We had rain today. The cold north wind was biting, and the dreariness brought back memories.
I spent the last few years of my mother's life helping. Without going into details, life led me to her home, and I was faced with things most never experience.
Today reminded me of the day I wrote the following story, and how dealing with an aging parent is both rewarding, and deeply saddening. It's all fiction, but filled with details reminding me of things never to be forgotten.
Light rain pelted him as he ran from his car to the porch. The cold wind scattered leaves in the yard and sped the low clouds across the winter sky. He quietly opened the door and walked to the kitchen. The smells and warm air reminded him of the past. A faint hint of breakfast still lingered. For a moment, he thought of his childhood and preparing for school. He'd catch a ride with his father on such a day. He allowed the memories to pass. His father had been gone for decades.
Time stood still in the old house. Memories hung on the walls or sat in special places on shelves. The photographs stuck to the refrigerator were moments in time captured forever; the young children now adults and scattered by the winds of change. Their faded photographs were testimonies to special moments, or graduations.
His mother was at the kitchen table. She had placed her head down to take a short nap. He paused for a few moments then gently shook her arm. She awoke, stared for a moment then lit the room with her smile. "This is a surprise. I wasn't expecting you."
He raised his voice and asked: "How are you feeling?" It was a question that he asked out of habit. He knew the answer. Age had trapped her mind in a body that refused to allow her to rest. They had discussed this a few times. While she was ready, he knew her passing would be the start of his own. At that time, his own mortality would not be an occasional thought to push to the side for another day.
She answered: "I'm okay." paused for a moment and asked: "Would you like some coffee?"
"Sure. You stay there, I'll make a pot."
As he made the coffee, he thought how things had changed. At one time, his mother would always have a fresh pot. She never made coffee now. Coffee was for special occasions. He measured the grounds, placed the coffee in the machine and added the water. After making sure the switch was on, he sat across from his mother and asked if she had anything new to report.
"Nothing is new."
"Have you heard from anyone?" He always asked the same question. Visits were rare and she spent a lot of time alone watching television or reading the paper. She would dabble in her office, but she didn't have the ability to concentrate as in the past. Mental tasks were tedious, but she still persevered. She refused to be beaten by life.
"I heard from an old friend from high school. They had lost my phone number and found it again. They were checking to see if I was still alive." She laughed and added: "I told them it's not much of a life, but I'm still here."
He smiled, although the words broke his heart. He'd finally accepted that all that was left was the waiting. It made him sad to watch her fade. He knew she was ready to pass on, since the dignity of life was slowly disappearing. He felt a stab of anger. It all seemed so unfair. Everyone else in his life had passed suddenly; watching the slow event of her passage was excruciating. Her time left was like a dead limb on a tree; the amount of time before it fell was a mystery.
"Are you hungry?"
He hesitated, then answered: "A little. What do you have?"
"I have some leftover roast, rice and gravy. We can heat it and I'll make a salad"
"Let's have some coffee first. I'm enjoying the visit"
The coffee machine was gurgling and spitting the last of the boiled water. He rose and flipped the switch to off. It lasted longer if it wasn't kept on the hot plate. He knew she would have some more later, or tomorrow morning. If she didn't it would sit for a few days, until she poured it out. In the past, when she drank more coffee, he would smell the pot before he ever accepted any coffee. Sometime, it would be days old and stale. He wondered if that was why she stopped making her daily pot. She couldn't remember if it was fresh and hated the thought of wasting the coffee.
They sat, sipped their coffee and discussed politics. Neither was happy about current politics or the state of the economy. She was disappointed with the stock market, since her retirement income was supplemented by dividends. She was concerned she wouldn't have enough and drops in the market would cause her to worry.
She rose and opened the refrigerator. He responded by rising and offering "I'll help." Quickly looking at the shelves, he spotted the small roast covered with clear wrap. Pulling it from the refrigerator, he hunted for the rice and gravy. He opened and smelled the containers. It all smelled fresh, but he still asked: "When did you make this?"
"Last night. It's "cow butt", which brought a glint to her eye. "Cow butt" was the term his brother had used for rump roast. The story behind the term was one of her favorites and part of many conversations at family gatherings.
He removed lettuce from the hydrator and handed it to his mother. She had started slicing a small tomato that was on the counter. As she worked, he looked in the refrigerator for old containers. In the past, he would ask how old something was, which always brought the same answer: "It's still good." He didn't ask any longer. He would open the containers, smell the contents and throw things away when she wasn't looking. He knew she could barely smell and taste. She might take a chance, but he'd do everything he could to remove the opportunity.
After heating their servings in the microwave, they sat and visited, while they ate. He ate slowly, to match her pace. He relished the time and the taste reminded him of Sunday dinners, when the entire family would share a meal. There were few left now. Without grandchildren and their families, there were usually only two or three during a gathering. Large gatherings were few and would soon only be memories. She wasn't physically able to prepare a large meal, refused to allow anyone else to perform the task and was uncomfortable about others doing the same for her. She was tenaciously independent and determined to be so until her death.
They finished their meal and started clearing the table. He put the food back in the refrigerator, while she placed the dishes in the sink. He offered to help with the dishes, which she refused. She would wash them later; not while they were visiting.
He poured them both a cup of coffee and sat once again at the table. She asked about his family and his work. In the past, he would seek her advice on both and they would have have hours of discussion. She was a good sounding board for thoughts. Her experiences in life offered valuable information, but those days were gone. He answered: "Everyone is fine and work is good." He didn't want to burden her with any problems he might be having. She had enough to worry about, without adding his worries.
"I need to be going" he said as he rose from the table. "I need to wash my hands first."
He went to the bathroom and washed his hands. He left the bathroom and made his usual cursory tour of the house. He looked for anything that seemed out of place or showed signs of future problems. He ended up in the living room and paused to stare out the window. For a moment, the late afternoon sun broke through the heavy clouds. The wet limbs of the oak trees appeared as poured gold, which glistened as the wind moved the branches. The light soon faded and the dreary, deep grays of a late, rainy winter evening returned.
He returned to the kitchen and spoke: "If you need anything, you know how to find me. I always have my cell phone close; even at night."
"I know. Is there anything I can do for you?"
He knew those days were over. The only thing she could really do for him was to be careful and never forget he was there if she needed him. "Not right now. If there is, you know I'll ask"
She rose, he hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. "I'll love you, Mom" she responded: "I love you, too. You be careful and come when you can."
He carefully locked the door when he left. He knew he'd remember the last few moments forever if needed. They might be the last moments he ever spent with her, so every detail was important.
As he drove away, he glanced back towards the house. The porch light had come on and lit the wet walk in front of her house. He thought of how times had changed. Families were now scattered. While the Internet kept everyone close, it was a pale reminder of reality. Those short moments of communication didn't represent the myriad of moments known as life. He felt sadness for a moment, but quickly shifted his thoughts to work, home and the thousands of things that occupied his thoughts. His time would eventually come, but not now. There were too many things to do and not enough time for the tasks.
Turning on the radio brought a song from high school. He fondly remembered riding down the beach, the windows down and his entire life a long journey into the future. For a moment, time slipped away and he was young again.
In Case You've Wondered
My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.
If you're here for the stories, I started another blog: scratchingforchange.blogspot.com
One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.
I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.