As stories go, there are good parts, there are bad parts, happy parts and sad, but I wouldn’t miss being a part of mom’s life now for anything in this world.
Even as a kid, I made sure our family got to the movie theater and in our seats before the feature started rolling. I would pass on popcorn if I thought we might miss even the tiniest bit of the film. And, if we did, I would beg my folks to stay and see the part we didn’t see.
By that, I meant to literally wait until the movie started to see the part we missed, even though we had already seen most of the beginning, the middle and the end.
This would mean mom, dad, my sister and I had to sit through the coming attractions, cartoons and everything else, just to see what would have been only minutes of the beginning of the movie, again. It didn’t make me the most popular member of the family, but it was like an obsession with me. I had to see the part I didn’t see.
To this day, I am the same way with not only movies, but everything. Life to me is like a movie. I will leave every place I go or thing I do, not only cataloging what I did see and do, but what I didn’t.
I also make a concentrated effort to plan when and how I will see the part or parts I missed .
So, here I am back in Richmond, Virginia, after a 17 year stint in Tallahassee, Florida. And, like in a movie, I am playing the leading roll as primary caregiver for my 92 year old mom, as well as a supporting roll in making a living, while living life to the fullest, with my spouse, family and friends.
And, as stories go, there are good parts, bad parts, happy parts and sad, and I not only want to be a part of all of those, because they are real, but I also want to be a part of the parts I didn’t see.
You think that sounds crazy to you? Well it sounds crazy to everybody around me … including me!
Here’s a sneak preview of what I mean … just a trailer, a teaser, so you’ll hopefully stick around for the entire main feature.
Every night, when I take mom to bed, she’ll say, “This is my room!”
And, I’ll say, “Yep, this is your room, mom. It’s been your room for over forty years. Can you believe it?!”
“Forty years?! It has not been that long.”
“Yep, forty years.”
Then she’ll look around the room and say, “That’s my bed.”
“Yep, that’s your bed alright. I call it your ‘Fred Bed’, because your husband, and my dad, Fred, made that bed for the two of you sixty-four years ago, mom.”
“I know Fred Laughon. He made this bed for me. He is a good man.”
Her description is right, but the tense is wrong. Dad passed away in 2002.
Mom refers to her parents, brothers, sister, aunts, uncles and cousins all in the present tense, although most, if not all of them, passed away long ago.
She still attends college at University of Richmond, sings her Alma Mater and runs on the track team. When you ask her who is the smartest in the family, you know the answer. Same with who is the fastest on the track team, best singer in the choir, smartest, etc. Lack of self esteem or confidence has never been mom’s challenge.
I tuck her into her mahogany, four poster, ‘Fred Bed’, kiss her, listen to her tell me how much she loves me, softly rub her forehead, pull her hair back and covers up, whisper, I love you, and wish her a good night.
She’ll say, “Always is. I never have a bad night. I just close my eyes and go to sleep, that’s it.”
As I tiptoe out of her room and close the door behind me, a flood of memories start to bounce around my brain. It is a nice way to tie a bow on the day and it happens everyday.
More Good Parts.
In the mornings, I go to mom’s room around eight and she is laying in her bed, wide awake, just waiting for me to appear. She always starts with, “Who is that boy? I love that boy. You are the bestest boy in the whole wide world.”
And, the mantra begins. “It’s your boy, mom, Mr. Wonderful, and your boy says good morning to you, beautiful lady!”
She’ll say, “You are perfect, I am perfect, we are both perfect.”
We tell each other how much we love each other. We look out the window and talk about how much traffic there is on the street in front of mom’s home; what color the cars and trucks are and whether they are coming or going. Then we talk about the weather … wet, dry, hot, cold, cloudy, sunny … no matter what kind of weather, we agree it’s a beautiful day and for me a beautiful time of the beautiful day with a beautiful lady.
It is a predictable, soft, wonderful way to kick start the day, everyday.
Then, as I walk mom to the bathroom, we pass my sister, Nel’s, room and mom will say, “That girl (person, lady, man) is gone.” She never mentions Nel’s name, except when she shouts, Nel, Nel … Neville, in an occasional early morning dream.
When we are beside the open door to Nel’s room, I ask when and where that person went, and mom will say she doesn’t know, she just went.
