I spent part of the afternoon with a high school classmate. Her mom, who had passed 100 in age, drew her last breath a few days ago. I went to the funeral home to pay my respects.
We don’t see each other much. I make it back home at most twice a year. There are many relatives to see. I have trouble vacationing when I go back; there’s always something that needs to be done. So it was a pleasure to be able to take the time that one must set aside in order to catch up.
Children; spouses; former spouses. Far removed cousins that somehow, after five degrees of separation, end up in a relationship with each other. Eventually we got down to talking about our mothers.
Both of them died long after their prime. My mom developed severe memory loss. She had to be reminded to eat, or bathe herself, or even sleep. She could watch the same movie over and over again. She often wandered away; we had to place her in a locked environment. Her last few years presented a constant and overwhelming stress for me. My life belonged to her first.
My friend’s mom also needed a lot of help. Also in a facility.
We thought of all of the bad times. It occurred to me that I had almost forgotten about the days when she managed to be a successful educator, mother, wife, sister, friend, and helper at her church. I began to resent the unfairness of it all; why the most prevailing image that I have of her is of her being helpless and senseless.
I made an effort to go back in time. Way back. My mom could cook. Her idea of happiness consisted of a few family members to show up unannounced, like family used to do in the old days. If it was anywhere close to a mealtime she could whip up something delicious in the blink of an eye. She could grow flowers. Orchids were her favorites. She loved our music, and our parties.
I told my friend about the many times that she would fix me a meal; then she’d sit right across from me at the table and watch me scarf it down.
“It’s such a pleasure to watch you eat.”
My joy was her greatest joy.
They used to sell chocolate in hard bars. As it came close to bedtime some days she’d go in the kitchen and place a bar inside a pot half full of milk. As the milk warmed the chocolate melted. It had to be stirred constantly. It took a while. The best hot chocolate ever. It was for us; she’d seldom take any for herself. She had tons of things to do. I never, ever, had any notion that she had any other responsibility other than to take care of us.
Many other memories rushed in. The games we used to play. We made noise. We had very few toys. We spoke to each other.
We rarely went to a restaurant. We ate together. Three meals a day.
I’m at the age now where most of my social circle has grandchildren. I have been shocked by stories that many of my friends tell.
One of them said that her son had forbid her from seeing the grandchild for 2 weeks after birth. They wanted to experience the bonding with their baby all by themselves. Both groups of in laws banned from an unforgettable moment.
Another couple told a different friend that they would call if they were needed. Many, many restrictions on presents the child could receive; clothing he or she could wear; stories the child could hear.
These are not malignant, snooping in laws. And even if they were… Hide the grandchildren?
And again I think of my mother; of how absolutely, unconditionally loving she was; of how her mom had been the same way with her; of the chaos that my house often descended into when we had a dozen visitors who happened to drop in.
Now our children find ways to keep us away from their children. As if a child was a piece of property whose every living minute has to be preplanned.
It’s rare to find children who make noise when they play these days.
What will become of them?
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Fui a la misa de la mama de Rosa Blanca. Un Amor de Madre e Hija muy especial. Me conmovi!
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You make me realize how blessed I have been to be in the lives of my grandchildren. My eldest grandson is now a marine and will be going soon to Iraq or Syria. I too wonder what will happen to that beautiful child who played for five years in my home until he started school. My home has been his sanctuary through many hardships in his family. I believe strongly in the importance of children having access to the older generation. It was invaluable to me and I hope it will be the same for my grandchildren.
I almost feel partly to blame.
I don’t think I have ever recounted stories about Abi other than those that took place when she moved in with us. Perhaps it’s because those are the memories that are freshest in our minds. Perhaps it’s because sharing the stories that we are able to laugh about help us to forget seeing such a wonderful woman descend into helplessness. After all, humor is often a defense mechanism.
I remember never going hungry in her house. Whenever we came to visit she was always in the kitchen when we arrived, preparing a smorgasbord of home cooking that even if I practiced for thousands of hours would never be able to replicate.
I remember the care she took with Papa as he became unable to care for himself. Always patient even when he was mean, never showing any sign of weakness as she watched her husband of so many years become even less than a shadow of his former self.
I remember the look of incredible pride she would get when we tried to speak Spanish, or told her about our successes in school and life. I can’t imagine what her reaction would have been if she’d known I’d gone into teaching, but I’m sure I would have been smothered in hugs and kisses.
I don’t remember much, but I do remember the feeling I would always get when we went to Puerto Rico. I was always excited to go and see her. I never wanted to leave when I was there.
I also know that I still get to see her (at least when I’m at home) every Sunday when the family comes for dinner. I get to see her spoiling her grandchildren with chocolate after dinner, often times behind their parents’ backs. I get to see her unwavering love for everyone in her family and incredible patience when dealing with oftentimes impossible situations. I get to see her working diligently, yet seemingly effortlessly, to make sure that her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren have more in their lives than she had in her own. I get to see her pride in her progeny at their accomplishments and successes, as she brags to everyone she knows about how wonderful her children are.
Her spirit lives on strong in her children, and I am grateful for
Your childhood sounds a lot like mine. I grew up in the Mid-Missouri Ozarks. My cousin and I played outside all day long. Roaming the woods around our homes, building forts, playing baseball and softball and yes making lot’s of noise. I grew up just across the road from my grandparents who were a big part of my growing up years. I do feel blessed. I hope my grandchildren feel that same way.
We all age and that gives our children a time to care for us as we cared for them. Dementia is so hard for the family to watch. I have a friend in a nursing home and she doesn’t know any of her family.
Qué buen relato de una madre, me invitó a reflexionar sobre los recuerdos que nos quedan de los que se fueron a vivir en el cielo. Gracias por ayudar a ver el otro lado de la moneda. Jorge