Midlife Cabernet: My Mother's Keeper
My mother became a widow at age 62, and so for the last 25 years I have lovingly included her in my family's Christmas activities. Until this year. I didn't bring her here, and I want to stop feeling bad about that. Guilt is totally overrated.
Mom suffers from dementia and gets nervous in crowds. She also is confined to a wheelchair after numerous falls and car accidents. I've taken her to countless doctors appointments, lifted her in and out of my car, pushed her wheelchair through snow, and changed her adult diapers in cramped public restrooms. Through these experiences, I've watched helplessly as her dignity eroded and the positive spark left her eyes. Eventually even my jokes couldn't make her laugh.
Many middle-aged women understand the responsibilities of caring for aging parents. I see other women pushing wheelchairs, and we nod to each other in a silent sisterhood. My brothers and their wives have absolved themselves from any involvement, and I resent their easy detachment. My children know I will haunt them if they forget about me. Fear is an excellent motivator.
Mom now lives in a small room in a nursing home. The walls are covered with family photographs with labels because she can't remember our names. Years ago her calendar was full of important engagements and now the only entries are for a weekly hair appointment and a twice-weekly shower. The staff tells me she sits by the window waiting for Elaine to visit. Sometimes she grabs my hand and asks me when Elaine will come. I tell her she'll be here soon.
My mother was a child during the Great Depression, and her yearly Christmas gift was a fresh orange in a pair of new wool stockings. But before she could open her present, she hand-milked cows in the barn and fed the horses. Her difficult childhood instilled a fierce grit that has sustained her for 86 years, and sometimes I wish she weren't so tough. I also wish she hadn't driven her car through the back of her garage because I had to take the car away. And I wish she hadn't burned up my microwave using it as a timer. And I wish she could remember how to work the television remote to watch Lawrence Welk. She claims he hasn't aged a bit.
To compensate for not bringing her here this Christmas, we took the holiday to her. On the Saturday before Christmas my two adult children and their families drove with us in three vehicles on a 250-mile round trip to see her. We brought simple gifts of lotion and Christmas sweatshirts. She seemed confused but pleased.
When we prepared to leave my six-year-old granddaughter leaned forward and gave Mom a hug. I captured a photograph that showed her pure joy. Dementia has robbed her of mental clarity, but she continues to crave human touch. To my mother this Christmas, a hug from her great-grandchild was the perfect gift. That might even be better than an orange in a wool stocking.