The day finally arrived for Mother’s new stage of life to begin. I arrived from Dallas Friday afternoon, expecting the bags to be packed and the special treasures Mother wanted to take all selected. She and my niece had been working on it for two weeks, my sister said. I found one box, with some sheets and towels, and that was it. Somehow I figured out Mother’s heart really wasn’t in it. She did know she wanted her bed, a few end tables, a tv, photographs, and a recliner. Dad’s recliner, not hers. I made the selections for her: a photo of her with her first husband and daughter Gwen, another photo of her with Gwen and my father, a photo of her first husband with his brothers, her brother, and, for some reason, my dad’s brother, all in uniform, a photo of Trent, her great-grandson who did not make it to his fifth birthday, a raggedy stuffed bunny that had been his, and my father’s flag. I started to bring the vase containing nine white silk roses and one red one, then I put it back on the mantel. It is part of our family history. The roses represent the ten members of mother’s family – her parents, Irvin and Lizzie Stewart, and their eight children. At one of my aunt’s funerals, a tradition was started: each time one of the siblings passed away, a family member would take out a red rose and place it in his or her parent’s casket. A white rose would be put in the vase. When Mother’s baby sister Frances died, my family got the vase. Mother is the last of the Stewarts, and it makes me sad to look at that single red rose, knowing that soon there will be ten white roses. I decided it was best left where it was until the time comes.
While the rest of the family took Mother’s furniture to her new home, I took her to Walmart’s – an outing she’d been asking for for ages. She said nobody ever had the time to take her, and she wanted to see things for herself, not have others just pick out something. In truth, she can’t really “see” much of anything, but it was the principle of the thing. I couldn’t put her on one of the scooters for the disabled, because I had visions of her plowing through the displays, mowing down anything in her path, so I pushed her in her wheelchair. We spent some time looking at the microwaves, trying to find one that she could work with minimal effort, and found one with numbers she could see. Then as we went through the towel section, she spotted a hot pink bathroom rug, and we bought that. I asked if she wanted the matching towel, but she said “no, then I’d need the hand towel, and the wash rag, and it’s just too expensive.” I will get that for her on my next visit, I can afford $20 and she loves pink.
When we got to the facility – I can’t bring myself to call it a home–nice as it is, it ain’t home. The furniture was arranged, but Mother decided it needed to be re-arranged. She wanted her chair to be next to her window, so she could watch the comings and goings of the residents and their visitors, and maybe see a bird or two. When her world view became small because of her disabilities, my dad used to put birdseed and bread crumbs on a staircase outside her window at home, and she spent hours watching the antics of the birds and squirrels haggling over the food. We bought every variety of squirrel-proof bird feeder there is, but none of them worked for long. It tickled her to see how resourceful those squirrels could be. Now she watches the resident we have already named The Cigarette-Smoking Man, who drives himself outside every hour or so, wrapped in a blanket during those chilly days, stops by a pillar ten feet from her window, and lights up. We walked by him several times during the weekend, and he never smiled or even acknowledged our presence.
I stayed with her the first night. She was sick, and didn’t have to make the dreaded trip to the dining room while I was there. Neither of us slept much, but I didn’t hear her cry. She’d told her niece she probably would, and I said it was okay to cry if she wanted to. She can cry without making a sound, so I don’t know if she did, but I did. Quietly. Next morning, she didn’t eat any breakfast, and she didn’t care for the coffee. My sister came around lunchtime with snacks, shower curtain, and other necessities, and I told Mother I had to go back to Houston. I’d told her at the beginning of the weekend I would be leaving Sunday, but she looked at me with sad eyes and said “I was hoping you could stay another day or two.” I explained again that I don’t have much vacation saved up. I didn’t say I was saving it for when the time comes that I’ll need to be there, the time when she takes that last journey.
It’s been almost two weeks now, and she still doesn’t have a telephone. I get my news from my nieces, my sister is too busy taking care of things. I heard that she complained that an old man had been grumpy with her at dinner – I wondered if it was the Cigarette -Smoking Man. I want to go see her this weekend, but I’ve promised her a 3 day trip to her hometown of Comanche to put flowers on her parents’ graves, and to Dublin to visit with her cousins, nieces and nephews. That trip from Houston to Dallas has gotten longer and harder on me physically and emotionally, but I will keep making it as often as I can.