Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saturday Musings, 04 February 2012

Good morning,

I awakened to the small sounds made by a husband trying not to awaken his sleeping wife. My parents-in-law are leaving for Mexico this morning, and their good son is taking them to the airport. I drag my sorry carcass from the heavy veil of drug-induced, fitful slumber, and struggle down to the first floor, where beans await my grinder and the dog scratches at the back door.

I spent yesterday afternoon at my in-laws' home learning to bake the carrot cake that my newly-formed nuclear family prefers on the birthdays that three of them celebrate together. I've made this cake on one prior occasion, and failed miserably. So this year, aware of the keenness of time's passing, and the potential that I might not get too many other chances, I persuaded the family patriarch to teach me how to make the damn thing.

At one point in the pleasant afternoon, I looked across at my husband's 81-year-old mother, smiling and nodding in her chair, half-asleep, hands tucked inside her sweater. I saw the tightness of her skin across her cheeks, and the frailness of her small forehead, with its thin sweep of white hair, and its porcelain pallor. And the years fell away.

I sat beside my mother in the last days and weeks of her life. She shrank to the form that I had not expected to see for three decades. Cancer aged her prematurely. She accepted her death-by-misdiagnosis with more grace than I could have imagined. She called me once, early in the eleven-month saga, and said, An angel came to me in my dreams last night, and told me I have less than a year to live. And I'm all right with that. I did not scream into the phone that she might be, but I was not. I'm only 30! I silently pleaded. I don't have children yet! Who will be their grandmother if you die?

Her angel had not lied. By late July of the following year, we knew. Weeks, maybe a month,maybe a bit more. We surrendered to the concept of her dying, and started coping in different ways. One brother moved into the house to take the night shift, his nursing credentials an invaluable resume for helping in the last months of an ailing parent. A sister made daily stops at the house. Others came and went on the schedules that their busy lives allowed. Most of us drank too much.

I drove into St. Louis most weekends, sometimes confusing myself when I stopped for coffee then could not remember if I was coming -- or going. Is it Sunday? Then I'm on the way to Kansas City. Is it Friday? Then I'm St .Louis-bound. The waitress at the Bobber in Booneville became my ally. She gave me a free to-go cup of coffee and bade me to drive with caution, twice each weekend, for the whole long summer.

On the Sunday before my mother died, I sat beside her bed. I had liquefied her Dilaudid and leaned towards her mouth, stroking her neck the way we had been shown, to encourage weakened muscles to do the job that they wanted to abandon. Swallow, Mama, swallow, I coaxed, watching her forehead for signs of effort. Swallow, Mama, please, swallow.

Her sunken eyes bore a heavy cloud, and she stared over my shoulder at something that I could not see. My hand upon her neck trembled; the spoon that I held to her lips faltered. Tears slid down my cheeks.

And then, for less than a second, for longer than an eternity, my mother caught my gaze with her gentle brown eyes. The veil lifted, and she drew her brows together, and spoke. I am still your mother, she snapped. Don't patronize me. Startled, I replied, Yes Ma'am, a nano-second before the shroud fell back across her face.

It was the last thing I heard her say. She died on Wednesday, 21 August 1985.

My husband fears the small ripples in my mother-in-law's grasp of contemporary events. He dreads her decline, her descent into the hopelessness of dementia. I have only known her for two and a half years, and I, too, feel the impending loss that hovers. But then she smiles, and touches the surface of the cake that I have just taken from the oven, and says, with great cheer, Oh yes, it's done. Don't worry about that uneven part on the side. You can just lay the icing on a little thicker there, and no one will ever know. Her eyes twinkle, perhaps at the secret memory of the many times that she has done just that, and in fact, no one was the wiser for it.

When my husband shares his dread of losing his mother, I try to show some sympathy. I know it is expected of me. But I am a greedy girl, and what I really feel is envy for the incredible good fortune that an extra thirty years has been for him. My mother did not see the birth or adoption of many of her grandchildren, let alone their blooming adulthood. She never retired to spend the winter weeks in warmer climates. She never owned a computer, nor did she behold, with her life-long Democratic eyes, the occupation of the White House by a person of mixed race and his brown-skinned family.

The sun has risen, for what it's rise is worth in my cloud-encrusted town. In an hour, I will help lend a hand to a stranger in need, standing shoulder to shoulder with my friend Katrina and our families, as we help a victim of fire sort through her soot-covered belongings, desperate for something to salvage. So it is time to close the lid of my computer, and find warm clothes, and heavy shoes. It is time to tie up my hair in a heavy clip, and put aside my memories. It is time to get on with living.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

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The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.