Three years of guilt, frustration and heartbreak. Three years of hating myself for being the bad guy and making her move. Three years of sorrow for loss, for what comes next, for a life grown small.
When I made the decision (with support from my wonderful sisters) to move my mother from her house to a senior living facility closer to me, she was so upset she got shingles, which are nasty and often result from stress. (And, by the way, if you are sending a picture of your mother’s butt to your mother’s doctor so the doc can get a jump on the diagnosis, remember to erase that picture so that the next time you whip out your cell phone to show a new acquaintance pictures of your cat—taken before the butt photos—you don’t accidentally moon your new acquaintance with your mother’s butt.)
After the shingles went away, I found her lying on the floor one day. Urinary tract infection but maybe a small stroke. Then came the broken hip—you know, the one where she told me her knee was bothering her and I drove her to the ER, where they gently suggested an ambulance might have been a better choice. And then surgery to replace that hip, after which she thought I was my father and announced to me, “They tell me you’ve been dead for 19 years.” I resolved to do something about that little facial hair issue and the apparent pallor issue.
Then rehab and then coming home and all the confusion and finding full time help and then the inevitable worsening of her condition—forgetting where she was or big parts of her life story or not knowing where I was born or when, which made it much easier to lie about my age and feel good about it because if your mom doesn’t know, who does?
And always, the guilt. The guilt about ruining the end of her life. My mom gave me a sweater once that had the initials DOM over the left breast—Daughter of the Millennium. It was a gentle joke—I often referred to myself that way, just to tease my sisters—but in some small way, I believed it. But once the new century began, there was no more talk of this, and I knew I was seriously out of the running for any kind of honor, except perhaps the Cruella De Vil "Rhymes With Witch" Award.
Until one recent Sunday when my mom asked me again to explain to her why she was living where she was living. And I told her the story and I said, “You were very angry with me.” And she smiled and said, “Oh, honey, I had no business living by myself anymore. You did the right thing.” Absolution. Finally. From her.
And someday, maybe I’ll even forgive myself for doing what needed to be done. There’s a leadership lesson in there somewhere, but I don’t want to think about it too much because I bet Barack Obama doesn’t cry when he ponders his tough and unpopular decisions.
It is opening day of baseball season. My mother loves baseball, loves the athleticism of it, loves the Dodgers. I’m disgusted with the Dodgers because of the Divorce and how they phoned it in last season, but I agree with her about the grace of the game. She asks me repeatedly during the off-season: How many more days till opening day?
Finally the day is here, and I stop by her place with a new Dodgers jersey and she is delighted. I write down the time of the game and the channel and give it to the caretaker and tell Mom to root for the Dodgers in their home opener against the Giants. She is beaming as I leave and says, “You are the best kid.” I am beaming too.
At 90, my mother has taught me another important lesson: Life, examined as a selected series of moments, can be joyful. I asked her later whether she watched the game, and she didn’t remember. But it didn’t matter—finally—to either of us.