Mother Knows Best

MarthaAndMe

A favorite photo from several years ago, before Mother’s dementia diagnosis.

Back in January 1922 my parents were born four days apart. My father in Bell, California, and my mother in Tula, Mississippi. They would meet several years later at elementary school when my father’s family returned to its southern roots, and they married in 1948.

Although there were balloons and decorations and cake for my mother on her birthday earlier this month, she would not have known it was her day unless someone had made a fuss. Her dementia robs her of a lot, such as keeping up with dates and important life events. She sometimes thinks her parents have just died and that she wasn’t able to get to their funerals. I hate this for her, that her mind is not only failing her but is also tricking her, goading her into thinking she failed her parents. When, in reality, she was a devoted and faithful daughter until the very end, when she saw her mother and father across the bar and into the ground at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi.

So she loses memories and facts, but she retains her grace, and her humor, and her kindness.

At Christmas I held her hand while we watched part of “Miracle on 34th Street,” which I had never seen and for some reason insist on referring to as “Miracle on 51st Street.” I left after Santa was put in the hoosegow, so it is my fervent hope that the poor man got sprung before the movie was over.

When I arrived that day at the residential facility where she lives, she was resting in her chair with her eyes closed. I sat on the edge of her bed and waited for her to wake up. When she did, she took a few seconds to stare at me with love.

“I recognize you,” she said, smiling.

Her eyes were clear and lively, not dulled as they can sometimes seem when she is having a harder time focusing and engaging. It was the same smile I have seen on her precious face countless times before, an upturn of her lips that let me know she is still my mother.

Love Affair, Interrupted: The Ones Left Behind

He looks like Grandmother Wilson,” I said, remembering my paternal grandmother, who died in the early 1980s.

Yes,” said my mother. “He does.” She took a shallow breath and then, “Why did this happen?” Mother stared at Daddy and I patted him on the shoulder, which seemed to make me feel like I was doing something helpful.

“Would you like to go ahead and take his jewelry with you?” asked the nurse.

His wedding ring and class ring (University of Mississippi, Sigma Nu, 1948) came off fairly easily, but the watch was harder. His hands had always been big—something I inherited from him, along with his sensitive skin and his tendency toward impatience—and it seemed his hands and wrists had doubled in size since he’d been in the hospital. Watching the nurse struggle became too painful. “Greedy daughters take jewelry off dead father. Film at eleven.” In reality, we were simply clawing for any piece of Daddy that we might keep, anything that might outlast death.

“I’ll get that off for you later,” said the nurse.

Mother cradled his wedding band in her palm, and I slipped the class ring on the thumb of my right hand. It was too big, even for my pudgy fingers, but I wasn’t about to let go.

“Sometimes I like to pray with the family,” said the nurse. “Is that all right with you?”

Who knows how each of us prayed silently as the nurse spoke, her voice soft and clear and sure as she asked for the emotional healing of my family. Her short hair and wire-rimmed glasses gave off a certain air of efficiency, but it was not just about the job for this woman. It was about us, too, the ones left behind. The ones she could still help.

As for me, I thanked God for giving me such a fabulous father. And then I bawled like a baby.

 

A Dozen Roses: In Which a Middle-Aged Goober Defends Valentine’s Day

Yesterday I saw the Twitter and Facebook posts about how Valentine’s Day is silly, unnecessary, an invention of Hallmark. One man said he was proud he and his wife didn’t celebrate the occasion. A woman allowed as how she wouldn’t succumb to such meaningless societal pressure. As for me and my house, we say bring it on.

I was a young woman who made it to one prom in high school and maybe two fraternity formals in college; a twentysomething who was in more weddings than she can remember; a thirtysomething who spent many nights listening to girlfriends complain about their boyfriends as I sat home alone; and a middle-aged goober who married (yes, for the first time) at age 41.

When those roses arrive at the doorstep every February 14, I’m thrilled. Taking them out of the box and arranging them in the crystal vase my husband and I received for a wedding gift makes me happy. Going to a “fancy” restaurant for dinner and savoring every bite brings me great satisfaction. Coming home to sit on the couch, stare at my flowers, and know I am loved by Precious resembles nothing less than joy to me.

I was single for a long time, and I knew how to do it well. I had long gotten over any stigma about not having a husband. I could repair my own toilet, eat alone in restaurants, and attend parties solo without so much as a second thought. I worked hard to be okay by myself, really okay, not just lip-service “I don’t need a man” okay. The kind of okay that allowed me to pursue my dreams all by my lonesome. The kind of okay that let me know I did not need a partner to be whole, and that I could leave my mark on the world without a mate.

I went on blind dates, as few and far between as they were; did online dating; attended relationship seminars for singles; whined to God. Invited people over for dinner, took up extracurricular activities, went to churches rumored to have lots of “young people.” Whatever the relationship advisors suggested, I tried. And then I accepted the reality that not every woman will marry, and that most will survive just fine. I promise.

So when I did fall in love and walk down the aisle, it was a gift. An unexpected pleasure.

Do Precious and I need Valentine’s Day to show our affection? No. We try to do that every day in how we care for one another. Preparing a favorite meal, going to Walgreen’s for cold medicine when one of us is sick, noticing a sadness. But nor do we apologize for buying cards, ordering flowers, and sharing a decadent dessert on a certain day in February. Call it consumerist nonsense if you must; we call it love.