See the world through new eyes . . .
It seems like a miracle, this dramatic shift in perspective that has brought me to the other side of a wide and deep chasm. I had always thought my mother would die in her home, in the ramshackle cottage by the sea. I was sure of it. I could see her lying back in her worn and marked-up easy chair, the one she would never let us replace. I could see her looking out past the cottage lawn and the bird feeders to the cove, the boats and Hermit Island and the sea beyond. I could see her just slipping away easily, following that off-shore breeze to a new place to explore. I wanted this for her. And I thought this was what she wanted for herself.
So in the cold stormy days of last winter, when the reverse mortgage money that we were using to pay for our mother’s care was on its last legs, and the cottage itself, shaking in those windy storms, had one foot in the grave, I found myself feeling a little wobbly as well. I couldn’t imagine my mother in a nursing home. It was more than I could think about. And, as I skate-skied my way through that cold winter of change, I guided my mind to warmer places. When I couldn’t envision a solution, I would say to myself, “It’s going to work out in a way that feels good. I know it is.” I said this over and over and over.
And the change – it came, and the winter winds brought in the blooming forsythias of spring and the osprey returned to the cove and the buds on the old apple tree we’ve known forever, they bloomed for Easter, and, at the end of May, my mother said good-bye to these things that she loved. And, along with a few paintings, some clothes, her African violets, she moved inland, carrying what was precious in her heart. She did this with some tears and a bountiful measure of grace, in a way that inspired all of us.
And, on that first visit to her new home three days after she had moved in, I found myself swallowing back my own tears. My mother was in a nursing home. And that night, as I settled into my own new home at the Hampton Inn, I pulled myself together. I made a decision. I vowed that if my mother wasn’t going to die in her easy-chair in Fish House Cove, if she was going to live instead in a place called Dionne Commons, I was going to look for things to appreciate in her new place and I was going to do this with enthusiasm.
So I did. On the visit at the end of May, and on all the subsequent visits east this past summer, I mustered up my enthusiasm and I looked in the direction of the positive. At first it was a challenge. It wasn’t the cove. There was no sea breeze. I couldn’t make my mother the haddock dish that she, at one time, had so lovingly made for me. It was different. Our time together was different. But, there was an energy in the air, a sea breeze of kindness. On that first visit at the end of May, Mom and I met Ursula, a slender slip of a woman from Venezuela, who wrapped her head in the most exotic of hats. In her wonderful accent, she invited us into her room. She had been a fashion designer. She had lived in Cuba. She was gracious. She held my mother’s hands. “You’ll like it here,” she smiled. And as the summer progressed I got to know other residents – Chester and Helene who have been married for sixty years and eat with my mother, Gertrude who was one of twenty children, Esmeralda, the fattest of fat cats, who plops her huge white body down in the middle of the hall for all to pat. And the view. My mother appreciates the view, so how can I not?!? She looks out from her room to a lawn and a forest of hardwoods, a different landscape than the spruce and balsam-covered point of the cove. “It’s lovely,” she says, and she means it.
And that’s where the miracle comes in. It’s easy now. It really is. I used to love that final twenty minutes of driving down along the Kennebec River to my mother’s cove. I’d roll down the window and smell the salt and the mud flats and the brisk sea air. It was familiar. It was a homecoming. And now this new drive is becoming familiar. I turn in on Stanwood, then onto Mckeen and Baribeau Drive, and park my rental in the little lot beside Dionne and the wide field of grass. And a week ago, my mother’s ninety-third birthday weekend, I found myself happy, not needing to muster up enthusiasm at all, as I opened the door and sailed into the hallway. And there they were the welcoming ladies lined up in their wheel chairs. “Good morning!” I sang. “Good morning!” they sang back to me. And there was Esmeralda, sprawled out beside them. And the woman with the china doll face who can only talk in a squeak, there she was, smiling too. And, farther down the hall, in a lounge-like nook, a woman in a tiera was playing big band music and singing, and she was dancing in her chair, and I found myself dancing with her. And on I walked, with a light step, all the way down the hall to Room 31, and there she was, my mother, with the hardwoods behind her, very much alive, opening up her arms and smiling a smile, a welcoming smile to a very good moment in her new home.