Driving home from a day with Mom, a horrid thought struck me. I slapped at the wheel. What kind of daughter forgets?
Earlier in the day, I had been standing in the corridor of Mom’s care home, flipping through phone messages and waiting for Mom’s “release”. Angela, one of the older caregivers, completed her duty to get Mom “clean and pretty” before our day out.
Fall had yet to blow in, despite leaves fluttering across the sidewalk and earning my mother’s scorn for their clutter. Temperatures were going to hover near the eighties. I wanted to break Mom out of her care home before winter blanketed Ohio.
Mom reappeared in the hallway. She wasn’t wearing what had lately been her usual smile, when even the faintest of light was caught pooling in her faded hazel eyes. Instead, her eyes flutter opened and closed.
“Oh, she’ll be all right,” a different caregiver assured me. “Your mom’s been buzzing around all morning.”
And I agreed. I knew the routine. Whenever Mom endured a shower, she fell asleep 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 spoke to Angela. “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 a resident passed from our purview into that of the Universe. We wept and laughed over the silly things we too would do when we stopped at this station of forgetting in the waning years.
“Aw, you’re so good.” Angela trudged ahead of Mom and me, while Mom slid her fingers along the chair rail to check for dust. “I want a daughter like you when I’m old,” she called back.
“A daughter like you,” I whispered. My relationship with Mom had turned out OK, 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 corralling five children, let alone keeping tabs on four girls.
I tried to do the right thing many, many times. But other times, I went in the diabolically opposite direction. Rebellion was innate, a right of passage for every teenage girl I knew or had known.
I demeaned Mom’s choice to stay home and sometimes cower in the face of her angry husband. I wanted Mom to break out. To stop asking Dad for money. To explore on her own. In essence, I wanted her to be free. Her freedom I would equate later to mine.
Of course, I never really knew my mother. Had she chosen freely? In my teen years, I was of no sound mind or stable hormones to make that call.
My mother was a devout Catholic. I wrote that statement yet, years later, I questioned that assertion. Was she? Did she just do what was expected at that time? Did I ask her, did I ask why?
Following college, I planned to marry a man who had been divorced. Mom wanted to make certain I was married in the eyes of the church through an annulment, but I felt otherwise. I had been separated from the Catholic Church for sometime, and now with good reason.
Mom explained her position. Priests had grown more favorably towards annulment, she had claimed. But I refused to listen, or sit before a panel of priests and allow them to judge me or my future husband. My husband, Devin, and I had 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, my mother worried for me. She always worried, or loved, as I see now. And regardless of the technicality of our marriage, she loved Devin like a son.
Now, we traipsed down the hallway. “We’re OK, right Mom?”
She stared in awe at the vase a fresh flowers now gone dry.
Mom’s disposition 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 steered over a bump.
Mom woke briefly and muttered, “Oh my God.” Then she fell back asleep.
Is that what good daughters do?
A good daughter would have left Mom on one of the last day’s of October’s summer to sit and sleep in her room, with a little Frank Sinatra softly crooning her to sleep.
A good daughter would not have taken her Italian mother through the McDonald’s drive-thru and convinced her 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 AND a handicap accessible parking space. Then, force a mother out of her trance by enticing her with French Fries, park her mother on that bench, and breathe a sigh a relief that only lasted as long as the thought, We still have to do all of this in reverse.”
Time tumbled through like the driest of leaves. Mom woke several times when she heard the screeching voices of little children parading past. She gazed 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 when she was grandmother to my itty bitty son. I missed that she would not witness the transformation of my beautiful bonus daughters. And I missed she no longer knew my new husband, Mark, who, more so than me, allowed Mom to be who was is in her disease.
Mom slipped back into sleep. I nudged her awake. We slogged back to the car. I acted as her walker, cringing as she gripped my hands for dear life. And hers was a dear life.
When we arrived at her care home, Mom steered me straight for the closest chair in one of the sunny sitting rooms.
I eased her down into the cushions. “Mom, I’ll be right back. I’ll tell Angela you’re here.”
Mom’s eyes closed as I spoke, and I turned down her hallway to find Angela.
Angela was unloading dishes. “Hey, Angela, I left Mom up in the sitting room.”
“Did you have a good time?”she asked in her jovial manner.
“We sure did, but she was a little sleepy. But gosh, the day was gorgeous.”
She looked up at the clock. “I can’t wait to get outside.”
“You’re gonna love it. Have a great weekend.”
I gave her a one-armed hug and walked back up the hallway. Another family was moving in that day. I hurried to move my car so others could shorten the distance their loved ones had to travel from door to car.
As I sat in the driver’s seat, my mind was on buying apples. I asked my husband to get a few from the market and began my trek through the neighborhood shortcut. The neighborhood consisted of 1950’s style bungalows, but the homes’ exteriors were kept in pristine condition. The abodes reminded me of my Grandpa Januzzi’s home. 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 to use. 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 to the empty sparkling water can and the guy driving an electric blue Hyundai in the next lane over.
“I never forget.” In fact, I always said goodbye two or three times before my actual departure as Mom held on to me, or took my cold hand and held it to her hot cheek, or reached for my warm hand with her cold fingers.
Four and a half years of leaving Mom. I had never forgotten until that day.
Suddenly, I laughed. I had walked right past the sunny room where Mom was seated and had probably eased into slumber.
The Hyundai driver kept glancing my way.
“Who forgets to say goodbye to their mom?” I shrugged my shoulders at the driver.
“A daughter like me,” I said, repeating Angela’s words.
Oh, but you do the best you can do to be a good daughter, and it’s pretty darned great!
Each day that you have with your mom is another day to say goodbye. I miss my mom over the last 18 years. She left me so quickly, I never said goodbye. Like you, my mom missed so much including the grandchildren growing up and meeting my Mark… I’m hopeful that she’s here and knows.
I’m sure she knows. At least that’s what I will carry with me….
Annettte – you just have to laugh to accompany a good cry on this journey with your mom. I’ve been there so many times. Tho mom is now gone (July 2), I miss her very much. “You are my favorite hello and my hardest goodbye” was a sign that was near her room, and that is so true. Your time with your Mom is a gift back to yourself, and her too.
And you’re right, time with Mom is a gift back to me as well!