Ready, Aim, Believe!
I waved and smiled.
She fumbled with the lock, opened the door. The house was dark, blinds tight shut. “What are you doing here,” she barked, and shuffled in the opposite direction. I forced my smile to stay in place.
“Just missed you, that’s all,” I lied. “Wanted to spend some time with you, Mom.” I lugged two suitcases over the threshold, into the house, down the hallway, and left them in the bedroom I’d be staying in. The bedroom she’d deserted long ago, opting for a smaller one with a single bed. Safer, she’d said.
My eyes grazed the king-size bed with its enormous headboard, matching dresser and armoire, hand-picked by my parents thirty years ago. My dad had been proud, and rightfully so. For the last of seven children born to a hardscrabble depression-era farming family, he’d done well for himself. He had waved his hand expansively toward the bed, mumbling the price of the bedroom set in wonder as if he couldn’t quite believe he’d spent that much money.
The same bed in which he’d spent much of his time after multiple strokes ten years later; the same bed in which my mother had cried hard tears after he’d died, the same bed I would sleep in now.
I swept away the cobwebs in my mind with a quick shake of my head. I had business to tend to.
The call had arrived like a dreaded case of chicken pox, or policemen standing on my front steps at three a.m. Sorry, the voice had said, not good news. Your mom’s had a slight wrestling match with the car and no one knows where she’s gone. She’s not listening to us, and she’s certainly not listening to her doctor. You’d better come.
So I did. My mother was unprepared, obviously; and so was I.
The recent test results had thrown us all – her friends, family, my brother and I – for a loop. What do we do now, we moaned to one another. Surely she isn’t as bad as all that. We’ll just wait and see, we’d said, the numbness of denial taking hold. Dementia isn’t a death sentence after all, it’s not like cancer – or a stroke – or omigod a heart attack.
Then the call came. Then another, a stern voice, demanding twenty-four hour care or else. We opted out of ‘or else’ and sprang into action.
At least we weren’t numb anymore.
So there we were, my mother and I; she, cranky and suspicious; me, tentative and watchful. She relaxed after forty-five minutes, showing me this and that, her sentences jumbled, her mind deciding to accept my presence at face value. My heart thumped in sad, slow beats as I listened to what my ears had refused to hear, my brain had refused to accept. Her garbled verbal misfires kept hammering, one after the other, until tears trickled down my cheeks. I quickly turned away, lest she suspect the real reason for my visit.
Two days until my brother arrived. Two entire days with Mom, knowing we were asking her to leave the home she loved, knowing there were hundreds of details to consider, knowing she could not be told the truth. Not yet. Two days and we’d descend upon her together, sorrow on our faces and love in our hearts. We were prepared for a battle, for she would not go softly, we thought.
I prayed very hard during those two days.
My brother’s arrival was much the same as mine – a light knock on the door, suitcase in hand, a puzzled expression on Mom’s face. She barked, “What are you doing here?” I crept away, out of the line of fire, relieved that my brother got the same unwelcome as I had. His arrival sparked furious questions.
“What are you both doing here?” Her eyes, fearful and anxious, darted from him to me. “What is going on?”
Anticipating a quandary, I’d prepared a meal, figuring it’s always better to get bad news on a full belly, no matter what. I signaled my brother with my eyes, he nodded and put his suitcases in the upstairs bedroom. My mother sighed and muttered and shuffled down the hall, shoulders hunched protectively.
“Smells good,” my brother intoned, when he returned.
“Thought a meal would do us good before we dive in.” His eyes canted right to the stove, then left back to mine. He nodded.
“That’ll be good. I haven’t eaten all day.”
I sighed happily. I’d made the right decision. We enjoyed lively conversation and gentle jokes. But after dinner, her pleasant demeanor fled. Her mind may have been muddled but she still recognized a plot when one unfolded right before her frosty blue eyes. She walked into the den, turned, assumed a militant stance, and jabbed a finger at us.
“This is not going to happen. If you think I’m leaving my house, I’ll sue you! I will!” She then proceeded to list other, less savory actions she would take if we were there for the reason she thought we were.
And we were.
My brother and I were stunned. We looked at each other over her 5’2″ frame. Maybe she was more determined than we’d thought? We asked her to sit and listen to us. My brother took the chair beside hers, the mauve-and-magenta-and-mustard plaid one. I squatted beside her on the floor. Her face twisted in anguish. Her arms wrapped around her thin chest.
My brother, bless him, got the ball rolling. I was grateful because I couldn’t open my mouth without sobbing. Between the both of us, we managed to convey our love, concern for her safety; to describe the lovely facility to which she would move, close to my brother’s home. We told her it was not possible for her to drive anymore, and the reasons for it. My mother cried. My brother and I cried. We hugged. Then we cried some more. Then we hugged some more.
After an exhausting forty-five minutes of explanation, assurances and promises that my brother and I did not feel imposed upon, she relented.
Then, Mom did something completely unexpected. This tiny, feisty, defiant, fiercely independent, eighty-year-old woman got up and started packing.
My brother and I smiled at each other. The doctor had said her condition was irreversible.
But watching her that night, I’m not so sure. I’m a believer in miracles. And for me, her reaction to our devastating news was nothing less than a miracle. Who knows? Maybe she will get better.
Way to go, God. Thanks for stepping in. And Mom, I’ve never been prouder of you.