As I wind down my visit in Baton Rouge with Mom and Paula, I am aware that I came here to briefly occupy a specific — and very minor — role in a rapidly changing dynamic. And that this is all I need to do, be centered, present in this moment, in this place, for these two beautiful women, my dear sister Paula and dear Mother Renee.
We have spent the week preparing for Paula’s move out of this house after 37 years, the move to take place in less than two weeks. Paula and I alternate sleeping in the twin bed next to Mom and helping her to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Her strength is vastly decreased from when she left Seattle, six months ago. Every movement is an effort, a scary effort, as if she’s standing on a flat-bottom boat, listing to and fro on a turbulent sea.
This week, as usual, Mom has watched a lot of musical comedy videos (I can hear the second half of My Fair Lady blaring from my room, despite closed door; she is going deaf, can no longer hear birdsong, one of her life-long pleasures.) She naps twice a day. I read her one O’Henry story, and she’s sat and listened while Paula and I talk. At least I think she’s listening. Sometimes her demeanor feels wooden. I wonder if that’s because most of her attention is actually elsewhere. That she is privy to realities beyond this one. That she is getting ready to go. But, not yet!
“I want to go see Ben, but not yet!” she said to me a few days ago, to my surprise. Okay! Well then, let’s see how we can make the rest of her stay in this old 95-year-old body as pleasant and comfortable as possible. And that includes dressing up for lunch out, every single day. Lipstick, makeup, color-coordinated outfits. A lady to the very end.
Sunday morning Paula and David attended early Mass. Just before they left, Paula came into the bedroom to tell me that Mom’s coffee and juice were waiting for her on the table. Oops! Guess we’d better get up! Mom painstakingly arises to a sitting position. I put on her slippers and guide her to her walker. We head into the kitchen — to find not only her coffee (covered, to keep it hot), and juice, but a tiny French pastry! And — her chair ajar, just so. Perfect for Mom to segue from the walker to a sitting position. That’s Paula. That’s Paula’s level of attention and detail. Mom was thrilled with the sweet surprise.
I am struck by Mom’s daily gratitude for the patient, tender, intensely thoughtful care given her by both Paula and her dear husband, David. And struck by how love cushions even the pain of growing so very old in a nearly cast-off body and the mind’s light that is more a flicker than a steady beam. And yet, and yet. She is still so very much herself! Perhaps even more so as the spirit incandesces its subtle essence into the air around her and envelops us all. We are so lucky. All of us so lucky to have traveled this far together with our one remaining parent. (For more, see The Grieving Time.)
Sister Kathy visited a few weeks ago. Brother Mark was here in mid-summer. Sisters Kristin and Marnie arrive to be present with Mom for the big move in a matter of days. Brother John comes in January. I’m on call whenever Paula needs another sib and no one else can come.
Home late tomorrow.