In this case, I’m not referring to some aged name on the family tree. I’m referring to the one who birthed me.
Laurie, my psychologist friend, had prepared me to go back to New Jersey, to the place where I sleep on an air mattress because “there’s no reason to pay good money for a hotel room when you can stay right here.” Laurie said that with my mom’s dementia, the person I would be visiting would be different from the person I had known.
Mom’s retirement community is spread out, lots of separate buildings connected by indoor walkways that are mostly glass. It was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, planned to expose residents to exercise and views of nature as they walked the long hallways to get to the central dining room.
Instead of going through the main entrance, I drove to the side and parked in the lot for the maintenance building. From there, I cut through the landscaping to get to Mom’s patio, where I knocked on her sliding glass door.
Mom was seated at her wooden table by ‘the slider.’ She placed one hand on the table to push herself upright, stopping shy of fully vertical. Mom used to be taller than me, but now she is shorter. Her eyes are still bright, but her cheeks are no longer tinged with pink. They hang in long gray folds.
We always hug at my arrival and departure, but I do not recognize the hug that grasps me this time. Before, hugging my mother felt like hugging a tree trunk. Now, she wraps her arms around me and holds on tight. Her body no longer feels stiff and separate.
Laurie calls while Mom and I are in one of the community rooms, working on a jigsaw puzzle, the one I sent her before Christmas, a hand-crafted wooden puzzle with some unique ‘whimsy’ pieces. A rabbit, a horse, a bird.
I put my friend on speakerphone so we could all talk. Mom and Laurie met years ago, and my friend is familiar with my mom’s modus operandi.
It is going to be my birthday a few days after I leave. On my last day there, Mom gives me a birthday card addressed to ‘Fabulous Jule.’
I hold the card apart and stare at it. I say the words aloud but must have said them as a question. “Fabulous Jule?”
“Because you are!” says my mother. “Fabulous Jule!”
When I get back to Cincinnati, Laurie calls and asks how I am doing. I tell her I don’t recognize my mother. “She’s…” I struggle for the word.
“Warm,” she says.
“Yes. That’s it.”
Laurie offers an explanation. “It’s as if as her memory recedes, the fear that covered over the warmth that was always there is receding as well.”
“Yes,” I say. “That’s it.”
On New Year’s Day, my mom wished me a “Happy 1922!”
A loss of one thing and a gain of another.
I’m glad Mom and I hung through the distant times to get to this time. I’m glad I set down my cellared anger of resentment. I’m glad we can be here for each other.
Chewing the Cud of Good
Thankful for today, for this moment, for the astonishment of being alive.