Archive for February, 2014|Monthly archive page

Bonita, Lady of Spain

I have lunch most Thursdays with a group of women who have worked or still work in communications in various parts of the university. One of them happens to be an old friend of Mom’s. They met over their shared love for bridge and were serious players at one time, playing weeknights at a club in our neighborhood and often attending weekend tournaments. And a funny thing I’ve always known about their relationship is that Mom accompanied this friend and her second husband on their honeymoon, in Spain. I don’t know if she’d want me to identify her, so I’ll call her JW.

At a recent lunch, JW gave me two photos from that vacation in Spain. Her brother-in-law recently died and she had been going through pictures for his memorial. I had seen one of the photos before, of Mom in her swimsuit, her hair in a bandana and a bandage on her chin. Mom had taken a spill at the hotel (I think) and bashed her chin. I’m pretty sure she had stitches, and that she covered up her hair because she couldn’t wash it without risking getting water on her wound.

Mom, a third wheel on her friends' honeymoon in Spain.

Mom, a third wheel on her friends’ honeymoon in Spain.

I had seen this photo before, but didn’t remember the details. I was pleasantly surprised to see she is petting a puppy. Mom had loved dogs her whole life, and was an excellent grandma to my two dogs, letting them out daily until she couldn’t remember to do that anymore. Her swimsuit is also so familiar. I’m sure I’m wrong, but it seems as if she wore that same suit every year for my entire childhood. During summers, she liked to lie out in the sun in the back yard, always in that suit.

This next photo was new to me. I love it.

Mom and friends, probably having cocktails.

Mom and friends, probably having cocktails.

My lunch lady friends thought that I resemble Mom in this photo. I think so, too. “And she’s so pretty,” I said, not meaning to claim anything about myself. It is just a classic Bonnie look. She has a cigarette in her hand, appears to be reaching for a beer. She’s wearing a sweater that I recognize. And that hairstyle – she had that same general style until she was a grandmother, probably. Though my hair is now short, I think I have hair like hers. But mine is grayer now than hers was at my age – it’s possibly grayer than hers is now. My hair has thinned with age and has some uncooperative waves, and would probably look like Mom’s in this photo if I grew it out again.

JW and I calculated that Mom was 37 in these photos. That is striking to me, that she was so much younger in these pictures than I am now. I find aging to be an interesting experience and I am not troubled by it a bit. But I do often imagine that Mom must have been so much older than she really was as I grew up, just because it’s odd for me to think of being old enough to have a youngest child in college, which was the case when she was 48. Meanwhile, I am childless, but I’ve had a sense since she got sick that Mom is the “child” I never had. And she is 76 years old.

I had always known that Mom went on that trip, but I didn’t know why. JW said they were talking over drinks at the Blue Danube, probably after playing bridge, and JW had learned of a very affordable trip to Spain chartered through a veterinary association she freelanced for. She and her husband, married about six months, decided that sweet deal would be perfect for the honeymoon they hadn’t yet taken. And Mom said, “I want to go.” And so it was. That’s a great thing about Mom’s adult life – she had a terrific circle of friends. JW said it worked out very well – a threesome, she said, attracted locals interested in chatting, and they really enjoyed that interaction. Mom actually had a flirtation with a bullfighter that they met. He was short and had a scar from being gored. When the three were preparing to leave, he wanted to join Mom on the plane (JW functioned as a translator with her minimal Spanish). Mom declined. I do remember how she described his reaction: “Stu-PEED!” Like so many of Mom’s experiences, it made for a great story.

Aches and pains of everyday life

I’ve had a mild stomach ache for a few days. And headaches – possibly sinus issues. Worst of all, persistent pain in a muscle near my hip, which I suspect is compressing my sciatic nerve.

When I had these tales of woe as a young person, Mom would say it sounded like I had a case of the aches and pains of everyday life. I haven’t thought of that phrase in a long time, but it sure applies today. And it makes me smile to think about it, and to miss that simple exchange between mother and daughter. I was frustrated by that response as a kid. But I think now, as an adult, that it offers useful perspective. I am not actually ill, after all. Just a little inconvenienced.

I was thinking earlier about writing a post and I was going to attribute my aches and pains to stress. And maybe that’s a contributing factor. But I prefer the idea of just considering them a passing bunch of aches and pains that will come and go.

I do think I am experiencing a slow burn of steady stress, partly related to Mom, partly related to figuring out when our dog with cancer’s life is no longer worth living – for him, partly related to a variety of pains of everyday life that aren’t physical. Nothing so very serious. Just there. And sometimes more pronounced after I see Mom.

I visited the Alz center Saturday after a bit of a hiatus. The last time I had visited, Mom was sound asleep. I sat for a short while but she didn’t wake up so I didn’t stay. On Saturday, she was eating her lunch when I arrived. An aide was sitting beside her, alternately feeding another resident and feeding bites to Mom. This surprised me because as far as I knew, Mom was still able to feed herself, albeit usually without utensils.

I must have looked alarmed. I said, “Does she need to be fed?” And the aide said she just helps Mom when she has a chance. I didn’t mean to accuse her of anything but looking back, I think I sounded a little harsh. That just would have represented a big change – that I may or may not be prepared to accept. I really like this aide, and she is very good natured, so I don’t think she took any offense.

I sat down on Mom’s other side. I lifted a potato wedge to her mouth and she bit half of it off. She picked up chunks of chicken and ate those, too. I fed her some spoonfuls of ice cream but she eventually took the cup from me and slurped it all up. The aide put the glass of water near Mom and Mom grabbed the glass and said, “Water’s nice.” The aide helped with that interpretation. Which made my heart sink a little. I don’t hear Mom enough to be able to be the first to interpret her jumbled phrases.

When she was finished eating, I lifted her out of her chair to take a walk. Sometimes I’m timid about coaxing her to do something but I’ve seen her respond enough times to being pulled up by her hands that I gave it a try. As she got to her feet, she started tipping backward and I grabbed her and hugged her firmly. We both held the hug and laughed. And then we started to walk.

Mom continues to talk a lot, but doesn’t say many actual words. As we rounded a corner, though, she said, “I can’t understand. I can’t understand.” She seemed a little too distressed for my liking so I just told her it was OK, that she didn’t have anything to worry about. She found her way to a chair and sat down. I leaned on the arm of the couch next to her and watched her briefly. She kept her eyes downward and I assumed she might be tired. I put my face near hers but she wouldn’t look at me. She closed her eyes. So I kissed her cheek and left.

And I’ve been wondering ever since if Mom gets any joy at all out of my visits.

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