps to understand
that fire burns, and when it rains,
the earth gets wet. . . .'
'Whatever, there are consequences. Nobody is exempt,' said the master." Robert Fulghum
Moving day and the skies were washing us with a cold rain. Hurried trips in and out the door, a last walk-through, then into the car for the ride to the new apartment. Once there, the dance reversed, through puddles into the back door. First the bed, then tables and a dresser. Piece by piece was dried and moved into place. The clock ticked as pictures were hung and accessories tucked into familiar spots. The two photos on the refrigerator secured with magnets, the transition was complete. Minus one shower curtain. But all in all, not bad for a morning's work.
We returned to my car and talked briefly before the other car arrived. The door opened and she got out. Standing tall, erect. I watched her daughter take one arm, the son, the other. Watched as these three entered the front door. Quietly, with dignity. A family. A real one, with good and not-so-good memories, exhausted by the tension of relationship made more difficult by the fog of Alzheimer's. Tears streamed down my face as I sobbed, "Oh, mama, I'm so sorry I couldn't give you this. Please forgive me."
It had been just the two of us. One bound by fear, the other by sheer fatigue. No walk into a pretty room filled with bits of the past. We had arrived with boxes she had ripped open the night before and emptied. An entire night of re-packing. Holding her as she first beat me with her fists before falling asleep in my arms. Beyond feeling. All ran together: the packing, the move, the drive and the awful leaving. I held her and said, "Love you, Mother." There would be another leaving in a few weeks. The fear pounded her until, in a moment of fury, she knocked out a lady with a right hook that I daresay no other former president of the African Violet Society could claim. The "your mother does not play well with others" call came, ending with a "come get her now."
As I watched my friends escort their mother inside, years of recrimination washed away with my tears. I had done my best. No where close to good enough. But two women, as disparate as a mother and daughter could be, made their rag-tag, messy journey. Shared a few quiet moments before the ravages of the disease took those. I could not reach this creature who was both tender and maddening. I looked on helplessly at the lost woman in assisted living. The angry one in geriatric psych. The all-too-briefly content old lady in a nursing home, flirting with older gentlemen, smiling up at me when I came into her room. I smiled too. Especially the day I found her wearing her long grey sweatshirt gown. With a gold lamé bed jacket (not hers). Two different slippers (neither of them from her closet). Chandelier earrings (definitely not my mother's). Large tortoise glasses (you got it).
"Mother, that's quite an outfit." This woman who had taken great pride in her appearance beamed.
"I just put it together this morning. What do you think?"
My reply: "Wow!" My thought: "Must have taken most of the morning to scrounge all this from other rooms."
Or the day we walked to the day room and Mother waved at the formal draperies and said, "I love what you've done to your living room, honey."
I was "honey" long after my name left. Then I was simply a hand to hold. But two memories stand out, seminal moments in our relationship.
I sat down on the edge of her bed one Friday evening, straight from the airport. On assignment in North Carolina, I flew home on weekends to see her. This evening she was peaceful. I leaned over and kissed her and she smiled up at me. "I'm so sorry I can't be with you more, Mom. I'll be in North Carolina for a few more months but I'll come every weekend."
"Honey, don't you worry." She was smiling sweetly. This woman for whom faith had arrived in small portions late in life looked up at me. She patted my hand and said, "You don't need to worry. God is right here with me and He's taking care of me." She was no longer alone with her fears.
The second moment came a month later. Slipping rapidly away, she found conversation difficult, just a few words occasionally. But this morning, she looked into space and said, without emotion, "We smothered you to death, didn't we?" Waves of shock washed over me. 'Yes', I thought. 'You did. And you knew. You always knew. Yes, yes, you did.' But I looked down at this withered woman who had been and would remain a stranger to me, and said, "Mama, you loved me with all of your heart. That's what's important."
Mother. Mom. Mama. We danced back in time together through the disease. Beyond emotion. Into the arms of love, a higher order not bound by mood or feeling. And this week, anointed by tears from heaven, graced by another family's journey, the two of us entered into the circle of a greater dance.
"If you do not join the dancing you will feel foolish. So why not dance? And I will tell you a secret: If you do not join the dance, we will know you are a fool. But if you dance, we will think well of you for trying. If you dance badly to begin and we laugh, what is the sin in that? We will begin there." Robert Fulghum