At A Loss For Words

A swarm of birds in the summer evening at Bitt...
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It’s been the most exhausting and emotionally wrenching week of my life.

This morning my Mom — the woman who’s lived alone in Lima, Bath, Roswell, NM, Gibsons, B.C., Toronto — who’s been from Nauru to Oaxaca — moved into one room, in a nursing home.

The woman who covered the Chicago Eight trial as a radio reporter, who cried on my 11th birthday the morning she served me blueberry pie in bed because Bobby Kennedy had been shot. The woman whose hair color changed almost daily in the 1960s thanks to a fab collection of wigs, and the confidence to pull it (them) off.

Whose collection of mantas, moles and delicate cashmere Indian shawls, collected on her travels, inspired my lifelong love of textiles and my own collection of them.

I joined her for dinner (served at an ungodly 5:00 p.m., with several of her dining room companions asleep at their tables) and kept her company as she ate a bit of beans and corn and pork. She didn’t like the meal or even the china mug her tea was served in.

Then we sat in her room and talked for a few hours. I asked about Edgar, a folk art animal she has owned for as long as I have known her; she bought him in London when we lived there. I showed her some recent winter nature photos I had shot.

And then I had to leave — and she gave me a dazzling smile.

We’re good at that, that stiff upper lip thing.

Beats crying.

Doesn’t it?

17 thoughts on “At A Loss For Words

  1. My heart aches for you. Your mother must be so glad to have you with her, and not be doing this on her own. She has left you an amazing legacy in the way you see the world – do tell her that.
    Sunshine xx

    1. I told her about you yesterday when we were having dinner, sil! She loves London and she knows all about blogging, and I told her how lucky I feel to have “met” you this way. So the word is out.

      Thanks for your kind words. I know that growing up with someone so ferociously curious about the world and ideas shaped me; as I packed her many books (some for storage, some for her room), they included dictionaries of Greek, Spanish and Yugoslavian; texts on theology and philosophy…a woman who never attended college. She was a journalist, world traveler, writer, photographer, as am I.

  2. Thank you so much for your blogs. I have wantde to respond, but time has a way of getting away from me. I always enjoyed reading them. I have found so many bits of truth and humor in them. Your blogs in regards to your mother have especially struck a chord with me. Tomorrow is my ‘mommy’s’ birthday. She would be 67 years old, however she passed away in 2004 at the age of 61. She left way, way too soon. She was ready and I was not – still am not.

    Again, thank you for your words. Respectfully, Kimberly

    1. Thanks so much.

      It’s one of the fun things about blogs — hearing back from people who find them useful or fun or helpful. I’m sorry you’ve lost your Mom…I still remember my Granny’s birthday (Dec. 10) although she died in 1975…I hope your day is happy in some ways though…

  3. I recently visited a close friend who was in a nursing home. I was so saddened by the surroundings she was living in. Does your mother have some of the things that she loves in her new home? Can her room be transformed into a personal oasis which provides some comfort and holds onto the memories that you both cherish? It seems as if it would be so important but then again is it?

    1. Sherry, yes, yes and yes.

      The home is not bad at all and my mom’s room, while not huge, is actually very nice — a rich cream color on walls, three large windows overlooking a garden and I made sure to hang her art, bring in some of her furniture and linens, and may even order a few custom slipcovers for the headboard of her new (hospital-style) bed. It’s tough when you have controlled your own physical space alone for years, let alone have good taste and antiques. But, for now, the room looks lovely and Mom was happy; I added two gorgeous new lampshades, one crisp white and one chocolate brown, so she can have light without nasty overhead lighting.

  4. Your mom had quite a life, and so did all of those sitting around her. I stop to talk with my mother’s dinner-mates – I see her often because I’m just a couple of miles down the road. The life experiences are so varied and unique. My mother is quite a bit older than your own and so are most of those in her facility. World War II is a common theme – some fought, some waited at home, my own mother was a nurse who waited in a triage unit for the survivors returning from Omaha Beach. This is very tough work, we all have to dig deep. Tom medlicott

      1. I already have the cyanide stashed for that day! When I march across that dining-room heading for my truck, and my life, those old heads follow me and you can see the heartache for youth. I’m sixty three so “youth” is relevant. You’re three thousand miles away, don’t ever feel guilty you’re doing the best you can do.

  5. The irony — and it is sad, yet encouraging — is that my Dad is still rockin’ it out at 81: dresses like a GQ photo; driving his black Jag, dating a wonderful 74-year-old in the States. He is healthy and vibrant and well-off all that I pray to be at his age. Given that half my genes are his, my fingers are well crossed.

  6. A lovely post, and ‘lovely’ is the word, because your words are filled with intimacy and empathy.

    Caring for ageing parents – it’s such a challenge, isn’t it, though there are beauties in the challengees, possibly. It’s such a difficult time, because so many decisions have to be made, decisions by a range of people, from siblings to friends of the family to lawyers and financial planners. And we all can have such different values.

    However, it sounds like you’ve reached the next stage with grace and understanding. I’d like to be as good at this as you seem to be, but alas I just don’t think I’m capabable of it. But I do the best I can.

    1. Thanks for such a kind comment! I am not at all sure I have any great skill. You learn a lot, and all on the fly. It is very very tiring.

      As the only child, the good is that all decisions are up to me — one hell of a responsibility. But I have had shared power of attorney with someone in her city, who was able to quickly and easily sell her car and condo and find her a nursing home.

      The next step, which is a little scary, will be becoming her legal guardian and managing her finances, which she worked hard for and saved diligently to acquire. What is truly sobering in all this is how terribly vulnerable the person and their caregivers become — to mismanagement, fraud, deception. I have had to rely heavily on a smart and tough attorney through this (who came to me through a source I had interviewed in that city a decade earlier!) I have been truly shocked at some of the behaviors I have witnessed in the past few weeks.

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