My sister passed away just over a year ago after a long, losing battle with early onset Alzheimer’s. Mom has never realized or recognized this. No grief, no memories, no anything.
I leave Nel’s bedroom door open every night so I can peek in and check on mom. As we pass by the door, mom grabs the knob and pushes the door shut with a bang. As the door slams shut, mom will say, “I am not going in that room, that room is where you get sick. That room is where that person who lost everything lived.”
Her voice sounds like it is warning herself and me, that whatever is in there is highly contagious. I honestly believe she would fight you before going in that room.
It shakes me everytime, even though I know exactly what mom is going to say and do. I usually just continue walking past Nel’s room to the bathroom without saying word.
Every now and then I will ask mom who she is talking about or why did that person go? Her answer is always, “I don’t know, but that person is gone because she just couldn’t handle all of the things that were happening to her.”
It is delivered in a matter of fact way, that sounds like part gospel and part exasperation or annoyance. There is no point in questioning her or talking to her about Nel. As mom would say, “and that’s it.”
The incredible thing is, they were joined at the hip their entire lives. They were so close, we would combine mom’s name with Nel’s and refer to the two of them as one … Nelen!
I have said it a million times, theirs was an amazing, one-of-a-kind, symbiotic relationship.
The concern among all who knew them was how could or would either of them exist without the other. No one could have predicted or written this script.
Alzheimer’s prevented my sister from ever knowing or understanding mom’s dementia and mom’s dementia never allowed her to know or understand Nel’s Alzheimer’s or her death for that matter.
To me, this is not only an irony, but a blessing and a curse.
The love, caring, understanding and support they had for each other throughout their life was completely missing during the time they needed each other the most. They had lost all connections with themselves, and as a result, with each other. They never had a chance, or were even capable of, saying their goodbyes to each other.
I think to myself, it is a blessing that mom doesn’t remember any more than she does about dad or Nel, and yet it’s a curse, too, because I don’t have anyone to swap memories of my family with like I could have with my mom. So many questions I have for her will never be answered, the celebrations and gratitude I have for her will never be fully appreciated, and the untold stories we would both share will go untold.
These are the parts I didn’t and never will see.
So, in just the few steps and moments it takes to get from mom’s bed, past Nel’s room, to the bathroom, the beautiful brightness of each and every day turns a dark shade of melancholy.
This morning, on the way to adult daycare, for whatever reason, I turned down the volume on a country music song mom was clapping her hands to and asked her if she knew a man named Fred?
She quickly replied, “Fred Laughon. He is a nice man. He only knows nice. That’s why he is so good.”
I found a place to pull the car over. Mom was right, dad was a nice man. She was right, he only knew nice. And she was right, again, that’s why he was so good.”
What a great thing to have engraved on one’s headstone or in mom’s head for that matter. It is a tall order tribute, and one dad truly deserved.
But, I wanted more, needed more, longed for more. I wanted that to be the start of never ending conversations between mom and me about our family, our memories and our lives together.
I wanted to let my mom know the influence that dad, Nel and she had on me and my take on life. I wanted to share my journey with her, every step of the way. And in return, I wanted her to share hers … over and over again.
I wanted to credit her for teaching me leadership, nurturing my creativity and inspiring me to never stop learning, searching and giving. I wanted to thank her for giving me the courage to always reach for the sky and then some.
In the distance, I thought I heard mom asking if we were lost.
I was staring out the window of the car at nothing for no telling how long. The engine was idling, it was raining, and mom was right, I had been totally lost in my thoughts that were now being washed away by the rain accompanied by the rhythm of raindrops.
Mom was louder now, “Are you OK? I want you to be OK. I love you so much! You are the bestest boy in the United States of America which includes the whole wide world. ”
“I’m OK, mom. I’m OK,” I heard myself say as I put the car in gear and eased back on the road.
Mom says, “You always know where you are going. How do you do it?”
“I don’t know, I just do it.”
“You do it. You are always helping me see and learn what’s going on in this world.”
As I drove, I knew just around the bend there would be good parts, bad parts, happy parts and sad in no particular order … as well as the missing parts … the parts I didn’t see and never will.
No matter where our journey takes us, I know we are in for one heck of a ride.
And, I wouldn’t miss being a part of mom’s life now for anything in this world..