I’m reluctant to post new pictures of Mom. This one is more than 10 years old. She is receiving communion from Archbishop Theodore McCarrick , then head of the Newark Dioceses. He was saying a special mass, I forget the occasion, at OLV where she worked, until recently, and for about 40 years as secretary (and a parishioner since my parents moved to Paramus in the mid-1950s) first at the school than at the rectory. I received the sacraments in this church, where I also attended eight years of grammar school.
I was taking new pictures of Mom, nearly every trip to the assisted living facility, putting them on Facebook, sometimes on Dislocations. I’m not going to do that any more, or at least not as much. Mom, who turns 92 in June, is slowing down. It seems an unfair intrusion to take so many pictures of her now. She’s increasingly frail, more forgetful, more easily fatigued. I have some old pictures I haven’t scanned yet or commented on. Might use those for a while when inspiration strikes.
When I can’t drive anymore, plant me next to Kimball.
Kimball, her husband, my father, died in 1988. Her plot has been long reserved alongside Dad’s. He’s buried in the hometown, Paramus. Until she went into an assisted living facility, she drove to his grave a few times a week. When I visit, I always bring purple flowers, and we would go to the cemetery and leave some flowers on Dad’s site. I like to share them with your father, she would say.
My mother was friends with the some of the N. J. branch of the order of the sisters of charity, who ran OLV when she worked as the school secretary. Sister Eileen and Sister Rita were her two of her closest friends, and especially after my father passed away, they and my mother spent a lot time together, going on vacations and drives and such. When you reach 92 you’ve seen most of your friends die and she watched those two go through severe decrepitude before passing on. Their deaths shook her up, the way they suffered as they died nearly as much as the loss of their companionship. While such a devout Catholic – I don’t think they can come more devout than Mom and remain part of the laity – she is adamantly pro euthanasia. I remember this conversation after Sister Eileen died, when she told me not to let her be hooked up like that. She has always adamantly insisted, if and when then the time comes, to be considered DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). Being completely helpless and inactive is her biggest fear.
Plant me next to Kimball has been her motto, her lament, and mostly, her mantra.
For years it was, when I can’t drive anymore, plant me next to Kimball.
She drove up until age 89 or so. Being in the passenger seat was terrifying when she was in her 80s and behind the wheel. Want to see someone’s eyes go wide and jaw drop in shock, say “My Mother is 88 and still driving.” Seemed there was a new ding or dent in her Taurus every visit. When did that happen Mom? Somebody must have hit the car when it was parked, she replied. I later found out there were a few minor accidents that went to the police report and insurance stage that she somehow forgot to inform me about
Her license was taken away when a police officer stopped her going North on the shoulder of Route 17 South. She tried to get it reinstated, took the test three times. We had this family meeting, the siblings and their adult offspring, to convince her to give up the privilege of driving. An emotional couple of hours, the meeting resembled an intervention. Some honest emotions, mostly revolving around affection and compassion were expressed, which in spite of the tense situation, was actually nice. It was a break from our typical pattern. My family tends to resist expressing feelings; in contrast, sarcasm always flows freely.
We sold the Taurus. She made other arrangements to get her to her one day a week job at the rectory and to church on Sunday and holy days of obligations. My older sister took her to get groceries once a week. I took a cab from the train for the visits. She didn’t remind anybody of her plea to plant her next to Kimball.
I did some research, found out there’s a senior citizen bus in Paramus that carts around old folk, practically free. I sent her information, had them call her. Mom, I said, why don’t you use the bus?
That bus is for seniors she replied, appalled at the suggestion. She was 89 at the time.
When I need to use a cane to walk, plant me next to Kimball.
Within a year of the farewell to driving, we realized she couldn’t safely live alone in the suburban homestead and we moved her to the assisted living facility where she is today. She stayed active, took walks after her meals and kept the rectory job.
But she started to fall down, loose her footing more often. One spill landed her in the hospital for a couple of days. I’m all right, Timothy. I slipped. The facility mandated she use a cane. My sister was afraid they would throw her out of the facility for insurance concerns over her disobedient behavior.
So, Mom adapted to using the cane, at first carrying it but not actually walking with it. Most of the other residents at the facility use walkers or wheel chairs. Mom is one of the oldest folks there. The cane enhanced her mobility, the planting was postponed.
She again modified her mantra.
When I need to use a walker, plant me next to Kimball.
The cane eventually proved insufficient. She fell at the rectory and the Monsignor fired her from the rectory job, which upset her. We can’t take the risk, he told her (she still goes to services there of course). Scabs formed on the wide bruises that ran up and down her shins. I’m fine, Timothy. Medicare paid for the walker, a sort of lightweight job with hand breaks. She’s pretty adept at using the gizmo. No planting yet.
She has slowed down this spring. Her appetite has diminished. She’s always tired. She doesn’t have Alzheimer’s or dementia, but her short term memory is fading. I try to visit at least every other week. More decline is apparent every time. The increments grow.
Our bodies can be so wonderful, so beautiful, so much fun; but they are actually weak and fragile and temporary vessels. What is a natural cause in reality? I accept the inevitable. I am not sad, although sorrow is never far away. I’ve talked to friends about this and everybody means well when they point out the length of her years. Old or young though. She’s still my mother. Does love ever have enough time? Nothing that can be said will ease my current apprehension – or soften the eventual loss. Seeing the encroaching debilitation, the powerlessness one has when it comes to physical aging, knowing this loss looming in my life, doesn’t make me angry or overcome with despair. It sucks, but it just is. I’m not sure how else to explain this sorrow. I just know it can not be assuaged and I have no desire to try.
For now...I still have afternoons with Mom... recent visit... last week... we sit together on the couch and I put my arm around her. This never happened before. She laid her head on my chest and dozed. I held her closer. We were watching a rebroadcast of the wedding of Prince William. My Mom is older than the queen, who led her country in officially welcoming a new generation. Mom has stuck it out longer than most, endured impediments she thought she could not. She’ll be 92 next month. She’s been Roman Catholic her entire life. I think of all the masses she’s attended. Apprehension disappears for the Moment.
Rest easy Mom, wait a little longer.