Thursday, April 16, 2015

Light in Her Eyes

Background: my mother was admitted to hospital with Congestive Heart Failure on April 6, 2015. Read more here. On April 13, my husband and I drove from Ottawa to St. Catharines to visit her. 

This was the first trip I have made explicitly to see my mother in about 20 years. I have seen her and spoken with her in the interim, but I have not made an effort to be with her in particular.

On our trip down to southern Ontario, I bit off almost all my finger nails. I knew it might happen -- I nibble when I'm nervous or bored -- so I had made a point of filing them before we left the house, and I made sure there was a nail file in my purse. It made no difference. I was anxious.

When we arrived at the hospital this week, my mother was lying in bed in her hospital gown and a housecoat. She was delighted to see me and welcomed me with open arms. The prodigal daughter.

But she was so frail, so weak. She could barely lift herself to a proper sitting position. To hug her, I leaned over the bed rail and wrapped my arms behind her neck. From my end of things, it felt more like I had her in a headlock, but she loved it.

"Did you ever think you would see this!" she exclaimed to my sister, an allusion to the literal and figurative distance between us.

"It's been a long time, hasn't it, Mom?" I replied.

"Yes! And every time, it just broke my heart," she told me. My mother never did bite her tongue.

Yes, I apologized. I told her that I loved her but that I had needed time and space.

I didn't tell her that I might have given myself a little more time and space than I really needed. But the hard truth is that I hadn't really missed her. I had four children of my own, each with his or her own particular needs, and really did not have the energy for another full-grown, incredibly dependent woman in my life, and there was no way she could have offered the kind of support I needed.

But here she was: helpless.

In terms of "radical acceptance" there was nothing to do but accept that she would never be the mother that I fantasized about and longed for. My brother tried to describe her, struggling for words. Naive, innocent, trusting. I supplied the word:  "childlike."

Like a child, her mood could turn on a dime and her words could hurt, but there she lay, frail, and delighted to see me.

The next morning, I brought her the closest thing I could find to a bed jacket: something soft, wrinkle-proof, attractive, and easy to put on or take off without getting out of bed. A cardigan would probably have fit the bill, but my mother had always had a flair for tailored clothes, so I looked for something special. I found a navy jacket and coordinating scarf.

Mom wearing the jacket and scarf we brought her.
On a whim, I picked up a pale blue nail polish to match the scarf (and, coincidentally, the hospital gown under the jacket). We moved to the quiet room and I polished her nails.

Evidently, I stick my tongue out when I'm concentrating.
I have always admired my mother's hands: long, elegant fingers and beautifully shaped, strong nails.

This series of pictures was taken by my sister, Patricia.
She enjoyed the pampering and the time with me. But later that evening, after she'd slept for a while, she kept frowning at her nails. She hated the colour, which was nothing like the reds, pinks, and purples she usually wore. The next morning, she was even less happy with it, hiding her hands under the blankets and trying to pick it off.

I gave in, and bought some nail polish remover to help her relax, which she did immediately. Not unlike a toddler who has decided that she Does. Not. Like. These. Boots. The ones she had refused to take off before naptime.

There were no hurt feelings. She had enjoyed the experience; that was the point. (And she was still delighted with the jacket, especially when I assured her that there was no worry of wrinkling it.)

Before I said goodbye she told me, with tears in her eyes, that she just wanted to go home. She just wanted to be with her husband. That's all she wants now. Her face lit up when he came in the room. Peace at last.

The latest word, after various assessments, is that Mom will be discharged on Saturday. The hospital is recommending a personal support worker visit three times a day, or that Mom be placed in a nursing home. I can just imagine it: she would wake up every morning and ask where her husband is. She needs him more than she needs oxygen.


  1. Happy for you that the visit went well and that you had some time with your mom. Must be such a difficult time ---- I cannot even imagine if it was my own mom. Our relationship is the opposite: we are so close we talk all the time and see each other often. Just keeping you all in my prayers. :)

    1. That is the relationship I have long dreamed about -- and what I am trying to build with my daughters. It's so much harder than I thought!

  2. I am glad you got to visit her, I will say a prayer for your mom.

  3. It sounds like you had a nice visit and that was very thoughtful of you to bring her some things to make her feel more comfortable.

    1. It's hard to think of what to bring to the hospital, isn't it? They discourage flowers now because of allergies. And how many teddy bears can one person use?


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