the healing muse

Volume 3, 2003

You're Something to Dream About

Nancy Schreher

I am the best of daughters, always striving for perfection. There was a time when I felt I had to be perfect, but now I am the good daughter because I choose to be, because I want the last years of my mother's life to be easier than some of the others. The congestive heart failure that has left her mind confused has also seemed to erase many of the worries she used to fret over. And I'm the caregiver now, the one in charge; she is my child. Whatever I say goes, according to Mom. It's a role I'm unfamiliar with, never having had children of my own, but I have embraced it.

I must go now, or I'll be late. I must hurry to pick her up from the nursing home. Grab my coat. Don't forget Buford, the little blue bunny she bought to be the protective spirit of the prettiest car in the parking lot. If she gets in the car and Buford is not in his appointed spot she will point her finger at the unsentinelled space and shake her head. Today we're going to the mall to do some Christmas shopping.

Oh good, there's a parking spot where she can see the car from her window. I wave just in case she's looking.

Don't forget the neatly folded laundry. Though I look forward to seeing her, I've learned a lot about expectations these days. I never know what I'm going to find. Will she have put something away to hide it from her neighbor Theresa and not be able to remember where she put it? You can't imagine the hiding places she can come up with in just one small room! She's very inventive. It recently took me an hour of frenzied searching to find her good glasses. They were wrapped in a pair of underpants (clean, thank goodness!) and buried at the bottom of the Depends box in the back of her closet.

Mom tells the nurses, “Oh, don't worry, my daughter will find them when she comes.” And they don't. And I do.

I greet the nurses on duty as I breeze past their station. Just smiles and hellos, that's a good sign. I sigh with relief as I round the corner. Sometimes she's in tears over something one of the nurses, usually the one she calls the Hatchet, has said or done. Then I am the consoler. If it seems serious, I may have to become the mediator, with a trip to the Director of Nursing to intercede on her behalf. She may be confused and have forgotten that we are going out today. She may be sitting there half-dressed, waiting for that “third hand” to help her pull up her pants. But of all the possibilities, the one thing I know for certain is that she will be thrilled to see me.

“Well, look who's here,” she beams as I enter her room. “It's my darling daughter, my angel from heaven.”

I smile and bend over to kiss her. It's a tough role to fill, but I'll do my damnedest. She glances at my jeans.

“Oh good, I'll get to wear that coat today.”

She knows that jeans mean a weekend day and most likely an excursion.

As I help her go to the bathroom she says, “I'm such a bother to you.”

“You've got the first letter mixed up, Mom; you're my mother, not a bother and I don't mind helping you. Look at all the years you took care of me. Did you ever wish I wasn't your daughter?”

“Never! Every night when you were asleep, I went to your room and thanked God that you were there.”

My heart glows as I tuck this morsel away. Someday these hoarded treasures will be my only comfort. I comb her hair ever so gently, get her into her coat, and we're ready for our adventure.

I wheel her down to the lobby past the goodbyes of the nurses and the wistful stares of the others left behind. I leave her in the lobby, run out to the parking lot and pull the car up to the front door. Open the passenger door on the way back in. Maneuver the wheelchair through the double doors without having one bang into Mom. Jockey the wheelchair into just the right spot next to the car, put the brakes on, the footrests up. Arm under her arm, I hoist her up; steady her with one arm while getting the wheelchair out of the way. Then turn her slowly around, no fast moves here. Don't forget to pull up her coat in back and be careful she doesn't hit her head on the car as she plops down on the seat. Then pick up her feet and gently swivel them around into the car. Put the seatbelt on. Fold up the abandoned wheelchair, put it in the back and we're ready to go. Phew! It's so much easier when my husband Bill comes along, but he is busy today.

At the mall, we find a great shirt for Bill – gray, forest green and burgundy plaid. Perfect! Mom is pleased.

“Papa Bear will be happy with our purchase,” she smiles.

We find some pants that she likes and she convinces me to buy a hat on impulse. Oh, and don't forget the cinnamon bun. Most likely I'll find the uneaten remains next week tucked behind the curtain forgotten, but she can't resist the smell. We go to a restaurant where we eat and talk and watch the parade of people. Sometimes we make up stories about them. Chocolate milkshakes aren't on the menu but Mom loves them so that we convince the waiter to make one for her.

Until Mom’s illness, I was never a mall person, but here we can find so much under one roof. We can spend the day, shop, be entertained, eat and always find a wheelchair accessible bathroom.

Back at the nursing home that evening, I help my mother get ready for bed. Wash her face and hands; clean her dentures; change her into her nightgown; help her go to the bathroom. I write in her diary what we did today and when I will stop by tomorrow in case she forgets. The diary is our link; it is never out of her reach. As I tuck her into bed, she smiles up at me.

“Your hair is always just so. And your earrings look so nice with your sweater. You're so pretty. You're something to dream about.”

I smile and kiss her goodnight.

“Please call and let the phone ring just once so I know you're home safe,” she requests.

I'm forty-six years old and she still worries about me driving home alone after dark. As I start the car for the trip home, I flash the headlights in her window, our goodnight signal.

It's been a long day and I'm tired but happy. Our relationship has not always been so harmonious but I'm thankful that we have this interlude. Being responsible for my mother has pushed me into many diverse roles, from making funeral arrangements to holding the emesis basin when she is sick. Not all of the roles are easy, but I find the strength to do them and I do them well. Having lived by myself for a number of years before I met Bill, I always thought I was too set in my ways, too independent to be a parent. That I would never be able to put someone else's welfare ahead of my own. And yet I have done this for my mother without even realizing it until the head nurse pointed it out to me one day. The pitter-patter of little feet may never echo in the halls of our house, but I add the title of caregiver to my nameplate nonetheless. Of all the gifts my mother has given me, this is the most precious.

Return to Table of Contents, Volume 3, 2003.

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