My mother couldn’t tell the difference between now and then, here and there, him or her. She was trapped in a perpetual lucid dream where dead relatives lived again. The heart attack left her crippled and the stroke erased her identity. She had survived several brushes with death only to become a yarn of tangled thoughts and crisscrossed wires.
Some days she could tell me what day it was and what her children’s names were. Then there were other days when I said, “I love you” and she would look up at me, smile, and politely say, “I don’t know who you are.”
There were days when I’d go visit and I’d see her crying in her wheelchair. She believed she had been calling me on her cellphone, but her phone was in her drawer drained of battery. She was worried something had happened to me, even as I held the spoon to feed her.
At the end of every visit, she would ask the same questions, and I would give the same answers.
“Whose car are we going in?”
“You can’t come with me.”
“Because you had a stroke. You’re in a rehab. You need to get stronger.”
“I thought I was in my grandmother’s house?”
“I don’t want to stay here by myself.”
I wanted to keep her at home, with me and my family, but no one could stay home to care for her. The last time we left her at home by herself, she had waited three hours lying on the floor in soiled undergarments because she couldn’t get up. She said she didn’t call because she didn’t want to be a bother. I had to call my brothers to lift her up and put her back in bed.
I didn’t have money to pay for an aide and I made too much income to qualify for social services. My mother had lost her house and didn’t save anything for retirement. She robbed Peter to pay Paul, but Peter made sure to get his money back. She never prepared for her twilight years because she never thought she would get old.
After dad died, she wasn’t the same. I tried encouraging her to keep working, get a part-time job, be one of those people that held babies in hospital wards. “I’m too old,” she would say as she sat around in her room watching reruns of Judge Judy and Family Feud from sunrise to sunset.
It was hard to watch the woman who used to race cars, bail me out of trouble, and raise three children all on her own, waste away like this. All I wanted was for her to be happy and to keep herself engaged with life.
It took me years before I stopped resenting my mother for being financially irresponsible.
One day, I went to visit my mom. It was a typical day like any other, one where I readied my practiced speech of how she couldn’t come home. On this day, my mother greeted me with the biggest smile I had ever seen from her.
“Hey, Mom. Did Uncle John visit you today?”
“Why would your uncle visit me? He’s been dead for fifty-years, God bless his soul.”
I looked at her with a confused expression. “That’s right . . .”
“You thought I was going to be wacky today.”
I sat down across from her. “You haven’t been yourself lately.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize. I know it’s not your fault.”
“Not for that,” she said. “For being a burden on you. I should’ve saved my money instead of spending it all on your father. I just didn’t know how to tell him no.”
“It’s okay, I don’t mind taking care of you. You’re my mother.”
“I was sad when your father passed away.”
“Without your father I felt like no one needed me anymore. I was going to be all by myself.”
“We would never leave you alone.” I held her hand. “But it sounds like you’re getting stronger and that means I can take you home soon.”
“No, honey. I know I’m not coming home.”
“Don’t say that. Of course, you’re coming home. Now that you’re lucid you can focus on your body getting stronger.”
She smiled. “I love you. I’ve loved you since the day I held your tiny little body in my arms. I told everyone you were my little miracle. I never stopped loving you even when we fought and argued. Just promise me you’re going to be okay when I leave.”
“You can’t leave the rehab, Ma.”
“Good.” She paused and held my hand with both hands. “Do me a favor. Could you bring me some Chinese food from that place I like? The food here is awful.”
I smiled and shook my head. “Chinese is bad for your pressure.”
“Please? I’m beggin’ ya. I want to eat something good for once.”
“Good,” she smiled and leaned back in her chair. “That’ll make me happy.”
Don’t ask me how, but I could tell from the look in her eyes that this was my mother and not the ramblings of a dreamer. This was the ride or die chick who would do anything for her children.
I obliged my mother and drove across town. I ordered her favorite pork fried rice with a side of beef lo mein and some pineapple fried rice for myself. As I drove back with the food, I got a call from the rehab.
“Your mother has passed.”
I pulled over and sat there with a brown bag of Chinese food warming my thighs. I cried until the food became colder than room temperature. She was gone, just like that. No drama, no hysterics. Just gone. Today had been a gift and it would be years before I could learn to appreciate it. Rest in peace.
Welcome to the Advent Calendar Story Train, where you can read through 24 stories under the theme The Gift. Thank you for reading today’s story. The next one will be available to read on December 4th, titled “Buoy of Summer“. This link will be active tomorrow when the post goes live.
If you missed yesterday’s you can go and read it here