These winter days, silent and dark, take me back to other times.
After Mom went into assisted living in November 2007, the snow began to fall and I began to clean the house of 50 years of accumulation. We had to throw out the furniture Mom’s six cats had sprayed because she couldn’t remember to clean out the six litter boxes scattered about the house. My son Donovan pulled out the urine soaked carpeting, installed the day Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. I sorted through drawers of cards, bags of old letters, a filing cabinet full of old bills. And in the cedar chest, I found among other things, the night gown my frail grandmother had worn in the nursing home where she spent her last two and a half years, finally dying at 97. Why did Mom bring it home to fold away and preserve? To have the last piece of clothing Grandma wore? “I wish she’d become senile,” Mom would say to me on the phone. “She cries and wants to go home to her big old house. It makes me feel so guilty.” And as the months limped along, she’d say, “I wish she could die. She is so unhappy. I’m so weary of going to see her twice a week. Your dad resents my going. I’m gone half of the day. I wish she could die.”
I thought it awful for her to wish for her mother’s death. But now - not so much. Did she bring home her mother’s nightgown because of deep guilt? Or to have one last thing with her mother’s scent on it? She often said through the years how much she missed her. Now, she looks for her. When I arrive at assisted living and say, “Hi, Mom,” she’ll turn and look around. “Where is she . . . where’s Mom?”
We watch our loved ones slide irretrievably into the past, their past – either real or imagined.