Driving home from a day with Mom a horrid thought struck me. I slapped at the wheel. What kind of daughter forgets?
At noon, I had been standing in the corridor of Mom’s care home, flipping through my phone messages, waiting for Mom’s “release”. A caregiver was completing her duties in helping to get Mom “clean and pretty” before our day out.
Fall had yet to really blow in, despite the leaves fluttering across the sidewalk and earning my mother’s scorn every time we walked outside. Temperatures were going to hit the eighties that day. I wanted to break Mom out of her care home one more time.
Mom reappeared in the hallway. She wasn’t wearing what had lately been her usual smile, one where even the faintest of light was caught pooling in her faded hazel eyes. Instead, she appeared dazed.
“Oh, she’ll be all right,” another caregiver assured me. “Your mom’s been buzzing around all morning.”
And I had to agree. She would be OK. I knew the routine. Whenever Mom had endured a shower, she typically was tired afterwards. I planned a drive through Hamilton County’s Sharon Woods and a brief stint in the sun. What did it matter if she fell asleep in the car for the fifteen-minute drive?
Before leaving, I noted to Angela, one of the older caregivers on staff. “I’m taking her to Sharon Woods. Then we’ll probably get McDonald’s. So, one less mouth to feed for lunch.”
Angela and I had grown close. We cried and hugged whenever one of the residents passed from our purview into that of the Universe. We wept and laughed over the silly things that we both knew we would do when we too stopped at this station in our journey through the waning years.
“Aw, you’re so good,” Angela said, as she walked ahead of Mom and I, trudging down the hall, Mom stopping to check for dust on the chair rail. “I want a daughter like you when I’m old,” Angela called back to me.
“A daughter like you,” I whispered to remind myself our relationship had turned out OK between Mom and me, but hadn’t always been.
I was born in the middle of a few girls in our family, plus a brother in between. My mother had a hard enough time with the sheer number of children, let alone the number of girls she was raising.
I recall trying to do the right thing many, many times. But there weren’t other times that I went in the diabolically opposite direction. That rebellion was innate, a right of passage for every teenage girl I knew or have known.
I demeaned Mom’s choice to stay home, to sometimes cower in the face of an angry father. I wanted Mom to break out. To stop asking Dad for money. To travel on her own. In essence, I wanted to know she was free. Her freedom then I would equate later to mine.
Of course, I never really knew my mother. Had she really chosen freely? Back then I was of no sound mind or stable hormones to make that call.
My mother was a devout Catholic. I write that statement, and yet years later, I question that too. Was she? Did she just do what was expected of everyone at that time? Did I ask her, did I ask why?
Following college, I knew she wouldn’t approve of my marriage to man who had been divorced. Mom would want to make certain I was married in the eyes of the church, but I felt otherwise. I had been separated from the Catholic Church for sometime, and now with good reason.
Mom attempted to explain her position. Priests were more favorable towards annulment these days, she had claimed. But I refused to listen to her, or sit before a panel of judges and let them judge me, or my future husband. My husband, Devin, and I would have our own day of reckoning when he was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently succumbed to the disease.
As the years took me away from Mom, Devin brought me closer back to Mom, to my parents. Because we had moved out of state, we flew my parents to join us mostly in Oregon by then, or Cincinnati, or Seattle. When Devin passed away, I knew my mother would worry for me. She always worried, or loved, as I see it for what it is now. And regardless of what she thought of the technicality of marriage, she loved Devin like a son.
Now, as we traipsed down the hallway, I asked, “We’re OK, right Mom?” She stared in awe at the vase a fresh flowers now gone dry.
Mom was still foggy, despite the sun piercing our view. I led her down the sidewalk and into my car. We weren’t in the car two minutes when her head bobbed. She squeezed her eyes shut, blinded by the sun’s rays cutting through the car window.
So I drove. I drove with Angela’s words bouncing around like Mom’s head each time I went over a bump.
Mom would briefly wake, say, “Oh my God,” then fall back asleep.
