Wednesday, September 26, 2012

visiting mom

Highway 61 bridge; La Crosse, Wisconsin

Leaving the Driftless

I have said this before, repeated it until I believed it was true and even possible. To visit Mom is to put away the ego; to make the visit be not about me, but about her. Her needs; her feelings; her thoughts. No matter how ambling they are. It's not about me, I repeat to myself.

But when I sit next to her as she lays on her bed, my name is missing. She doesn't recognize me, or not me specifically. She seems to recognize that I am someone who loves her; someone who cares how she's doing. Someone close to her. I introduce myself: "Hi Mom, it's Rose. I brought my husband, Jon." Each time I visit or re-enter her room, I repeat it. Reminding her; reminding me. She smiles with some recognition, then drifts into her world.

At one point, she searches for my name the same way she did when I was a kid, by calling through the list of names for my older sisters: "JanetJoanneMaureen." She looked at me. This was familiar, a pattern set years ago, something I'd heard so many times. Still. Did I mention we share a first name?

My siblings had warned me to prepare myself for the visit. They see her much more often. I'm over 3,000 miles away. So I was patient; I tried; I encouraged each time. Then, Jon and I continued with our day. The first two times we'd visited, she'd been weepy; down. It was as though all those years of putting on a positive face had worn her out; she couldn't fight the unhappiness; the feeling she was not useful any longer. She suffered through an unspoken pain; invited me to recite Hail Marys with her, softly scolding me when I didn't recite the prayer with her. "You're not helping." I wonder what I'll recite over and over if my mind leaves me before my body's done with this world.

That Sunday, after we met some of the family for breakfast at the Elroy Legion Hall, Jon and I made one more stop to visit before taking the two-lane highways back to Minneapolis. Mom was resting on her bed, yet cheerful. We looked out the window at the patio and the white clouds drifting across blue skies. We didn't have much to say. She asked where I lived now and when I told her Alaska, she commented that it was far away. I didn't tell her we were leaving for home that day. I stroked her wisps of gray and blonde hair. Told her Jon and I would be taking a drive through the countryside. She said it sounded nice, then we left the room.

We stopped in the hall so I could talk to one of the aides about a couple things. Then I lost it and started crying. "What's wrong?" she asked in a voice she probably reserves for the elderly residents and for children with hurt feelings. I looked at Jon, hoping he could explain. When he didn't, I told her we were leaving that day. It didn't register: returning to Alaska, I added. "That's why I haven't seen you before," she said. But I still couldn't say what I really meant, which was that this may be the last time I saw my mom. Finally, I collected myself and returned to her room, again sat on the bed near the window where cool, fresh air was drifting in. I re-introduced us. It was as though Jon and I had just arrived.

We stayed only a short time. Long enough to again tell her that Jon and I were going for that drive. To tell her that I loved her. To look at her smile again. Then we left. Got back into the rental car, drove through Hillsboro, onto Highway 82, then Highway 33, on a route that would take us to La Crosse where we would cross the Mississippi River. Jon drove away with sparse words, but looks of understanding passed between us. My melancholy dropped away with the miles. Soon ridges separated us.

The day began warming as we backtracked the route we'd taken just over a week before: the detour near Wildcat Mountain, then through Ontario. When we arrived in Cashton (pop. 1,102), a parade was rolling through the town. 
In Cashton: I hadn't noticed the Mardi Gras beads.
In Cashton: little horses and wagon.

I wouldn't have minded waiting, but the police officer flagged us through between horse-drawn wagons and we were soon on our way. Past the wind turbines turning in unison beyond a corn field; past Amish stores and Organic Valley producers. As we neared La Crosse, we turned into a pullout that offered a view to the north and a sign that described the coulees. There we met a young woman who had been reclining in the bed of her pickup looking out at the view as she texted her friends and read. We may have interrupted her when we pulled in, but she was friendly and said she just enjoyed driving from the city to this spot where she could look at the view. I could see why: the vista went on for miles.

Wind power, outside Cashton
Soon we were navigating our way through La Crosse (pop. 51,320), crossing the Mississippi and heading up the River Road, stopping along the way to pick up a few items for lunch, then picnicking at a park just off the road. By the time we arrived at Dave and Kara's house in Minneapolis, we were a long ways from the visit with Mom.

That was just over two weeks, one flight and about three Alaskan wind storms ago. And one birthday. I've finally accepted that I won't get a card from Mom on my birthday. She's sent plenty over the years. Cards, letters, clippings. Never phone calls. Those, I made, though not often enough and not anymore. They're way too confusing for her, and now I've seen why.

I try to explain to friends how this feels. My acceptance. Understanding. I try, but they are mostly  goals and words I use to cover those deep fears I have for my own possible future. And the feelings I try to bury, all the while hurting because in front of her it seems I have disappeared.

Crossing that bridge...

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