I am in Texas caring for my mom who is in failing health, while my stepdad is out of town. When I arrived at the home that had been my home from 1981 to 1983 after my mom, sister and I packed up and moved from Miami, Florida to a town just outside of Austin, Texas, I walked right in, dropped my stuff in the living room and headed straight to the master bedroom where my mom spends most of her days.
We connected immediately, bonding like we never had before. We are so much alike that we tangle up a lot, but this visit has been about a kind of intimacy most adults don’t ever find with a parent.
She clung to me as I made myself at home beside her on the huge king-sized bed. She held my hand and told me that she loved me with tears in her eyes. I clung to her as well because her failing health creates a sense of urgency, as though a mystical voice is telling me that I must drink in as much of my mom as I can.
While we do nothing in particular on our days together, we are digging deep to ask questions, answer questions, and discover one another while we still can. I asked her, and she agreed, to allow me to record some sessions with her as I ask her about her life in several small Texas towns at the end of the depression and the period that followed.
As important as oral history is, this is my mom, and right now she is all mine. I spend my days overseeing medications and breathing treatments, making healthy meals, and checking blood sugar levels while searching deeper for clues into who she was and is.
While fighting the guilt that comes with the realization that my mom has been sick for years and I have not been here to help her, I am here now, and that is what we have. That is what we both have, and we are cherishing this time.
This is my second attempt at this post, the first one going poof in the world of Windows 8. While I almost cried at the loss of what I thought was a beautiful blog post about a strong, independent woman who faced the world alone for much of my childhood, I realize that this post is about intimate moments with the woman who is sleeping beside me right now.
She is very, very ill.
I spent a lot of time yesterday researching all of the medical diagnoses she has received, and the realization hit me that there is no recovery. Her quality of life might improve somewhat at times, but she is suffering from the fatal disease called life complicated by several different debilitating and ultimately fatal conditions, and she will never be the healthy, energetic, active woman that I knew most of my life.
So here I am with a woman who is full of memories, dreams, hopes and fears. I want to know those memories, dreams, hopes and fears. And that is exactly what we talk about all day long, and oftentimes into the night-time hours, too. I am asking lots of questions, listening, hearing, and understanding for the first time in my life.
I am a news junkie along with an insatiable appetite for understanding the world around me. This often means going back in time to search for the buried treasure of events, culture and memories of the women of the past. Because women have rarely been considered key players in history worthy of recording, only a few make it into the history books, and few are remembered for their roles as anchor, peace-weaver, caregiver, laborer, sustainer, provider of pleasure, nurturer, comforter, and so much more.
There are few archaeological records of the women who lived lives of service to men, families and communities. When the barrow of a warrior king is discovered, it is typically filled with ornaments extolling his greatness with no tribute to wife or mother. There are no barrows for women of, say, 8th century Britain. When I watch documentaries on vikings or Brits before the Middle Ages, there are few, if not zero, factual records of non-royal families, especially not women.
Here in the U.S., historical records of women are available in small numbers mostly in the form of diaries. Boy are those records precious. Most women wrote the stories of their lives on their children, homes, and immediate surroundings, all ethereal platforms that typically do not produce written remembrances other than a “M” for mother in genealogical records for later generations to discover, and even then female genealogical lines are difficult to trace because women gave up their own roots to become bound to their husband’s.
We aren’t important people, my family. My mom’s family never did much particularly spectacular except to serve in the American Revolution and be honest, hard-working people. Even so, my mom’s life is important and I intend to record it as well as I can. Her life is certainly important to me and the rest of our family. And so I am here, beside my sleeping mom, ready to bring her first morning cup of coffee to her and start the daily routine of medications, breathing treatments, blood sugar checks, meals and lots of talking, hand-holding, and sharing.
I am treasuring these intimate moments spent sleeping in the same bed, waking together, drinking coffee, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and falling asleep together with the television on. The level of intimacy we have found is beyond expression. It is Thursday today, and I fly home on Sunday. I am fighting the tendency to miss her already. I must not allow my sorrow at knowing I am leaving in a few days to darken our precious time together.
I have so much I could say, so many thoughts and ideas bouncing around in my head, that I am struggling to focus on this single blog post. I might write and write and write and post later, or just keep them as my record of my mom’s life for my family. I brought my camera wanting to photograph the big Texas sky, the spectacular sunrises and the powerful thunderstorms with lightning bolts unrivaled anyplace, but I think I will record my mom. She won’t want me to photograph her because she isn’t that glamorous Naval officer’s wife anymore. I am going to do my best to record her with the greatest of dignity. I don’t think I will be posting the now photos, but I might photograph some framed and albumed photographs and share those (which I did above).
Today is Thursday, August 14, 2014, and I am spending it with my mom.