Monday, November 14, 2011

I'm Just Here


If you recall earlier posts, I do not live near Mother. My home is more than two hours from her home so I call daily and ask, “How are you today?” Lately, the answer is “I’m just here,” and the tone resigned.

Mother dreamed of travel. She was always on the go, locally more often than globally, but globally when she could. That is exactly what she hoped to resume once Dad overcame cancer in death or through a long series of surgeries and radiation, but after Dad died, Mother did not travel.

First, she was exhausted. She had cared for Dad at home for nearly two years. Only in the last weeks did hospice intervene, and then over Dad’s objections. He wanted not only to die at home, but also in Mother’s hands—her hands alone. She had struggled to help him up when he fell, cleaned him when he fouled himself, prepared light meals growing ever lighter to sustain him, and cleaned house while he slept.

I went to see them every other weekend, sometimes every weekend, and arranged for someone to take my place at work when Dad was hospitalized or undergoing another surgery. I cannot imagine how I managed work, a home, marriage, and family during all that time while packing, unpacking, and driving, driving, driving more than five hours on the weekends. But my load was much lighter after all. Mother was confined with sickness and death in the guise of the husband she loved for sixty-one years.

A second reason that Mother did not travel right away is that she has always set goals for herself, and one she determined to fulfill before gadding about was to take back her home. She wanted to prove to herself that she could manage the financial demands she had never faced, oversee necessary repairs and renovations, and rest comfortably, unafraid, alone at home.

She had a window replaced, grew overzealous about changing the oil in two cars, and drove to her banks to talk about interest rates. Dad, having been a banker, told her that doing business face-to-face returned better yields, but neither Mother nor Dad was prepared for the changes in banking. Dividends do not go to the CD-holder. The real money is in fees, great whopping penalties, and charges for the privilege of banking; thus, Mother’s tireless efforts brought no reward.

In addition, she could not balance her checkbook. She had never had to do so until Dad was in his final months, but even then, she could not remember to write down check numbers and amounts when she paid bills so her balance was always different from the bank’s. Worse, she could not match a bank statement to her actual register. That’s when she began to ask me for help—just to unravel the mysteries and balance the accounts, then to write checks, and finally, to handle her money.

By then, Mother had lost the momentum to travel. Occasionally, she could not find her way to the hairdresser she had visited every other week for nearly twenty years. Going to the dentist became impossible. She only drove there twice a year and in between, she forgot what roads to travel. She stopped going to church for reasons unspoken, preferring to stay at home and participate in a service on television. She forgot about medical appointments and tried not to go to urban areas during rush hour—or so she said.

Still, as I mentioned earlier in this post, Mother has always set goals and rarely abandons them. Travel was a goal she intended to meet so one day, she set off to return to a town in a neighboring state where she and Dad lived for sixteen years. I had offered to take her, and I had asked her not to go, but one day, she went, proving one of her foremost character traits: resolve, also known as stubbornness.

I waited for telephone calls that never came until Mother returned called to gloat. The truth eked out little by little though. Everything had changed. Landmarks were gone. Roads were busier and wider. Towns had grown into cities. She stopped to ask for directions over and over again. Fortunately, by the Grace of all that is divine, she met kind people, none of whom took advantage of her age and confusion. They led her to her friends, and they led her home.

Now Mother is just here when I call. Both of us are sorry that she is just here. Both of us wish it could be different. But that time has flown.