For this author, creative endeavors have been sorely tested by motherhood. But also transformed, and in ways she wouldn’t have imagined – couldn’t have, without her life “rewritten” as it has been, by her children. So linger here, to read all things weaverly, writerly and motherly.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

A Mother and Daughter in an Emergency Room

My mother was hungry and thirsty; when she’d fallen that morning, she’d just woken up, so she never even got a cup of coffee before she was whisked away in an ambulance.


More than food or drink really, she wanted a comb. They’d loaded her into the ambulance as they found her, on the bedroom floor in a lavender nightgown, with not even shoes or time to grab her purse.


“How can you not carry a comb?” she asked me.


I’d arrived at the hospital just as they were finishing hooking her up to all the impressive beeping devices highlighting heart rhythms, pulse and who knows what else.


I don’t carry a comb, my hair too thick and curly for one, but I rummaged through my handbag anyway; I was grateful for the ordinariness of rummaging through all the messy compartments and pockets, as I was still trying to quell my inner shaking; driving the hour it takes to the hospital, I had done the deep breathing exercises I do whenever my mother presses her necklace emergency button to alert 911 because she has fallen and can’t get up, and I don’t know what kind of shape I will find her in.


She had no broken bones or even bruises, but she’d hit her head so we were waiting for her to be wheeled away for a CT scan.


She was quiet, watching me rummage, until she said what she says when she doesn’t care particularly for what I’m wearing: “Is that a new shirt?”


I bristled. You know that feeling, the one that starts as a teenager when you don’t want your mother commenting on what you wear, like the vinyl go-go boots I insisted on wearing in the 70s.


I welcomed the bristling. It was a feeling far more familiar and natural than the awkwardness of having to help her put on her shoes and even zip up her coat as I do my children.


She looked me all over. “Oh, a new skirt too...pretty. Aqua is a nice color on you. I’ve just never seen you in . . . what is that, lime green?


“Lime goes great with aqua,” I said, parroting the saleslady. I don’t know why I’d been shopping in the first place. I hate clothes shopping. Maybe it was just one of those days when I had so much on my to-do list, like finding someone to pave the buckling driveway and paint the peeling house, when I wasn’t making doctor appointments for my mother or trying to find someone to come in and help prepare her meals, that I decided to do nothing and go buy a lime-green shirt and aqua skirt.


I knew what she was thinking, what I thought too; lime was a god-awful color on me. I hated that I agreed with her. I loved that the hate-feeling was familiar.


Now that I was there and I could see that she was ok, the less familiar feeling of resentment set in; this was not the first time that I have had to grab the car keys and suddenly up and go, leaving this time just before going to a church, where I’d planned to wear my new summery varying-degrees-of-green outfit.


But as my mother has grown more feeble, as the simplest of tasks has become a challenge, I welcome the resentment; I wrap it around me like a cloak. A heavy and cumbersome cloak , but far more comfortable, and thus bearable, than the deep sadness that can pierce me – a grief, a razor-sharp hint of the terrible loss I will feel once she is gone. When she won’t be there to share my latest accomplishments, these days framed felted landscapes reminiscent of her paintings; I don’t remember when I didn’t first think to show her something new I had made, ever since I was a child and made the clay cats she still has on her bedroom shelf.


My mother smoothed out the hospital blanket. Those thin useless ones, except when they actually might heat one up for you. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I almost didn’t call you.”


I felt the cloak of resentment falling away, and I reached for it, to no avail. “Don’t ever not call me, Mom….”


“I don’t know what happened. I think I got up too fast….”


“No one’s balance is good on just waking up; maybe take a few minutes in bed before getting up….” We’re always looking for solutions to why her balance is deteriorating. “Maybe try your walker in the mornings.”


She hates the walker, relies primarily on her cane. I thought she might protest. She didn’t. “That’s a good idea…”


It’s nice when we actually agree on something that easily. There wasn’t the usual going back and forth, as when picking out new eyeglasses, I got so desperate for her to make a decision, I tried talking her into a pair of thick rose-tinted cat frames. She was smart enough just to walk out of the store.


We were on even ground now. We were in emergency-room-waiting mode, cut off from all normalcy, unable even to get cell phone reception. The new normal was not the one outside in 95-plus degree weather where people still had to stop at the hardware store to pick up citronella candles to ward off mosquitoes at their next barbecues. The new normal was when the beeping of all those impressive monitoring machines had become white noise.


“Why does everything take so long?” My mother began to complain again about being thirsty and hungry, and I reminded her that she can’t eat anything until after the CT scan.


She still longed for a comb. She started running her fingers through her hair, making it look worse.


“I’d get more attention if I didn’t look such a mess.” She tossed the blanket around. “At least I should hide my ugly old feet,” she said, in disgust and surprise at the toll old age has taken on her body. There’s a picture she’s been looking for, of when she was young woman, sitting astride a horse out west. She’s always liked to tell me about the thrill of riding down a mountain in a thunderstorm. The way she wants to be remembered by her grandchildren. The way she likes to remember herself, before she’d gotten to this point, where the arthritis in her arm can make it hard even to open a can of cat food.


I told her she wasn’t getting “attention” right away because on this 95-100 degree day, the emergency room was packed with Hamptons beach casualties, a lot of 20- somethings in bathing suits suffering from heatstroke or wounds; one sat with her foot bound up. Another as she was being wheeled past us , was asked by a nurse, “So what happened? You catch a bad wave?”


A couple of hours later, my mother’s CT scan looked normal, and she was allowed a tasteless turkey sandwich before being discharged.


I brought the car around, and she was wheeled out into the blasting heat. As I help her into the car, we both laughed at the yellow slipper socks they gave her so she wouldn’t have to go barefoot. A true lemon yellow, they clashed sharply with her nightgown. “Now who looks funny?” I said.


