The other day I was shopping for my 82 year old mother. She lives in a retirement community that provides varying degrees of care. Which is a good thing, because my mother has advanced Parkinson's disease.
She is mostly encased in her own body, unable to walk or move much. Think Stephen Hawkin, except my mother can still lift a phone and sort of feed herself. Her days are largely filled with television, chatting with her loyal cat "Lollipop," reading and occasional visitors.
In the grocery store every Sunday I pick up the miscellaneous items my mother will need for the week. I phone her before hand to get her list. Sometimes I have to visit more than one store, if there are unusual requests. Like last week, when she wanted a specific cat toy for Lollipop. After grocery shopping, I pick up a decaf mocha (caffeine aggravates her tremor) and some decadent treat, like a lemon scone. Because Mom has a sweet tooth.
I lug the groceries along a dirt path to the rear of the retirement community, and slip in the rear sliding glass door. The cat always runs to greet me and consistently, my mother says hello in a cheerful voice. Sometimes it's followed with, "Oh boy, coffee and breakfast! I can't wait!"
I put away her items and then we visit for an hour or so. My sister in law visits Monday through Friday in the mornings, and she feeds Lollipop and makes Mom a light brunch. Waffles, or a cut up bagel and cheese. Decaf coffee. Then they visit for a bit and talk about family goings-on. My sister visit Mom every other weekend or so. She often brings Mom cupcakes.
What's amazing is my mother's spirit. She and my father invested in long-term care years ago, so my mother's extra care is covered. Attendants take her to the bathroom, shower and dress her. Meals are brought to her room.
She has an emergency "life alert" necklace should she need immediate help. She lives and sleeps pretty much full time in her "infinite lift" recliner chair. She's sort of like Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise, calling the shots in her life. Except she seldom leaves her chair.
You'd think she'd be angry and bitter about her condition. And I suppose she has her private moments. Sometimes she tells me about her dreams, where she can still run and swim and move about. But mostly, she laughs, talks politics and listens intently on all the things I tell her about my life. Somehow, despite her disability and challenges, she lives life quite artfully.
Her attendants dress her, but my mother chooses her outfits and complementary jewelry. She's quite a fashion plate. She lost a front tooth and the dentist says there's not enough structure left to put in a bridge. Short of pulling all her teeth for dentures, she was advised to live with the teeth she's got. She laughs and says she tries to smile with her mouth shut, so as not to flash the hole between her teeth.
Last Sunday I was exhausted after a particularly hectic work week. There were commitments and responsibilities I had to attend to on Saturday. Then Sunday rolled around, with the usual ritual of shopping for mom, visiting and such. I was feeling a bit put upon. Though I harbor no resentment towards my mother, I simply wished for a break from the ritual. I suspect a lot of people care for loved ones and yet have their moments of fatigue and tired resignation.
Never the less, once I got to Mom's apartment and saw her toothy grin and uplifting greeting, my mood lifted. Lollipop chirped and purred as I opened the rear door, jockeying the grocery bags. Mom's decaf coffee dripped slightly, and I almost dropped her apple fritter (they were out of lemon scones.) We visited, laughed, compared notes on the Iowa caucuses and watched Lollipop with his new toy. I patted her foot when I left and said to call if she needed anything.
On my way back to the car I passed some chickadees playing in the ivy. It had rained earlier and the sun finally was breaking. Reaching my car, I looked down and saw a beautiful collection of fall leaves. Their random, abstract arrangement and brilliant color literally stopped me in my tracks. I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture. A passerby looked at me quizzically. Who knew that fall leaves on the ground could settle into their own artful arrangement.
I slid into my car and looked at the iPhone picture of the leaves. I thought about my mother's colorful outfit she was wearing that morning, with matching rings and bracelet. And of how she elegantly held court with me, despite her crumpled frame and limited movement. Such a beautiful spirit she is. So artful in how she manages her condition.
Looking up, there were rays of sun cutting through the clouds and tree foliage, fragmenting through the windshield. Beginning to warm my face. I took a deep breath and exhaled. I didn't feel put upon anymore. I felt blessed and renewed. Ready to go home and channel the morning's inspiration in my painting and writing.