So this is Fifty
The dryer spun and clicked in a rhythmic song down the hall. I watched my reflection in the mirror as I brushed my teeth. It’s fascinating where your mind wanders when you do mundane tasks. On this morning my thoughts meandered from the grocery list to, Moms laundry to what todays visit would deliver.
JOE: Just about ready sweetheart?
Rinsing my tooth brush, I tapped it on the edge of the sink and leaned into the make-up mirror to assess the need for make-up.
ME: Just a minute, Mom’s clothes are almost done …
I brushed a few sweeps of mascara across my lashes, shrugged, and thought ‘eh, its good enough’
I opened the dryer and started folding Mom’s clothes, the repetition of shaking the clothes out and folding them opened the door for that wandering mind again. I strolled down memory lane this time to Mom’s 50thbirthday. It was a great day, filled with family and friends, gathering on the back deck of Joe’s childhood home. I smiled to myself as I remembered her wearing a big floppy hat, and the warmth of her hug as she made her way around thanking us for her day. Her eyes danced with excitement, her smile was wide, her laugh was sincere and genuine. Just as quickly as the fond memory filled my heart with joy my brain flipped to an overwhelming feeling of the blues. Today my family and a few friends were expected to gather for my 50th birthday party at the house, it would be far too much for Mom to handle. I selfishly wanted her back and I wanted her smile and laugh, I wanted to hear her tell me I was just entering the best years of my life and that 50 was nifty, although she wouldn’t say nifty she’d use her own poetic way of saying this.
JOE: Hey!? You ready yet?
I closed the dryer door, picked up the canvas bag and headed down the stairs.
ME: Yep! Got your grocery list?
JOE: All set …
During the drive to Regency I conjured up in my head a great visit, one filled with laughter, a little bit of joking and fun.
We arrived as the rain began. I thought to myself, these were always mom’s favorite kind of day, we’ll talk about that today ….
As we passed the dining hall we saw Mom eating her breakfast, as Joe punched the access code into the ward, I watch mom. She was attempting to eat her eggs with her knife, she dropped the knife and blew her nose in her bib.
ME: Honey? Her eyes look very red.
JOE: (looking back through the window) Hmmm…
Joe passed through the door and held it while I passed through myself
JOE: I’m going to drop her clothes in her room
I nodded and turned to enter the dining hall. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for a brief moment. I willed good energy to fill my core and a smile to cross my face.
ME: Well, Good Morning Ladies!
I passed the first table waving to Mary, the only resident I knew at the table of four. I received two blank stares and two smiles and greeting. I continued towards Mom’s table, I’m not at all quite about my morning greeting at Mary’s table, still Mom doesn’t even turn her head or recognize the voice. I place my hand on her shoulder, she’s hunched over looking at her breakfast plate, as I gently rub her shoulder she slowly turns her head towards me.
ME: Good Morning Beautiful …
ME: Good Morning, how are you today?
Mom squints at me, I realize she has no idea who I am. This look of confusion is only compounded by her red swollen eyes, clearly, she’s having a minor reaction to something.
ME: I missed you Mom I was away for a few days.
I lean in and kiss her forehead, she doesn’t acknowledge the ‘love’ she looks down at her plate and picks up her toast.
JOE: Hi Mom!
JOE: How are ya?
Mom looks at Joe and the corner of her mouth turns up in a small smile. She picks up her fork and tries to cut her toast in half. I watch her for a moment work at the toast, working the fork back and forth as the toast slides around the plate.
ME: Can I give you a hand with that?
MIL: yea ….
ME: Let me see that ….
I cut the toast and we watch as she finishes her breakfast. I wonder while she eats if she even realizes we are there, I attempt small talk and she hardly acknowledges that she hears us.
JOE: You done there Mom?
MIL: yea …. I guess so …
ME: Would you like to go to your room?
MIL: (sigh) yea … that … I … yea
Mom struggles to pull herself out of the chair, she makes her way through the dining room hunched over, pushing her walker and sighing heavily. At the doorway of the dining hall she stops. Joe gently places his hands on her shoulders turning her slightly to the right
JOE: This way Mom …
MIL: oh … (she sighs and takes a few steps) … do I gotta … where? … I go?
ME: Hmm? What’s that Mom?
MIL: I … (stopping and craning her neck up towards me) … do I need to go? … where?
ME: You don’t need to go anywhere today.
Joe is a few steps ahead of her almost to her room as Mom stops again looking into another resident’s room.
JOE: this way Mom …
I now place my hands on her shoulders and guide her gently in the right direction. She enters the room as Joe checks with the nurse at the desk about Moms rash. Mom makes her way to her bed and stands in front of it looking confused.
ME: would you like to get cozy?
ME: Cozy … here I’ll turn down the bed
Mom looks at me like I am a foreign character, her shoulders are hunched, and her neck is craned to see me. I think to myself she resembles the tortoise from my childhood Saturday morning cartoon the tortoise and the hare. Her actions are so slow, her neck seems like its dropped farther into her chest as her shoulders rise to create what almost resembles a ‘shell’.
ME: here ya go, (patting the bed) let’s get you cozy
ME: Cozy … you can take a siesta! (I point out the window) It’s starting to rain again, your favorite kind of day.
Mom lays back in bed and closes her eyes. Her eyebrows knit and relax, knit and relax again. I watch her, selfishly I’m disappointed today, a wave of heartache flows over me. I was looking for a gift today. I wanted to watch her face look surprised when I said I was now 50. I wanted so badly to hear her laugh at me and tell me I was old. I wanted to tell her the story of HER 50thbirthday party, I wanted to hug her tight remember her … I pushed the stinging sensation starting behind my eyes away. I looked up at Joe, he is intently watching his mom.
ME: Nurse going to stop in?
JOE: Yea, then we can go …
ME: No, it’s fine we can stay longer…
JOE: She’s just going to sleep …
ME: Rest easy Ma, let the sandman come …
The nurse stops in, she and Joe have a brief conversation while I sit on the bed watching mom sleep, her face isn’t relaxed today, I wonder what is passing through her mind to cause her face to contort and relax.
Joe puts his hand on my shoulder, l lay mine over his.
Joe leans in and kisses Mom’s forehead.
ME: Sleep well Mom
I stroke her hair back and kiss her forehead, my gesture of love is rewarded by a weak smile … my little gift today.
As we walk down the hall I look up to Joe
ME: You ok?
Joe: Yea … I’m fine
He smiles warmly, I know he’s got a brave smile for me because he’s not going to allow anything to ruin the birthday celebration for me today.
JOE: You good?
ME: Yea … I think I should use the little girl’s room before we go.
I quickly grab the key for the bathroom off the counter, turn my back on Joe and scoot towards the bathroom. As my hand pushes the door handle lever down the lump in the back of my throat cracks wide open. I stand at the sink for a moment and let the tears flow. I splash some cold water on my face and I’m thankful that I decided to go with ‘eh, its good enough’ make-up routine this morning.
As I left the bathroom, Joe grabbed the key for access to the men’s room from my hand. Giving me an extra few minutes to compose myself.
I entered the lobby and dug deep inside me for that smile and positive energy. I greeted a resident and guest with small talk about the weather as I waited for Joe, the distraction quickly reset me, and I was so thankful for the reboot.
ME: Yep! I smile widely
He returns the smile and kisses my forehead. As we pass through the sliding doors he places his hand on the small of my back asking if I wanted to grab a quick bite to eat before we hit the store. I think to myself this is how we will survive this journey … compartmentalize. For the rest of this day of celebration, we will focus on happiness and love, and I will remember Mom’s 50th, her in that hat, her smile and her laugh …