Friday, April 16, 2010

Six years

Sometimes it seems like only yesterday Mom was sitting in her chair, wearing her "Queen" robe and watching baseball.

Other times, it feels like she's been gone for ages. So much has happened in the span of those six years, it's hard to believe that's all it's been.

Six years.

When Mom was sick, I began teaching myself to knit. Chemo took her hair, and she wasn't the type to wear a wig, so she opted for scarves and hats. My goal was to knit her the softest cashmere hat anyone had ever worn. But she was gone too soon, and the "hat" - really just 20 or so rows on double-pointed needles - is buried in a Zip-loc bag, waiting for me to find the courage to finish it. I made other hats; oh, I've finished countless other projects. But that hat defeated me. She left before the rows of yarn became anything at all.

I remember the day I shaved her head for the first time. Her hair was falling out in clumps and it was time to just give up the ghost. Her skin was so dry, I rubbed her noggin with mineral oil to keep it soft. She'd lost so much weight, but she never lost her spirit.

I remember making her chicken soup. I learned to make it, just for her. And she liked it. I felt like I'd really accomplished something with that first pot. I felt horrible when some of it spilled on the floorboards of my then-husband's car. (Looking back I think it's funny that in the summer his car smelled like an old refrigerator.) But Mom loved it (the soup, not the smell in the car) and I was so proud to have made something that she wanted to eat.

There wasn't much she enjoyed eating. It's odd all the ways the chemo/cancer combo affects the body; her sense of taste was just a mess. There were just a few things she really liked - namely, my chicken soup and brother-in-law Bernie's cherry cobbler. Any time she asked for either, we would make it. I think we both felt honored.

One day, her legs were so dry and itchy, she was uncomfortable. So I got some emollient salt scrub - I'm sure it was Kathie's - and I sat with a basin of water and rubbed her calves with the scrub, sloughing off the dead skin and leaving behind some rich moisturizer to hopefully keep the dryness at bay for the day. Sitting on the floor washing my mom's feet, I felt the role reversal. She who had once bathed me could now use a little help. And once again I was overwhelmed with a feeling of honor for being able to care for her.

At the time, I was only working part-time at the bookstore at College of DuPage. I had a little time on my hands, having been laid off by my fulltime gig a few months earlier. So I spent a lot of time at the house I grew up in, letting the woman who raised me lean on me when necessary and relishing the opportunity to be there with her, sometimes just sitting in silence.

And then that day came, all too suddenly for me, and she was gone. I was left with memories, a great recipe for chicken soup and a half-finished hat.

I think this winter, I'll wear it myself.


gretchen said...

This was lovely. Isn't it funny the inanimate objects that take on such significance? And the food tastebud thing--my late boss could only stand vanilla milkshakes from a hot dog place down the road. <3 thanks for sharing this.

maggie said...

Thanks, Gretchen! It hadn't even occurred to me that I needed to finish the hat until I started writing. Life's weird like that.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Mags! In the days before my mom went in the nursing home, I thought about the irony of me caring for her the way she had cared for me. It gave me a real insight into the way life is supposed to work.


Mr. Early said...

Very poignant. Your mother still lives in you, and you will never be without her.

Mr. Early said...

BTW...can you send me the password info so I can see your blog all the time.

Jessica said...

Auntie Mags,

Beautifully written and touching. :)

<3 U

Jessica Part 2

Maggie Bieritz said...

A thousand thanks to all of you. Sometimes it's just good to remember.

Note to CJE: I opened the blog to the public once again, until such time as I receive another nasty comment. Let's hope everyone behaves.!