You saw your mother last week, toting your husband, wedding photos, stories and anecdotes, but she was quiet, different. And she was saying things that were odder than usual. After almost a year of her being happy to see you, as happy as she can be, which isn't much, but you take it, gladly, hungry for it, any morsel will do because happy is love and maybe she can feel that she loves you, she is not happy to see you. She is indifferent.
You see your mother two days ago for her birthday.You are with your aunt, her sister, and you drive to the care facility, "The Manor," a little worried because the onsite Nurse has called your aunt saying that your mother has been complaining about her face, and she doesn't look good. But she won't go to the doctor or the dentist.
You are driving, talking to your aunt about what you might say, how best to handle your mother's fears about dentists, their drills, their metal hooks and scrapers. Your mother doesn't want to go to the dentist because she doesn't want false teeth, she has always said. But she never brushes.
If it is an infection in her mouth and if not taken care of, the infection can get into the blood and kill her. And you try not to say, "good, good, this is what she wants, she wants to die," but you think you and your aunt are both choosing not to say it out loud. You think about how if your mother was your pet, you could have said goodbye to her years ago, dignified, the vets agreeing this was for the best.
Maybe if you talk about how the pain medicine is good now, how you don't feel a tooth being pulled, how they numb you completely, maybe she'll understand and go.
You finally arrive. Your mother is in her room and the caretakers open the front door to The Manor already worried. "Her face has been swollen," they say, "it's better today."
You go into her room. She is resting, like you always find her, on her side with the blanket over her head. Tired? Cold? Hiding?
You see her face. The left side so swollen and twice the size when just last week, she was fine. For her.
You are surprised. Taken completely aback, but you try not to look startled.
You have always thought, she needs to die, and if it's an infection from her teeth, then so be it. But you didn't think about the pain. You didn't realize that to die of an infection is to die a very painful death. She is your mother, your mother, you don't want her to be hurting.
"Does it hurt?" you ask, "are you in pain?"
"There is a volcano in my mouth." she says. And you try to catalogue what she just said, as you've been doing, so that you can make fun of it later, turn them into jokes, so that instead of crying, you can laugh. Say something like, well, at least one of the voices in her head is good at imagery, a poet.
But she is angry when your aunt mention the dentist. "You can just leave," she huffs loudly, until your aunt distracts her with, "Don't you want to open your gifts?"
She will come out with you, to Starbucks instead of lunch, because she only wants to eat soft foods and doesn't want to eat now. She orders a warm drink. And she doesn't say much. She stares. You try to include her in the conversation, but you can't think of things to say to her. You and your aunt catch up, and your mother stares.
Your mother asks if you can just drive around for a little bit, and you suggest going to the park, but when you get there, it is crowded. She doesn't want to get out and walk the perimeter. "Just drive around," she says, so you go through the neighborhood and try to find the fun Halloween decorations and point them out to her but you don't know how well she sees them because she won't go to the optometrist. The doctor.
You finish and call it a day, dropping your mother off back to the Manor and try to hug her although she's not interested in that.
On the way home, your aunt and you talk about schedules, houses, selling condos and property taxes, the benefits of owning versus renting because the last thing you want to talk about is your mother.
You are now back home, your aunt driving back over the hill, your husband still in Long Beach. You are alone. And for the first time in years,
Because as much as you want her to die, to slip out of this broken body and be free of it, you didn't count on the pain she'd be feeling when she gets sick.
And your throat hurts, and your eyes water, because she is your mother. In pain. And she refuses to let you take her to get medicine or see someone to help her. You can't help your own mother.
You think about the future, about how your mother will be cremated, like she's asked for the last 22 years, how there will be no funeral, no memorial.
No place you can go to, to grieve, to take solace, to feel like, if you go there, she will know, and stand beside you, invisible, understanding, full of love.
You think about her ashes, how you would want some of them. To take them with you to visit your own sister, and together you two could go and mourn for the mother you never had. To sprinkle them in the wind so that she may be carried off to the sky, up to heaven, and surrounded with light and love and be weightless with no fears, no worries, no voices.
Your mother, in heaven, maybe smiling down at you and proud. Maybe waiting patiently up there so that when you die, she will be the first in line to welcome you home, in arms that hug back, and say, "I am so proud of you, and I know it was hard, but I love you, and you are here in my arms, and home."
And that is heaven: Your mother, free of voices in her head, free of fears, free of all the pain, hugging you tight, saying she loves you.
Happy 66th birthday, Mom.