It’s hard to remember what it was like. The photos mostly portray the good times with family, when we were laughing, being together. Sometimes we would laugh at mom because she didn’t want her photo taken and she would say, More? When are we going to be finished? because the flash hurt her eyes. But I’m so glad I insisted.
Earlier, of course, I wasn’t there to take the photo. I wonder who the photographer was.
The photos not only portray happy times, but they remind me what was also true, the aging, especially in the last couple of years. It’s easy to forget because now I see a younger woman when I think of her.
But I have to remind myself that mom was so tired, so frail, so determined not to need more care that it made it harder to care for her.
I forget how humiliated she was recently by the the bathroom accidents. That seemed to be the worst of all the indignities she had to face.
I forget about the TIAs, the mini-strokes, that left her speechless and the caregivers flummoxed, and her throwing her hearing aides against the mirror. I used to take her to the hospital and they would do tests and then next morning she would be fine or sent to rehab. I learned just to keep her at home and she would come out of it.
I forget (as she did) about the falls that sent her to the hospital in the night. The eight-inch tear down her arm that left the bathroom looking like “there was a double-murder” according to the then manager. Other cuts and tears needed home health nurses to do wound care for weeks and weeks.
I forget about the time the caregiver walked in and found her on the floor, her head wedged between an end table, unconcious. I forget about the time she fell and was like a beached turtle until someone found her.
I forget about the lymphoma surgeries and her saying then, six years ago, that she didn’t want radiation because she was an old woman and ready to go. But then she had radiation and lost 15 pounds and then fell and broke her tailbone and ended up back in the hospital and spent three weeks in respite care telling us she wanted to die. That’s when she pleaded with me not to grieve for her when she was gone.
I forget about all the times I hired caregivers and she would try to fire them, but eventually gave in. We settled on a minimum, but for a couple of years they stayed into the night because of our fear that she would fall and be left alone.
After we moved her a year and a half ago, she got better, which seems impossible. But recently she began to fall again. She started training the new managers to pick her up, rather than to call the EMTs and make her wait on the floor.
I forget how frustrating it was to have her call me and ask a question and then not be able to hear the answer. She was barely able to hear my brother and couldn’t hear my sister-in-law at all (higher ranges were hard), except for the last conversation with him she heard well, convincing him she was going to live to 103. When sitting next to her on her sofa I would have to face her and yell for her to hear me. But then other times I could talk from across the room.
I forget that she couldn’t hear music, one of her great loves.
I forget how difficult it was for her to simply get through her daily routine. In our last conversation she said, “You just don’t understand what it is to be this age.” I think I said, “You don’t understand what it’s like to care for someone your age,” a comment I will regret. But I was trying to convince her that she needed more care, that I was worried she would fall in the night and be alone. But then she would remind me that she had her link to life button, a tool I had to coerce her to wear when she first began to fall. “Promise me, you won’t worry,” she would say. And I replied with an internal HA!
I forget, which makes it more painful, so I must remember.
Yesterday I had a continuation of a vision I had several months ago. In the earlier vision I saw my dad greeting my mother. He was young and handsome, the way he’ll always stay. My mother, though, was now young and beautiful, in a filmy gown. Her face was turned away from me, her hair cut in the 20s style. My dad was reaching out his hand to her. She put her hand in his.
In the new vision, she turns and they both look at me. It’s as if they wave and mom says, Martha, we’re going now. You go live your life and be happy. You’ve worked hard. Now live your best life. They are busy moving on to a new life, as if he had been waiting for her. It was as if she was saying, Our journey is complete, sweetie. Now move on.
I know I must. Continuing to grieve deeply for a very old woman who was ready to go seems almost sacrilegious. But I won’t, as one person reminded me, apologize for my tears. I will miss her. But in the missing, I will try to remember, not just the good times, but the hard times, so I will more easily let her go.