She asked for her chair to be brought over and when I stopped by, there she sat with a simple smile and knitting with old hands. I said hi and she said hi. I heard her voice, the one that answered her machine at her house. “This is mom’s place, please leave a message.” She always answered with her recorded self before she picked up with her real self. Her original intention was most likely to avoid sales calls but I really think she wanted to hear her children’s voices call out to her through the machine. She had called out to them for decades…
A couple of my sisters took on the duty of care for her months and months back. They would stop in to check on her and take her on errands and make sure she was taking care of herself. She could no longer drive herself so she was home bound with her coffee and Wheel of Fortune and her puzzles and novels and a tumbler. Then the tears came with the confusion. Ellen came to find her shuffling bills and envelopes and pens like a carnie with a shell game. But it was no game to my mother. This was loss of control and distress had fallen on her. All those years of pulling down the walnut desk top right outside the kitchen to rob “Peter to pay Paul” were drifting away. Her determination to stay on top of things was fading fast…now she was underneath the toppling things, weighed down with frustration. It was determined shortly after that it would be best if she stayed with my sister Ellen and her husband Jack.
I have gone to visit a few times since to find her in “her spot”. Her own easy chair in a corner of the living room she sat with an electric blanket draped to her armpits. The first time I walked in she was knitting yet another Christmas stocking. It was for another spouse-to-be. These were produced almost as often as 2 dollar bills fell from birthday cards. Hand knit Christmas stockings and 2 dollar bills were “Mom” pillars that held up our family as secret codes that we were in.
I think it was my third visit in which a realization sunk in. It was when my sister pulled me into the kitchen to tell me about Wheel of Fortune. I wondered if Vanna White had developed bursitis in her shoulder and could no longer turn the letters. It wasn’t that. Ellen told me that mom hadn’t seen “Wheel” in a week…at least that’s what mom said. The fact was that she watched it religiously every night and yet a few minutes earlier she told us she really missed watching her show. Her short term memory was losing more ground. My memory was short term too or denial ridden.
I was reminded of a conversation I had with my sister Barb once about the effects of Alzheimers. We pondered the thought that if all memory was erased by disease, would our friend or loved one still be, in essence, their essential self? I believe we settled on “yes”. We reasoned until the spirit of a person is separated from their earthly housing, Alzheimers, albeit one great thief of mind would not snatch the person within. I believe that we are spirit, soul, and body…in that order.
So, as I stood with Ellen in her kitchen thinking about Wheel of Fortune, I wondered if my mother spun the wheel and it stopped on bankrupt. I think not, considering all the phone calls, visits, cards and the pictures Zoe brought. Yet the short conversations, like the credits at the end of “Wheel” fall into the recycle bin.
There is lots of talk in recent years of living in the “now” moments. It is in the context of New Age thought and yet there is truth in it to be received. You know, “fret not thyself for tomorrow, for you don’t know what a day will bring forth”. Memory can indeed be both a blessing and a curse depending. For now, my mother has moments, like throwing open a sash to let bad air out or fresh air in. Whether or not she is able to place these windows within the context of the house of her long term memory I know not.
It had me thinking. Did she catch my last three visits? Did my “catching her up” on my life really matter? Ellen probably served her her first cup of coffee several times each morning for the past few weeks. So I imagine Ellen’s answer short and to the point…”No.” Yet those moments mattered at the moment they occurred. They mattered to my mom and they mattered to me at that particular moment. What is life anyway but a bunch of moments pasted together? Whether we remember them in particular or not they are recorded in our finite memory, filed in some newly formed crease in our brain. The Bible talks about how, one day, every idle word, our very lives will be played back like God has a DVR running constantly. So, all these pasted moments matter to the One who is watching us. Thank God that “God is love” amongst other attributes.
I thought of the guilt-lint stuck in my pockets, in particular my sins against my mom. Those attitudes and actions of the past where I knew if she knew it would break her heart. Like Jesus, she could take my confessions and let them run like blood from a sacrifice and then…she would remember them no more. At this time, all my siblings could come to “her” chair and kneel and confess knowing that a moment of release and hurt from my mother’s perspective would slide off her memory. As far as the east is from the west our sins against our mother would be flung. She would bear them for just a moment. I imagine all my brothers and sisters walking the isle at St Augustine’s to the confessional only to hear our mother’s voice on the other side of the curtain. Yet it was a bilateral confessing our sins to one another. My mom always said she did the best she could but she wasn’t perfect either.
Don’t misunderstand me. My mom is neither Jesus nor Catholic. She is simply a blessing God gave me. I only have one of her and whether she is able to remember our moments or not I still cherish them. Some moments she is like Jesus to me. I can already see my brothers and sisters nodding in agreement.