I'm continually impressed with my peers, many of whom have moved back home to live with, care for, or be near their aging parents, or have moved them out here.
My mother had moved back across the country to Vermont to be near her 90-year-old mother a half mile away. Grandma lived at home till the end with her daughter, son-in-law, and her grandson who besides caring for her worked everyday to put out a weekly called “The Vermont Country Sampler.”
We brought Sally out west to live near my sister in Tacoma in 2005 after my cool grandma died, my mother’s husband died, and she recovered from breast cancer.
In September, 2019 I was prepping for a hip replacement, the hip was getting worse, and travel would have been difficult. I had three or four appointments in Willits pre-op but there was no way I could get up to Tacoma to visit her. The operation was in mid-February and rehab at home followed.
Then came the pandemic.
By May the nursing homes were in shutdown mode, the residents couldn't have visitors, couldn't eat together anymore, or leave their rooms. By mid-summer I had recovered from the operation but was afraid to travel.
Communication switched from email to telephone as she wasn’t able to go down the hall whenever she wanted to use the shared computer. Celebrations of holidays were achieved by cell phone though a small window in the door. A difficult life in an institution was made harder.
I started calling more, mostly rambling about my little life as she didn't have a whole lot to say about hers beyond complaining about workers who handled her roughly. I also started writing her letters and within a couple weeks I had a system down:
I printed off 50-100 photos from my computer archive every month or so, shuffled them then affixed them to a clipboard, and five days a week with my coffee I wrote a three page letter on the back of three photos in large legible handwriting as my morning warm up. (As an incentive/reward I didn’t look at which photo I was writing on until I was done with each page.)
I cut and pasted typed essays, stories, and vignettes on both sides of another standard page, stapled the whole mess together, sealed it in an envelope, and got it up to the mailbox each afternoon. I mailed her over a hundred of these mini-chapbooks over the next six months.
When she got covid toward the end of December communication became difficult on the phone. We were told that everyone at the facility had it, all the workers and the residents, and they kept coming to work anyway because the old people still had to be taken care of. They said we could come for a last visit but strongly recommended against it, that anyone who came inside would definitely get covid. My sister was going to go in but her sons forbade her.
She was sleeping a lot, on morphine, and it was frustrating trying to reach her through the front desk as she could no longer operate her cell phone. Sometimes they called down to the landline in her room but she rarely answered. I started making appointments with the social worker to try to reach her.
I kept on writing and sending my packages of letters, photos, and essays but didn't know if they were being received or read. Episodes from my little life were probably not of much concern as she was in the process of ending hers.
Each sibling tried to figure out what to say to her and my sisters sang her songs. I decided to read her a letter I had written to her on her 90th birthday earlier in the year. I asked if she wanted to hear it and her last words to me were, “If it's not too long.” When I was done a couple minutes later there was silence: was she asleep? Could she hear but not talk? I was floundering.
I realized I had been rambling on to her and maybe that wasn't what I should be doing. I asked my sister up there what to say and she gave me some brief talking points which I read to her the next time I arranged a call with the social worker:
Can you talk mom? Do you have something to tell me? We'll be okay. Everybody is good. We all love you and we want you to relax and rest.
Finally I figured out what to say in my own words and tried to reach her. Her morphine dose had been increased and she was pretty out of it.
The next morning I got the call.
We've said goodbye to Mom so many times, going out the door to school as kids and after visits as adults.
Arriving for a visit she was like a giggly girl even into her eighties when she greeted me at the door, like she couldn't quite believe I had made the 500 mile drive once again and was back where I belonged, at least for a few days.
Today we say goodbye again to Mom, to these ashes, to the yearly family reunions which have disappeared with her.
She was encouraging and supportive to her children: she loved us equally and we loved her. She was my biggest fan and supporter in creative and life pursuits as she was for all of us.
She took to the streets and avidly protested wars and social injustice and documented her life and the nation's with many essays and stories. We watched the March on Selma, Alabama together on our little black and white TV back in 1964 and in 1970 she was writing articles protesting the police getting computers in their cars.
I admired her adaptability when she went bopping down the street to Cafe Brousseau with her walker when her mobility decreased.
One of my clearest and fondest memories was during the last family gathering when the music was playing and I challenged everyone to go into the middle and bust a dance move. We all did, including Mom and I can still see her excited smiling face as she bounded in with her walker to dance a few seconds, happily surrounded by her children and grandchildren.
We were lucky to have a nice mother, this isn't always the case I've heard, and she was lucky to have us children who cared about her.
And now that the matriarch has gone it's the four siblings and her grandchildren who are left to wander in the wilderness without our guiding light: Sally O'Kane Modic McClintock (April 10, 1930-January 15, 2021)
She lived a full life.
Be First to Comment