I still care deeply about what she thinks – I probably won’t wear the lime green shirt again. There are moments when I show her my latest weavings and my newest felted framed pieces, and there is that reprieve; we are back to who we always have been, momentarily safe in our more recognizable roles of mother and daughter, of the best friends we have always been. Not the kind of best friendship with an old high school or college friend, with whom I’d be more apt to share a deep hurt over a recent boyfriend breakup. But the kind based on unconditional love and deep pride, that even under the heaviest cloaks of resentment, are allowed to breathe. To remain steadfast.


When we got back to her house, we sat outside on her deck, and I brought out ice water.


“Oh, it feels cooler out here,” she said, looking happy for the first time that day, almost content.


I went inside to start her dinner, and something made me look back at her sitting alone out there. She was examining her right hand, the one stiff with arthritis. The one that gives her so much trouble opening a simple can. The one she’d been painting magnificent large landscapes with until it became too hard to even stretch a canvas. I watch her loneliness. I can see it. It’s in all the empty space surrounding her, the empty chairs, mine pushed out, my own glass left empty, as I’m now in a rush to get her settled, and her dinner prepared. Someone will be in to check on her and help her in the morning. And I need to get back on the road home.


Driving home from these crises, I’m often driving into a sunset. And I always think about how my mother would revel in seeing one of them. How she’d long to paint it. How her sensibilities have been such inspiration to me all my life, in all my own creative endeavors.


The sun is blazing red behind the trees, and I pray without words. I pray holding an image of my mother in my mind. At first, that image is of her in all her loneliness sitting out on the deck. And then I replace that one with another image, one I can hold more dear, when she was my strong mother who could keep me safe. When she’d sit at the dinner table and we played this game: I would stand at the end of the hall and run into her open arms, both of us singing “Wheeee!” in full love and pure delight of each other.



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19 comments:

Vanest said...

What a beautiful story.

Wylie said...

This made me weep this morning, Sandy. I'm having such a hard time with my mother right now, and your story touched my heart. Thank you so much for posting this beautiful, heartfelt story. xxxooo

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story Sandy. We are all at that age now where those wonderful women who raised us now need our help and it is so very hard on both sides.

amazey said...

Brought tears to my eyes too...I wish I had even half the relationship you have with your mother with mine.

Sara said...

Goodness! Good momma stories make me cry. What a blessing she has in you.

Nicole said...

I think I'm going to go call my Mom now. And I hate talking on the phone. She'll wonder what's wrong. LOL

Shanda said...

This is sad, yet beautiful. I hate the image of her sitting her her loneliness

Sandi Holland said...

Hi Sandy:

Your story came to me this morning, just when I needed it. I have been thinking that I need to join a social group for those now helping their aging parent(s), for incredibly at 54 I find myself there.

I laughed aloud as I read, because it is all true. Thank you for taking time to write and share it.

Sandi

Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy said...

Your post expresses much of what I feel in dealing with my mother - something that I seldom can yet write about. Instead I dive into my fiction because in that world I don't have to face the stark reality that my mother today is no longer the woman who raised me. Her physical health issues combine with increasing cognitive and memory issues and I struggle daily to maintain a calm place within.

Ivy Bliss said...

What an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing such deep feeling and emotion.

~Ivy
www.ivygrowsinthekitchen.blogspot.com

Emily said...

Ahhhh, what a sweet/sad story! Mothers are so wonderful, it is often sad to see how life can change so much but you have those great memories to hold on to!

Anonymous said...

Oh Sandy I remember both your parents well. Lovely story. Also enjoyed your first novel,
and so pleased that you and Alexandra are in touch.

Laura Drew Kelly

Michael Ann said...

That was really beautiful. Thank you for sharing that with us I have not yet reached this time of life with my mom, but my dad is getting much closer. I don't like to think about it.

I am interested in looking around your blog. Your weaving is lovely!
http://thebiggreenbowl.blogspot.com

Doreen said...

Oh How very sad! I would love for you to see you my post on http://www.women on the verge.com called the Forgotten Women.
I am a new visitor and follower via Wild Wednesday...

Silverfaerie said...

Such a beautiful post. You've captured the sense of simultaneous love and resentment that I think all children feel in their relationship with their parents. You capture what it is that creates such a strong bond.

I hope that your mother is able to, at least sometimes, look forward instead of behind her, and see herself as beautiful and lively now. I hope that she can find a way to focus on those happy moments, the comfortable normalcy that you speak of, and truly enjoy it.

Aging has always scared me. When I was a young child, I would spend the night with my grandmother and always insist on looking through her old photos. Even then I couldn't understand how the young woman in the pictures was her. They appeared to be two separate people. When I think of myself in years that will come, what I fear the most is looking in the mirror and not recognizing the person who will be looking back at me. Is it strange to say that I feel like I can relate to that aspect of your mom's thinking even though I've yet to experience it myself? It feels that way though.

Your newest GFC follower from the About a Mom: Wild Wednesday Hop! Looking forward to seeing your wonderful posts! Would love it if you would visit mine :)

http://silverfaeries-dragonflies.blogspot.com

Leila said...

You have a magnificent writing talent! I cannot wait to read more from you!

New follower! gotomommy.blogspot.com

November Rain - k~ said...

I can see why you would choose this one, it brought tears to my eyes. To see the contrast between years before age is even a thought, to those that remind us it has already visited for a long while, is bittersweet.

Beautiful story, from a wonderful writer.

Word Nerd said...

This is just beautiful. ♥

Anna said...

Beautiful story of love between mother and daughter, never perfect but always there.

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