Mom kept drifting off this morning, mid-sentence. She’d start to say something and close her eyes and be lost for a few minutes. Then she’d open those blues and look at me, picking up generally somewhere where she’d left off. She was cold. Really cold. An aide came in and held her hand. “Oh, you’re so cold!” and he brought her a flannel blanket warmed in the dryer, tucked her into it, right up to her chin, and covered her again with her fidget blanket. He told her she needs some good, stiff alcohol to get her circulation going, and she smiled at him, a little confused, but full of warmth.
“Evonne, how’s your dad? What does he do with his days?” She is speaking slowly and softly, her voice full of tenderness.
“He’s alright, Mom. He’s just puttering around.” I don’t know what she wants to hear, so I add, “He misses you.”
She doesn’t respond and I see her eyes are closed. And then, even quieter, “Why isn’t he here with me?”
“He isn’t as sick as you, Mom. He’s not allowed to live here.”
She says nothing to that, but a little while later, “It’s taken me a long time to get used to this place. A long time.”
“Yes. It’s been three months. This is your place now, your apartment. It’s small, a two room apartment, but it’s yours.” She looks at me, eyes full of kindness and sadness, like she knows this is a ruse, but she says nothing.
“Evonne, sometimes I daydream…..”
I wait and she didn’t continue so, “What are you dreaming about, Mom?”
“I wonder what will be the first thing I’ll say to my mom when I meet her again? Or my grandmother? They were my two favourite people.”
I wait. And then, “What did you decide?”
“About what to say to your mom when you meet her in heaven.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m trying to decide how to start again.”
And she drifts off, eyes closed, starting up again in a few minutes. “My grandmother was the only one who could control my dad.” Long, long pause. “He respected her. I don’t know how he did it, to control everyone around him like he did.”
I was colouring this whole time, just choosing one colour after the other, after another. The sun was bright in the window, and the room was cheerful – tidy and clean. Decorated with her things. It is very quiet down at her end of the hallway, and Kitkit the cat comes in. At one point she looks up at her wall and says, “I’m so glad I got all those pictures taken of you kids when you were little.” And she goes through them, one by one, pointing, to talk about her children.
“It was important to me to not spoil my children. My father was so badly spoiled. He got absolutely anything he wanted when he was young, and look how miserable he was when he was old.” She is talking slowly. “I didn’t want that for my children.” She’s talking so softly, and so gently, and with so much care.
Later, she asks, “Evonne, do you have any students you think you’ll remember after you’re done teaching?”
I think back to my week; I’ve been on the edge of tears for a few days now. I’m struggling to not cry – I’ve been a crying wreck since B. told me she was in the hospital for grievous reasons and D. told me he’s dropping out and C. told me she’s trying hard so her boyfriend has a chance in life and M. is asking how he can make up marks since his psych put him on these anxiety drugs that put him to sleep and P. has his head bandaged because his uncle beat him up …. And I’m just full of sorrowful stories. “Mom, I don’t know. I have a horrible memory. I hope I remember all of them, but I’m afraid I’ll just forget.” I start to cry. She watches, not bothered by my tears.
“Evonne, what you need to know is that a teacher is a huge influence on their students. Where did I read that story? I think it was Bruce.” She pauses and closes her eyes. I think she’s asleep and then, “It might be years later, Evonne. You don’t know. It was the saddest story.” And she’s drifted away again.
Then, “I have the best children, Evonne, don’t I?”
“You do, Mom. We’re a pretty great lot.” She smiles, tired, and nods off.
The whole morning was full of peace. Quiet, and gentle, and full of yearning to go to her next home. I can’t help but think that we need to bury her with a blanket, her fidget blanket, something to keep her warm. I hug her goodbye and instead of clinging and holding tight and pulling close, like she always does, she hugs for a moment and lets go, smiles, and closes her eyes.
I go back to Dad’s to drop off the parking pass. He pulls me in the house. “How was your mom?”
I tell him about her nodding off and his eyes go all warm and soft and he says, as quiet and gentle as a summer cloud, “Well, that’s not so bad, is it? If she just drifts off?”
“No, Dad. It’s okay.”
Then he’s wondering what to buy her for Christmas. “She’s cold, Dad. We should buy her warm fleecy clothes.”
He tells me he’ll need my help with that and then he asks what we’re doing for Christmas; and how will he know what to buy everyone?
“I don’t think we’re exchanging gifts for Christmas, Dad. I think we’re just getting together for a good meal and some games. Maybe just some things for the littlest ones.”
He’s relieved and says, “Good. We’ve got too much stuff as it is.” He’s quiet too, with a softness all over him. He beckons me into his living room and we’re standing in front of his giant tv. He points to the two corners of the space above it and says, “All I want for Christmas is a picture of your mom. Just your mom.” He points to the upper right. And then, pointing up to the left, he adds, “And one of me, just me, right there.” He looks from the left to the right and says, “Just the two of us.”
“Sure, Dad. Do you want us to take new pictures, or would you like some other ones?”
He doesn’t know, so I say, “We’ll look at some pictures tomorrow night over supper. You can choose then, okay?” And he’s good with that.
“Let’s get simple black frames for them, like the frames you got for your mom’s room. Just simple.” His eyes are full of meaning and his gaze at me is steady.
I agree, that would be best. And he hugs me.
And I leave, back to my own house, where I am fidgety and nervous, antsy. I can’t settle. My thoughts jitter all over the morning and back again. I want to just sleep but I can’t. I have laundry to do, the plants need watering, and Hubby’s Woodturning Guild is having their Christmas party tonight.