I was away from mom for two weeks and that’s the longest we have been apart since Melissa and I moved here to be with her two years ago.
I spent a lot of my away time high above the clouds flying from Richmond to Chicago to Des Moine to Minneapolis to Orlando to Fort Lauderdale and back to Richmond. There are a lot of “to” words in that sentence which means a lot of chances for delays, crying babies, lost luggage or Alec Baldwin-like incidents.
Luckily, I had smooth flying the entire trip.
When I was 30,000 feet high in the sky, it gave me plenty of time to take a few deep breaths and reflect on the past two years.
It has been like a change tsunami for my entire family, Melissa’s and my relationship, our business and me.
The fact that so much of what has occurred has centered around mom is inescapable. And although I am fully aware of how this “change tsunami” has taken its toll, I also see the gifts of lessons learned, challenges met, opportunities unfolding and perhaps, as a result of it all, a greater understanding and appreciation for the wonder and glory of life.
I am seeing the value of giving back. I am feeling the purpose of caring for those of us who are caregivers as well. I am gaining a broader perspective of what meaning is all about. I believe it is all contributing to making me a better person.
Along with these thoughts came a flood of memories, both recent and past. And, I must admit, if I had had a parachute strapped on my back at this point, I would have busted an exit door, leaped from the plane and guided my chute back to home base and mom!
I really missed her. Yep … I missed my mom!
My biggest fear was that I would be gone so long, that she would forget who I was. After all, she has no recollection of my sister, who passed away a year ago, and if she does say Nel’s name, it is in her sleep. By day, it’s as if my sister never existed.
Mom acts like she knows everybody. Even strangers crossing her path in the grocery store swear she knows them and they must have known her way back when.
She’ll say something like, “Hey, sugar lump, you are absolutely the most beautiful person I have ever seen. If you ever need anything, you write me a letter and I will get it for you. I love you! I just love you. You keep doing the good things that you do!”
The response she gets nine times out of ten is, “Yes Maam.” And the look that accompanies that response is the “she-knows-me” look.
The fact is, her social graces are the perfect cover for what she doesn’t know. And, they work for her as well with strangers, as they do with those closest to her.
Mom is not fake or false. She is real and this is what she really believes. She believes she knows you, aka everyone. She is just mom living and loving the moment.
I have watched her interact with people for so long, that I know exactly what’s going to happen. I know that if anyone asks her who they are, she will say something like, “the nicest person on this earth, that’s who you are! Aren’t you the nicest person on this earth? Does your mama know how nice you are? I know she loves you from top to bottom, just like I do.”
She is the unintended master of deflection and deception. She is magic when it comes to making anyone feel good … like a long lost friend.
I am special, because I am not anyone. I am “her boy!” I am “Tom Laughon” … except for the days I am “Fred”, but that was my dad’s name, so that’s close enough.
She’ll hug me in the evening when I tuck her in bed and in the morning when I wake her up and she’ll say things like, “You are the sweetest boy in the world. I mean in the whole wide world. You are so gifted because of how you make people feel. You are good looking and you know how to make people think and laugh. And that’s special! Not many people are like that and I don’t know any of them except you!”
I mean, after hearing that description, I know that could not be anybody but me. Mom has me spot on (or has my number)!
I have been back home from my trip for four days now. The first thing I did when I got back was beeline it straight for mom, hug her and wait to see her reaction.
First off, she wouldn’t let me go. She just kept holding me and saying, “It’s you! It’s really you! It’s my precious boy. I love this boy! I just love you so much!” Then she squeezed me and started to do a little dance.
She is almost pocket sized, and that’s just where I wanted to put her; in my pocket.
I am thinking, take a digital picture of us and let us live in it … picture perfect … forever.
On the way to adult daycare, I tested her once more by turning on the radio, cranking it up to 10 and honing in on our favorite country music station. Tim Mcgraw was belting out, “I ain’t as good as I’m gonna get, but I’m better than I used to be.”
I had two hands on the wheel, one foot on the pedal, one eye on the road and one eye on mom.
She was clapping her hands to the beat, rocking back and forth and nodding approvingly at the lyrics. Every now and then you could hear her feet tapping the floorboard. My one unoccupied foot began tapping, too.
Mom was hopping and a bopping and not missing a trick. When it was over she asked me to play it again.
Thank goodness we were rolling up to the entrance of her adult daycare and her eyes went straight to the automatic sliding glass doors. “There’s that hole you take me through every time you bring me here. I don’t know how you do it, but you do it. I just love you for it. It just opens up when you want it to. You are the smartest man I have ever known.”
Yep, that’s me! That’s her boy!
I have to get over that description of me pretty fast, because mom is in the lobby talking to the lady behind at the reception counter. “Good morning, sugar lump! You are the smartest person I have ever known. I am going to take a picture of you and hang it in my room so everybody in the United States of America can see how smart you are. If you need anything just ask for Helen Douglas Martin (mom’s maiden name) and I’ll come running.”
When I picked mom up at the end of the day she was waiting for me. The staff said she had asked about me all day.
“I didn’t think you were coming back to get me, but you did it! You are the best boy in the world and when I grow up, I want to be just like you and marry you!”
Luckily, most of the folks near mom were just happy that they would get to go to a wedding … any wedding. No explanations or apologies needed.
My first day back was going great, but the drive home was the best.
Mom looked up in the sky and lowered her head like it was falling.
“Look at those things, Tom! Have you ever seen so many? What are they doing up there?”
I looked up and saw an incredible blue sky chock full of cumulus clouds.
“Wow! What are they, mom?”
“They are those puffy things up there. Have you ever seen so many. I don’t know what they are doing up there, but they are sure everywhere. Look, there are even more over there.”
“Yep, they are everywhere all right. What do you think they are doing?”
“I don’t know, but there is food hidden in them, that’s for sure. Lots of food hiding in those puffy things.”
“Why is there food up there, mom?”
“For all the people! There are lots of people, so there has to be lots of food!”
“How did the people get up there?”
“I don’t know, but it sure wasn’t in cars. They probably just jumped.”
“How do you know there are no cars?”
“Because there are no roads, that’s why.”
She never called those puffy things clouds. She did see and point out a dog with wings, and he was sneezing.
She also saw a cat above the dog and it was sneezing, too.
I got so carried away with what she was seeing, I started playing rhythm on the steering wheel and singing the chorus to the Rolling Stones classic, “Hey You, Get Off of My Cloud.”
Mom started swinging and a swaying and clapping her hands. She raised them way up above her head until she was touching those puffy things.
Then she started singing, “I am so happy, happy am I, I am so happy, happy am I, and you’ll be happy, too.” Then she turned to me and said, “I just love you. I love you so much. It’s a beautiful day. I had a good time, today, son. Thanks for always helping me.”
Then she looked toward the sky. “Look at those puffy things up there. Aren’t they something?! What do you think they are?”
Tom, You get it! With all the hard parts of taking care of your mother, the special times are so special. We give back and it is a joy. I can so hear you mother saying all those things. It sounds just like her. I so miss talking with Nel and your mother. They were my best friends forever and so a part of my life. I love you singing “Hey You, Get Off of My Cloud.”. I have in on my IPhone and I always think of you and Gainesville when I hear it. Oh how lucky we have been to have Helen and Nel in our lives. Love you, Chris
Thanks for the great story. Next time my mom is being difficult, I’m going to picture her saying what your mom says and that will make me smile.
I think this is a great message. I lived with my grandma, who has dementia and Alzheimer’s for over a year. All I can say is that I have many, many stories about the ups and downs. You can check them out here: