She sat in her large recliner covered with worn blankets for extra warmth. She was shrunken with age and her spine was so curved by scoliosis she slumped down into the bowels of the chair. It seemed to swallow her tiny body.
She lost weight since she went to this place three months ago. She didn’t eat. Her meals were pureed in a blender and fed through a large syringe. Open, please. Thank you.
She wore bright blue flowered pajamas which I knew didn’t belong to her. She was covered by a Christmas blanket and looked like an incongruous mixture of Hawaii with the North Pole.
Her beautiful white hair was uncombed, and she periodically raised her right hand to carefully brush a few strands from her forehead. There, that’s better.
Two other women sat in similar recliners in the dark den lit only by the reflected light of a massive television screen which was the focal point of the room.
The sitcom How I Met Your Mother was playing that afternoon. No one watched this episode about misadventures on New Year’s Eve. I found the irony in the sitcom’s name since the woman in chair number one was my mother.
She needed care for the past four years, and I regularly sat with her as her dementia progressed in medical jargon from mild to moderate to severe. Severe was where we were on that first day of 2012.
I tried to talk to her about visiting my aunt, her sister-in-law, over the weekend. No response. Mom had adored my Aunt Lucille so I thought she might be able to find her somewhere. Instead, she gazed at her black leather shoes on the floor in front of her. Slowly, very deliberately, she bent over and painstakingly reached for her left shoe. I moved to help her because I was afraid she’d fall out of the chair.
Do you want to put on your shoes, Mom? She stared vacantly at me and shook her head. Ok, I said and returned to my seat on the large overstuffed sofa next to her chair.
I made conversation with one of two sisters who cared for my mother and the two other mothers who sat in the recliners. Mothers and daughters and sisters. We were all connected in the little den with the big tv.
My mother ignored me as she continued her ritual of laboriously picking up her black shoes one by one, tugging on the tongue to ready it for her foot, fiddling with the shoelaces as if to adjust them and then lowering the shoe to the floor in front of her to the same place it was before. She did that over and over again. Ad infinitum.
During one of her attempts, she dropped a shoe beyond her reach, and I put it in front of her chair with the other one. Do you need help to put on your shoes? I asked again. No. I have to keep on this road, she answered. She was on a mission.
The mother in chair number two told me she tried to help my mother with her shoes earlier. She told me to get away from them so I did, the woman said with a note of exasperation.
I’m sorry, I said. That wasn’t really who she was. But I was wrong. That was who she was now.
I talked and tried to avoid watching my mother and her little black shoes for an eternity that was only an hour. Mom, I have to go, I said. She looked at me with some level of recognition and said Don’t leave me.
I’ll be back in a day or two, I said, hugged her and kissed her on the cheek and told her I loved her.
I love you too, she said. I really do.
I didn’t know on New Year’s Day in 2012 that my mother would be gone in April after years of waging war against an unknown enemy who robbed her not only of her body but also her mind, her memories. It was a losing battle, but I expected the loss.
Estimates place 1.6 million homes around the world in 2020 hadn’t known its mothers, sisters, wives, daughters as well as its fathers, brothers, husbands and sons wouldn’t live to see the first day of 2021. Shocked, dazed, saddened by the unexpected deaths of family members and friends, the fight against another unknown enemy called Covid-19 was briefer than my mother’s war but just as deadly.
Vaccines discovered at “warp speed” offered hope of victory over the Covid-19 devil in 2020 although the roll out at the end of the year has been poorly managed in the US in keeping with the tradition of pandemic mismanagement established at the federal level in previous months. Agent Orange is so busy trying to keep the presidency through wacky shenanigans since the November election that he has no time to participate in governing. The president is AWOL, and time has stood still during the political transition while members of the current administration remain persistently unconcerned about preserving either our national security, our democracy or our sense of compassion for the people whose lives will be forever changed by the events of 2020.
Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted, according to the gospel of Matthew. Garth Brooks sang of “taking any comfort that I can.” I’m hoping 2021 will be known as the year of comfort for mourners everywhere.
Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.