I spent last night at my mother’s apartment. No, it wasn’t Girls’ Night Out, I’m afraid. My mother had the flu. So did my brother. And the doctor reported his patients were dropping like flies.
I drew the night shift. Usually, I’m spared this duty as my mother’s team of caretakers is a well-oiled machine, the ladies often working out scheduling amongst themselves. I was worried about how poor, neurotic Emma would cope, not having me around to walk her. This has proven to be a chronic problem over the years; I was keeping my fingers crossed that she would not explode until I got home this morning. I’m relieved to report that she was extremely happy to see me and seems none the worse for wear.
Stomach flu is a toughie. It delivers a one-two punch that leaves you unsure if you’re coming or going. Have it long enough and you risk dehydration and could wind up in the hospital. It’s particularly tough on our seniors.
It’s hard for me to reconcile this exhausted, sick version of my mother with that energetic, All-City field hockey center forward of yesteryear. Even as a young mom, she played tennis weekly and golfed throughout the summer. I have many happy memories of games of jacks with her on the kitchen floor beside me. I don’t recall if she let me win. She probably did; if she had been fiercely competitive, it would have stuck in my mind. A favorite, more recent snapshot: Mom – a sprightly 70 – on the living room floor with her youngest grandson. That toddler, my Mick, turned 19 this week.
Since those happy days, life has finally succeeded in slowing my mother down. There were my dad’s various health issues and his death, the loss of her beloved big brother, Bob, and Claire, his wife, who doubled as my mom’s best friend. Just minutes after my aunt died, my mother suffered a massive stroke outside that hospital room. It left her legally blind. Mom simply couldn’t bear to let go of Claire. That double-whammy tested the resilience of a tough but tired warrior.
There is nothing unusual or unexpected about what has happened to my mother in recent years. Anyone with elderly parents will recognize them in my words. We all must go through the life cycle, moving along whether we’re ready or not. Time is a gift, not to be squandered. But it also robs us of our robust health and those we love, if we were lucky enough to have them in the first place.
It’s just plain hard to get old. Period. I know, I know. It does beat the alternative. But because of how I spent last night, it’s natural right now to dwell on the downside. Sometimes, even the simplest pleasures elude us. My mother has enjoyed my recent sojourn into writing tremendously. She would kvell when I read her the latest. Even that is now more often frustrating than rewarding. She simply cannot hear me. She ends up faking it. She knows it and I know it. We both feel somewhat cheated, although we will never discuss it. But, again, it’s clearly better than nothing.
Like many of her generation, my mother’s friends and relatives are dying off, becoming increasingly frail, their memories fading into an Alzheimer’s haze. The survivors are like polar bears stranded on Arctic floes, that are melting beneath their feet.
My mother was most considerate about when she get sick. Timing really is everything. Had she been ill on Monday night, I would have been hard pressed to be downtown with her and at my polling place by 5:00 the next morning. (I was a volunteer poll watcher on November 4th.) Likewise, if she had gotten sick on Election Day itself, I would have been physically incapable of responding that evening. After that long, long day, I felt like I had been hit by a Mack truck. At least I was able to rack up one good night’s sleep before the flu struck. Way to go, Mom!
Last night, I slept in my father’s bed. The last time I did that was when I was sick as a kid. My father’s bed was both a refuge and a treat. My mother would make me nice and cozy, smoothing the covers and plumping the pillows. I could watch as much TV as I wanted, and enjoy endless trays of cinnamon toast. I suddenly realize why I have always had a soft spot for that dish.
I lay there again last night, hyper-aware of my mother’s every sigh, snore and rustle. Before she fell asleep, exhausted, I reached across and softly caressed her hand. “That feels good,” she murmured weakly. I can recall so many times when it was her cool hand passing over my forehead or lightly touching my hand, dispensing instant comfort. I was happy to return the favor. Thanks, Mom. Feel better soon!