Is that what good daughters do?
A good daughter would have just left Mom on one of the last day’s of October’s summer to sit and sleep in her room, with a little Frank softly crooning her to sleep.
A good daughter would not have taken her Italian mother through the McDonald’s drive-thru and convinced her that the French Fries were on par with tiramisu or meatballs.
A good daughter would not have driven around Sharon Woods twice, ignoring the one flaming orange pear tree because she was looking for a bench nearest the calm waters of the creek at the woods AND handicap accessible parking space. Then, force a mother out of her trance, entice her with French Fries and park her mother and her onto that bench, breathe a sigh a relief that only lasts as long as the thought, “We still have to do all of this in reverse in a little while?”
Time tumbled through like the driest of leaves. Mom woke several times when she heard the screeching voices of little children parading past us. She looked upon the children with a mixture of delight and, I noted, a little sadness. I did too.
I missed us, she as mother, me as daughter. I missed that time. I missed that time when she was grandmother to my itty bitty son. I missed that she could not witness the transformation of my beautiful bonus daughters. And I missed that she could no longer know Mark, who has truly been a blessing in my life, and more so than me, allows Mom to be who she is in her disease.
What I do, I do out of love, out of respect and honor. I do what I do out of a certain sense when Mom has left me, and Angela and I have had our good cry over her departure, I will have no regrets over this life we have woven together in Mom’s thinning years to keep her safe and warm and alive in her soul.
Mom slipped back into sleep, I nudged her awake. We slogged back to the car, me ahead of her, acting as a walker of sorts and cringing as she gripped my hands for her dear life. And hers was a dear life.
I performed my duties in reverse, belted her in the car, and drove back to Arden Courts. Mom and I processed through one door then the next. She steered me straight for the closest chair in one of the sunny sitting rooms.
I helped ease her down into the chair. “Mom, I’ll be right back. I’ll tell Angela you’re here.”
I left Mom seated, eyes closing as I spoke, and turned down her hallway to find Angela.
“Hey, Angela, I left Mom up in the sitting room,” I called to the caregiver unloading dishes.
“Did you have a good time?”
“We sure did, but she was a little sleepy. But gosh, the day was gorgeous.”
“I can’t wait to get outside,” Angela said, noting the clock.
“You’re gonna love it,” I said. “Have a great weekend.”
As I walked back up the hallway, I remembered another family was moving in that day. I hurried to move my car, parked in the circle closest to the front door, so others in line could also shorten the time their loved ones had to get from door to car.
I pushed a few levers to return the passenger seat to the proper position for the next rider and got into the driver’s seat. My mind was on texting my husband, asking him to buy apples at the market then I drove away.
I made a turn through the neighborhood I use often as a shortcut. The neighborhood consists of mostly 1950’s style bungalows, but the homes’ exteriors are kept in pristine condition. The abodes remind me of my Grandpa Januzzi’s home and I often thought, if my parents had moved to Cincinnati when my dad first “threatened”, this neighborhood would have been ideal.
I drove halfway home on the interstate, lost in thought about which apple cobbler recipe I would use, recalling how the last one with cornbread topping hadn’t been a success.
And that’s when I smacked my hands on the steering wheel.
“I forgot to say goodbye to Mom,” I revealed the empty sparkling water can and the guy driving an electric blue Hyundai in the next lane over.
“I never forget to say goodbye,” I said to myself, noting how hard it was to leave Mom because I always said goodbye two or three times before my actual departure. Because Mom holds on to me, or takes my cold hand and holds it to her hot cheek, or reaches for my warm hand and holds it in her cold fingers.
Four and a half years of leaving Mom, and I had never forgotten, until that day.
Suddenly, I started laughing, incredulous that I had walked right past the sunny room where Mom was sitting or probably had eased into slumber by then.
The Hyundai driver looked at me funny.
“Who forgets to say goodbye to their mom?” I wondered and shrugged my shoulders at the driver.
“A daughter like me,” I said, repeating Angela’s words.