Sometimes we are given little gifts in this life. Tiny stitches looped far apart are pulled together and the fabric of our lives gathers around us in a snug finished piece. A gift homemade with memories and still warm from the arms of a loved one, pressed into our hand as we say goodbye as a token to remember them by.
My mother loved a sing along. My closest brother in age was nine years older than me and the brother that I lived with at home the longest. We were the ones who sang. A recurrent theme through my childhood was my mother asking us to sing for her and with her. And we did. From my earliest memories I can see her, mostly in the kitchen, dancing and singing away. Old songs, War songs, Children's songs, Silly songs most of all. When I was still very young, I remember her stopping and saying to me, "Come on, I'll teach you to sing a round." "Sing, Row Row Row Your Boat", she instructed. I began and shortly after she followed. It took me awhile to get it. But before I knew it we were singing a round and having a grand time. The first of many times we would do so. Any chance she got she would ask me to 'round' Row Your Boat, with her. No matter how old I was I never tired of hearing her repertoire and joining in too as we would happily
Row Row Row...
She never had any idea who we were when we visited but she was always happy to see us. She was eighty years old. She would smile and chat nonsense with all of her social graces intact. She had come to the point where most of the time it was a string of words rather than actual sentences. But one day, when I came in she was sitting motionless in a chair. Lethargic. This was unusual. I braced myself for reaching the next level. It was just so sudden. Then the nurse called me over and told me she had been getting ready to contact us. Something was wrong. Physically. This was the cause of the change, not the Alzheimer's. After tests were done we found she was having internal bleeding from the colon. My mother had a "No Heroic Measures" Directive but the gastrointerologist said they would check it out. There was no cancer. A small tear. It was repaired. It went very well they said. No problem but they couldn't be sure it wouldn't happen again. But when I visited her back at the nursing home the next day, she was lying in bed and did not wake at all during my visit. She was so pale and still. You could barely see her breath rise and fall. Her arm was swollen. The skin stretched tight. She had developed a blood clot. She was being given blood thinner but we were told to be prepared. I realized then I might never see her up again. Might possibly never see her open her eyes. It could be over at any time. They told my brother he needed to sign some papers. Even with my mothers instructions already in place they wanted back up paperwork showing that the directives were understood by the family. I could tell he did not not like this job. All I could do was be there with him for support.
The next morning I met with my brother in the lobby. After he finished the paperwork we climbed on the elevator to go check on our mom. At the end of the hall I entered the room, expecting to see my mother lying there, much like the day before. There was no one in the room. Panic immediately set in. I turned to my brother, "She's not here!" Where is our mother? We hurried down the hall to the nurses station with frightened thoughts flashing through my brain. Had it already happened? Did they forget to tell us? What did they do with our mom?
"Mrs. --?, said the attendant, she's right over there in the common room, we got her up today."
I turned and my eyes frantically searched the room. There she was. My brother and I looked at each other in confusion and disbelief. What the heck was going on here? Our mother was dangerously ill.
"Hey mom", we came to see you". She seemed perfectly fine physically. There was no swelling visible in her arm at all. The clot was not there. I don't know who we were that day, but she was glad we came. Her bright blue eyes were shining and clear. Her smile quick. We did the usual, asking how she was, telling her what was going on with us and she answered politely even though she had no idea what we were talking about. Her hair was a mess. My mother was always extremely picky about her hair and I couldn't stand to see it that way, knowing how upset she would have been if she was aware of it. I stood, pulling my brush out of my bag to try to smooth it down. She loved having her hair brushed and now she did as she always had, closing her eyes and leaning her head back to enjoy it. My brother and I kept exchanging glances of bewilderment.
This was an Alzheimer's unit and the elderly people who were still mobile began to congregate near the front of the room where a young woman with a camp counselor voice boomed out that it was time for everyone to gather around. My mother was distracted from our visit. It had been a very long time since I had seen the mother I loved and the woman who was my dear friend. She had been confused, sometimes incoherent, angry, in tears, like a child and serenely polite, but never my mom anymore.
My brother and I whispered that it would be a good time to go. We both had kids to pick up from school soon. The camp counselor for the aged called out in a rousing tone, come on everyone, it's time for sing along! My mother looked toward the others lined up in their chairs ready to clap and sing. Her eyes lit up and she smiled, " Oh Boy!" We told her, "I guess we will go now, mom. You go have fun." She turned to us her eyes alight, No, you don't have to go yet do you? Come on! You sing too! I flashed through the years to our old kitchen. "Come on. You sing too." My brother and I shrugged and sat back down. Just like a preschool class the gray haired children around us clapped their hands and raised their voices. Children's songs. They all still knew the words. "Okay, it's time for Row Your Boat" their leader cried.
I watched my brother, the one who all our lives had been lively and musical and full of fun. I watched him change from the posture of stress and sadness, and grin. My mother sang, she tapped her feet. We laughed. We sang. Loud and clear we joined the boisterous choir rowing in our chairs. We rowed along our mirth and our mothers joy and memories and miracles.
Merrily Merrily Merrily......
It was time to go. "You have to go now?" my mother asked politely but cheerfully as we rose. "Yes. Do you want to move up closer to the others?" "No. I'm fine here." Hugs and kisses. I love you. I love you. I love you too. I will see you soon. She forgot we were there before we even reached the end of the room. We got on the elevator and as we waited for the doors to close, I turned to watch my mother. Framed in the opening, she sat erect in her straight back chair. For a moment she frowned, rubbing her hands together nervously. She looked lost. I felt as strong a pull as I have ever felt in my life. I want to go back. I want to stay. I want my mother. The doors began to close and I almost reached to push the button and get off again but at that moment the next song began and she perked up with a smile. As the doors closed over my view she once again began to sing along. I decided to let it be. We had a nice afternoon. And my children would be waiting soon, for their mother.
It had been a very long time since the three of us sang together. I have no clear memory of how the room around us looked. It was full of people who are a background blur. I hear the voices. Like when we were children, our world in that hour revolved around our mother. We sang with our mother that day. We had a good time with her. Best of all, so did she.
When we reached the parking lot my brother and I were fit to be tied. She was doing great! We were totally confused. We could not believe what had just happened. He would need to call the doctors and see what was going on. "I don't know what to do," he said. Our sister had moved to England and had already purchased her plane tickets to hurry home and see our mom. "I don't think she can get a refund, he said, and I don't know whether she should still come back now or wait." I didn't know either. But it looked like maybe we had all been granted a reprieve. We had certainly been granted a lovely visit with mom. My sister decided to come home anyway in the end. That was good. I was glad she did. Perhaps my mother could sense somehow that all of her children were close by. Because in the middle of the next night, shortly after my sisters plane landed , with barely a ripple my mother peacefully drifted away in her dreams.
Gently down the stream.
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