By Pam Daghlian
Buy a plane ticket. Rent a car. Pack warm clothes.
Weep in the airport.
Drive north for an hour and a half. Decide to take the route home around the lake instead of through downtown. Nod to the diner you waitressed (and bussed, and hosted, and dishwashed) at in high school. Turn up the radio. Let the memories flood.
Greet the dog. Hug your stepdad. Allow the awkwardness that the absence of your mother creates. Pull yourself up into the pick up truck, sit in the seat where your mom always sat. Say that would be nice when your stepdad says let’s eat out after. Realize the two of you have never eaten together without her.
Walk through the front door at the Senior Living center and see your mom sitting at a table in the dining area. Notice that she is the youngest, the most upright, the most doesn’t-belong-here looking resident.
See that she does not smile or say much, but know that inside she is beaming. You came from San Francisco to see her. In the snow.
Sit with her a bit. Let her ask you will you take me home? over and over and over.
Ask to see her room. Follow her down the hall, past the laundry room, past the room with the blaring tv, past the cat lying in the hall by the heater.
Watch her page through a photo album you brought from home, bring her another one each day you visit. Slip out the door while she’s in the bathroom. Come back tomorrow.
Notice how greasy her hair looks. Notice how much that bothers you. Tell her you think she should take a shower. Offer her five dollars as a joke. Be surprised when she gets out of her chair and takes off her shoes. Ask if she wants help. Stand by the door.
Don’t be mad when she comes out and her hair looks exactly the same. Help her dry off with the too small towel. Put lotion on her back when she asks if you will. Notice a few moles she should have looked at.
Make jokes as you try to pull her giant underwear up over her damp skin. Help her with her shirt like she did for you so many years back—head first, then sleeve by sleeve.
Ride out the wave of guilt that comes when you think of the years lost to anger.
Add to your list of the things you want to bring her. Go to the super store again and again and again. Buy all-cotton underwear and comfortable sports bras. Get the shampoo she likes, a plant, some fake sunflowers and an old looking milk bottle as a vase. Buy her three bottles of eyedrops for her dry eyes. Put one by her recliner, one in the bathroom, and another by the bed.
Bring her sleep mask and earplugs from home after you realize she hasn’t had them for three nights. Be concerned that the light bulb in her lamp gets too hot. Replace it with an LED.
Buy her a bulletin board and pushpins for her desk. Pin photos and postcards on it. Show her and ask thumbs up or thumbs down? When she gives you a thumbs up feel satisfied that you made her happy for a few seconds.
Sit with her during craft time. Sit with her while she watches Ellen. Sit with her just to sit with her. Show her pictures on your phone.
Tune her radio to the classical station. Turn down her heat so it’s cool like at home.
Laugh when she pushes her call button and asks for more pie.
Laugh hysterically when you realize she’s had her pants on backwards all day. Delight in her laughing, for it is seldom.
Be tender with yourself as she closes her eyes in pleasure when you blow-dry her hair.
Listen to your stepdad talk and talk. Talk to him because it’s been three years since he’s had someone in the house to hold the other side of the conversation.
Weep with him when he tells you how on the day he moved her in to the home, she made the bed and only turned down his side.
Laugh at the administrator’s story of how your mom walked out in the middle of the first night, but rang the doorbell to get back in when the door locked behind her.
Hope and hope and hope that she stops wanting to leave.
Pam Daghlian is a writer and life coach living in San Francisco.