We sat across from each other knees touching, face to face, hand in hand, heart to heart on a cool day in August 2015. We’d been in that room hundreds of times over the previous three years. We’d talked of strings and things, of less and more, of whether it was rainy or sunny or cloudy or whatever. Social chitchat is among the last skills to go. But this conversation, which had begun here, was deep and meaningful.
“I’m sorry for what’s happened Mom.” I wanted to protect her, but I couldn’t.
“Yeah. I’m sorry too. I’m sorry too, but I’m hoping it’s better th th th th th th th th than…” She couldn’t quite complete her thought.
“Than what Mom?”
“Than than than than than a worse thing that might happen you know.” The worse thing would happen one year, one week, and one day later. I didn’t know that then. Still, I lost it. My face was a flood plain. My breath came in short gasps between tiny sobs.
“Yeah. So I feel better about it all, eh?” she said. I couldn’t answer. She continued. “I hope it I hope it I hope it comes to a better better end,” she said. Tears clung to her lower lids. Tenacious. Just like she was.
“I hope it does too,” I choked.
“Yeah, I hope I hope I hope it does does too,” she repeated. Her voice was husky. The room was quiet except for the beating of our hearts, the scratch of our our voices, the rustle of time’s curtains.
“Yeah,” I said.
“Okay,” she said. We both said okay a lot; even when it wasn’t.
“It seems everything I do to try to help you turns out wrong Mom.” That wasn’t true. But that’s how I felt that day. Helpless. Powerless. Defeated.
“Well I know I know drink out wrong…It’s it’s it’s it’s it’s coming coming coming coming to a better better la la la la la la la la la lovely lovely. Okay dear?” A slight tremble overlay her stutter. I sat there awestruck by this woman who was my mother; this woman who was undaunted by dementia and death.
“Okay. It comes it comes it comes to to to to to to,” her voice trailed off again. She looked directly into my eyes. We both waited. I heard vague sounds from the kitchen down the hall. I don’t know if she heard them too. A gentle breeze snuck through the open window behind me; it kissed the nape of my neck. I shivered.
“To what Mom?” I asked encouraging her to articulate her thoughts despite the aphasia that had taken hold months before and was getting worse by the day. My hands were in hers. She began to squeeze them hard. She seemed unable to summon up any more words. Being momentarily mute didn’t stop her though. Her grip tightened and delivered a message more clearly than anything she might have said.
I wanted to hold on to the feeling of her hands firm and strong and steady around mine. I wanted to remember her ferocity, her desire, her faith. Before she could answer, I spoke again.
“You’re squeezing my hands really hard Mom,” I said so I wouldn’t forget.
“I know I’m squeezing your hands hard. I’m squeezing your hands hard,” she repeated.
“Yeah.” I affirmed, my voice soft and broken.
“But I love the hands anyway,” she said.
“I know you do Mom.”
“Well I’ll get your little hands out of out of out of claw claw claw cloggy anyway.”
I laughed through my tears.
“I hope I do,” she said, and laughed a little too. This was a gift. She rarely laughed any more, a “mask-like face” being one of the side effects of the drugs she was being given. I hated that. I missed her smile and her laugh.
“I hope you do too Mom,” I said.
“Well I hope you get a good good good good good gishy now.” She set her jaw the way she did, and tapped the back of my hand.
“A good what?” I laughed again.
“A little gishy.” She tapped faster. “Gishy gishy gishy mummy mummy mummy,” she said.
“Mummy,” I echoed. I didn’t recall ever calling her mummy; although I may have as a small child. It’s what she called her own mother. She still did sometimes when she spoke of her. “Shall I get us some tea?” I asked.
“Get us some tea,” she replied. “That would be good. I want you to mess me a nice cup of tea.” She started to pat my hand again, fast and furious. “Okay my darling. Okay my sweetheart,” she said. She hadn’t called me darling or sweetheart in quite some time. Pat pat pat pat pat pat….ratatatatat. Ratatatatat. Ratatatatat. My arm was a percussion instrument.
“Would you like a cookie with it?” I knew the answer. But I asked the same question every day anyway.
“A cookie with it?” She looked at me, still holding my hands. “That would be nice my darling. That would be nice.”
And it was.