My mom is dying.
Not in any imminent, rally round the bedside, watch the monitor with breath held kind of way, but more in a slowing down, help me from the bed to the bathroom, please, kind of way.
A year ago she landed herself in the hospital with diabetes, heart condition, toxemia and bi-polar so out of whack that it took five months and a dozen daily medications to stabilize.
I have avoided my mom for most of my adult life. An undiagnosed manic-depressive for most of my growing-up years she had been a remarkably unkind mother given to savouring petty grievances and pitting siblings and father against each other.
Last year when my sister called to say mom was in the hospital and I should go visit I thought not on your life. But remembering that whatever literary tendencies I have do come from this eccentric woman I went to see her.
She was sitting in a hard plastic hospital chair, shrunken down from what used to be voluminous to tiny — white-haired, bare-footed, rheumy-eyed. I bent down to ask do you know me? At 86, doctors have finally diagnosed her as bi-polar and medication has smoothed her cutting outbursts and Lady MacBeth viciousness.
“Of course,” she said, “of course.”
She didn’t know I’d gone back to university and was writing like a fiend. We talked about literature, about my siblings, the grandchildren, about the unfinished novels, hers and mine.
“It’s a good thing to know,” she said, “that as I prepare to leave this life that everyone around me is going to be alright.”
We started again, haltingly, to become mother and daughter.
Every Sunday I drive down to visit my mom. She has her own room in an old folks home that she rarely leaves unless someone bundles her into a wheelchair, which I do occasionally. In the spring, outside to the garden courtyard to exclaim over the potted flowers. Another time I stupidly said we should plan on going to a restaurant for tea and she said “Okay, let’s go now.”
Her body is failing, but her mind is still sharp and she is, I have discovered, wise.
A few weeks ago she looked at me quizzingly and asked if I had anyone in my life.
Um, you mean like a man? I said, stalling.
I tried to explain that after being alone for 10 years I had come to the conclusion that on some level I was still in love with my husband and that there just didn’t seem to be room to love anyone else.
“You don’t have to love them dear,” said my snowy-haired mother, turning her sky blue eyes on me, “You just have to, to go with them.”
I laughed all the way back to Whistler.
Every week there is a further slowing. With one hand under one arm and another around her bony shoulder I help her shuffle from bed to chair. I remember when I was only as high as her waist and she helped me through illnesses. I had forgotten.
“Did you ever think you’d see your mother come to this?” she asks.
We will all end up here mom. I’m going to be 50 soon.
“Fifty?! You? How can that be?”
When her dinner arrives this week her thoughtful nurse brings me a meal also. We sit at a TV tray, our plates crowded together sharing our meals. At one point she glances at me with a contented smile. I realize this is the first meal we’ve shared in almost 20 years. With a lump in my throat and struggling to swallow I wonder if it would be our last. To help the moment pass I ask her a ridiculous question: So what do you think about marrying for convenience?
“I think that’s an excellent idea,” she says.
She pushes more potato onto her fork.
“Because you might gain a perspective you didn’t have before,” she says, shakily aiming the fork to her mouth. I help guide her hand, then rest my head briefly on her shoulder.
Change the perspective. Yes. You never know what you might discover.